How O’live turned handmade soap into a profitable business

Zikhona Tefu founder of O'live sitting with her handmade soap

The story of O’live is a heartwarming one that’s centred around compassion and promoting a natural lifestyle. It’s a story of how a mother of three worked from her kitchen to create her own small business from scratch. It’s a story of how natural, local ingredients can be used to create nourishing skincare products. Zikhona Tefu has an inspirational story to tell of how she went from creating handmade soap as a hobby in her kitchen to selling it in markets, physical stores and then nationally and internationally online. 

Turning a hobby into a business 

The story of O’live dates back to 2011 when Zikhona created her first batch of organic handmade soap in her family’s kitchen as a natural remedy to soothe her daughter’s eczema. 

“O’live began as an extension of my motherhood. I began exploring natural handmade soaps when my daughter, Busa, had eczema. She had been using topical creams that didn’t really have a lasting effect, so to try and help her I started looking into making skincare products that I could make from scratch with ingredients that were familiar to me,” said Zikhona. 

“And so my passion for making handmade soaps developed using the traditional cold-process method of soap making; the fact that I could use herbs, teas and real essential oils was fascinating to me. I fell in love with both the process of making the soaps and the ingredients, and of course the results of how it helped my daughter,” continued Zikhona. 

Zikhona’s hobby of creating handmade soaps soon developed into a business idea. After two years of developing her own formulations and recipes using 100% natural, plant-based ingredients, O’live became an official business in 2013 and started trading at the Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town. Although she started sourcing vegan-friendly ingredients such as olive oil and pure essential oils from local farmers and unrefined raw shea butter from Ghana, at this stage it was still just a one woman job run by Zikhona in her kitchen. 

Growing the O’live brand by expanding capacity and production 

In 2016 Zikhona moved her soap making operations to a bigger premises, outside of her home. This was in response to her expanding her operations to not just selling at markets, but to also supplying wholesale items to other skincare brands and exporting overseas. To assist in her growing and more demanding business operations, Zikhona’s husband Sipho left his job as an engineer to join O’live as a fulltime employee. 

“During the same time our product range increased to include more natural handcrafted products. What started as a hobby of producing a few bars of soap a day grew to producing hundreds of bars a day,” said Zikhona.  

 Zikhona Tefu making O'live handmade soap

As with many other small businesses, one obstacle that O’live had to overcome was gaining access to capital, especially during their vital stages of early growth. What helped them succeed was their commitment to growing their business organically, by reinvesting their business earnings back into O’live.  

The growth of O’live can be summarised as below:

O'live business growth

Moving O’live online to cater to customer demand

Zikhona and Sipho made the decision to partner with PayFast as their online payment solution when their online sales started to grow. “Initially we didn’t integrate PayFast with our online store as we thought it would be complicated – but boy were we wrong. Due to our hesitancy we lost a lot of sales because customers would place orders but didn’t want to leave the site to make a payment. It was a pain to also consolidate orders placed and match them with payments. Thanks to PayFast those days are now long gone,” said Zikhona.

“Using PayFast was a no brainer as it’s a win-win for both us as sellers and our customers alike. The convenience is world-class and support is amazing. I’m grateful for such an incredible payment solution. It’s easy, anyone can do it and should do it. My advice to online merchants is to let PayFast take care of the payments,” said Zikhona.

Onwards and upwards

O’live has become a recognisable brand that went from making 10 bar batches in 2013, from their home kitchen, to now making 340 bar batches in a small factory. They’ve also come a long way from selling only at local markets to now selling online. 

“We also sell our organic products to 60 wholesalers and private label accounts, and have started another company called Isivuno Naturals, which wholesales quality raw ingredients that can be purchased by other producers of skincare products,” said Zikhona.

“Turning my hobby into a business has been a journey of passion, both from our side as well as from our customers who support us,” concluded Zikhona.

PayFast has helped countless small business owners like Zikhona get paid for doing what they love doing. To find out how PayFast can help facilitate online payments on your ecommerce store, visit www.payfast.co.za

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