‘For all women, not just Africans
2008-09-25 15:03:25 -
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In the latest instalment of Metro Éireann’s MEET THE BOSS, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Claudia Igbrude, founder of the NiÉriu natural cosmetics range, based in Lucan

 
It’s not every girl that has her toxicologist on speed dial, but Claudia Igbrude is not every girl. With a degree in industrial maths, she has always worked in the ‘techie’ field, and is currently the e-learning development officer for the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). But away from the day job, Igbrude has a very different career: manufacturing soaps and body beauty products from her home in Lucan, southwest Dublin.
 
Igbrude explains her personal reasons for starting this unusual enterprise: “I had always had eczema, but it was after the birth of one of my children and during a stressful period that it worsened to psoriasis.” After trying all the steroid creams prescribed by her doctor, Igbrude felt they were thinning her skin. “The next stage was going to be medication, and I was breastfeeding so that wasn’t an option,” she says.
 
Soon she began researching the condition to try and find another way. “I reckoned that as the steroid creams were barely managing the condition, I may as well try the natural remedy route. I wanted to have more control over what was going into the product.” Igbrude remembered that her grandmother in N i g e r i a used to make batches of ‘black soap’. “She would get together with some of the women and they would gather all the ingredients to make black soap. They w o u l d make it collectively and then share it out between them.”
 
Igbrude called her grandmother, Stella, for advice. “She laughed and said ‘You guys did not pay attention when we were making it back then and now look at you, making black soap!’”
 
Black soap is actually a dark brown soap made from boiled plantain leaves, palm oil and shea butter. “There is no specific method,” says Igbrude. “It is a recipe that is handed down over generations, as a family recipe might be. The Ghanaians have a version that is different from the Nigerian version, for example. Different regions use local ingredients.”
 
Shea butter, one of the main ingredients of the soap, has been utilised by the women of west Africa for centuries, and is used for almost everything: as a beauty treatment in the prevention of wrinkles, as a daily moisturiser, as a decongestant for stuffy noses, for stretch marks and for dry skin conditions.
 
Initially making the black soap just for herself, Igbrude found that friends wanted it too, and they started placing orders. She quickly decided to dedicate more time and research, and a ‘factory’ was set up in the part of her home “formerly known as the utility room”. Her company NiÉriu was born. Manufacturing and supplying beauty products “for all women, not just African women”, the company produces a range of soaps and lotions with all natural ingredients.
 
Igbrude is strict about her sourcing of ingredients, using only ethical and sustainable supplies. Although her recipes may have come from her grandmother, Igbrude’s methods are required to be more modern. Ingredients are calculated precisely, and then there is the aforementioned toxicologist. “All the measurements must be quite exact, tested and approved by a cosmetic toxicologist in order to certify safe levels of ingredients in the product,” she explains.
 
At present, the NiÉriu website (at www.nieriu.com) is the best place to buy Igbrude’s products, with most of her custom coming from Ireland and the UK. The range is also available in shops but “the advantage of working at DIT, which I love, is that I am not dependent on the soap business income and can be choosier about where it is retailed,” she says. “I will check out other products on sale in the outlet to make sure that they complement my product.” Making the products and packaging are the most enjoyable parts of the business for Igbrude.
 
She loves responding to customers via e-mail, getting feedback and offering suggestions, but admits that she is not so keen on the business side of things – accounting, marketing and paperwork. “My partner keeps giving out to me that I send out too many free samples, but I do find that they generate business,” she says. “A small pot of something can convert someone to my stuff, and if it is locally produced here in Ireland, then why not buy from me?”
 
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