A BEAUTIFUL BUSINESS
Kairos means in the fullness of time or an opportune moment in history – although that doesn’t mean that the skin and beauty range produced by entrepreneur, Darry Bottomley, is anything like an anti-aging treatment.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Gathered under a distinctive baobab tree logo that is quintessentially African and also speaks of withstanding life’s challenges, her range of 89 different products extends from baby creams to men’s grooming products and includes everything from body scrubs to body butters.
Darry’s journey hasn’t been an easy one but it is certainly an inspiration to the many reluctant entrepreneurs out there who need to discover their passion and purpose.
And it all began with a humble bar of soap …
HUBBLE BUBBLE TOIL AND TROUBLE
Looking back, Darry says that both naming her business and steering it through the trials and challenges associated with transforming an essentially home based operation into a mainstream company has been “a God thing”.
Kairos dates back to 1997. Back then, she was “a stay at home mom, bored and poor” who wanted to work from home so that she could stay with her children.
Her brother was on the lookout for someone to make a glycerine soap to add to his collection of natural and homeopathic tinctures and vitamins.
“He told me that this was going to be the next big thing. But there was no google then. There was nowhere for me to search to find a recipe. Eventually, I found an old farmer who had a glycerine soap recipe and unearthed another random one. For two years, I tried to find the right formula. It would be too sloppy and then it would crack and then it wouldn’t hold the perfume.
“I used to burst into tears. I just couldn’t get it right and my brother was pushing, pushing. In the end, I decided to just give up. So, I put all my scraps into a single pot – and the soap came out perfectly! I’m not a chemist, so I thought that I’d use both formulations together and ended up with perfectly clear glycerine soap,” she remembers.
Her brother may have found another soap supplier in the interim but Darry wasn’t about to abandon her foray into cosmetic alchemy and began selling her soap at the Essenwood market through a lady who supplied aromatherapy oils.
She says people still remember her for the large chunks of handmade soap which incorporated large fruit pieces, cinnamon and even rose petals. That was all the rage 20 years ago and roughly co-incided with the debut of natural cosmetics brand, Lush, in the United Kingdom.
Little did she know at the time, but her business was to evolve along with a complete market shift away from mass produced commercial soaps with dubious ingredients to natural products that both clean and treat the skin.
As people became more used to using homemade soaps, the market became more sophisticated and moved away from chunky soaps. Darry found molds and began making smaller, more attractive bars.
She continues to make some of the same soaps to this day – sandalwood, rooibos, bergamot and geranium – and has added many more. All told, she makes 22 different varieties. Many have been developed as customers have returned with suggestions or asked her to help them to find something to help with a particular skin ailment.
When she finds the right ingredient, has formulated and tested it and determined whether there’s a wider demand, she adds a product to her range. This has grown to the point where it now includes soaps containing everything from African green clay and cucumber to activated charcoal. She also uses a wide variety of essential oils.
A STEP IN TIME
As demand for her products grew and Darry began selling more and more at Essenwood, she realised that that she could take her fledgling business further and opened a small shop at the then Heritage Market in Hillcrest in 1999. It was called the Body Café.
She tells the story of how, one day, a Korean couple came into the shop and asked if she could make some soap for them. “They tried to explain what they wanted in their broken English. It came down to 90 000 little bars – so we poured them. That was my first big order,” she recalls.
The couple returned for a second order of 50 000 bigger bars.
“I had my kids wrapping and counting bars of soap,” she smiles, recalling how her family eventually rebelled and she turned to a paraplegic group in Durban to continue to hand wrap her soap.
Orders from South Korea continued for over a year until the rand strengthened and the orders dwindled.
At much the same time, Darry also began selling to a number of smaller shops around Durban.
She not only began refining her range of soaps but also looked at developing additional products.
The next product to emerge was a tissue oil – another invention that mirrored the market’s move away from commercialised products to healthier alternatives.
I looked at the tissue oils on the shelves and they were all mineral oils. Most still contain denatured mineral oil which is petroleum and not good for your skin. So, I looked for other oils – grapeseed oil, an almond oil base. I also decided to add a bit of chamomile and a bit of rosehip and aloe vera.”
It proved a huge success and remains one of her stalwarts with plenty of positive feedback – including claims that it has healed scars.
After creating her tissue oil, she made a cream using the same ingredients which she calls her miracle cream, followed by body scrubs.
Darry says she has learnt as she has gone along. She not only keeps in touch with those using her products but researches long standing natural ingredients, essential oils and natural remedies for skin ailments and explores new discoveries.
“It’s very much a case of really having to come up with an idea, flesh it out and make it work. Its trial and error – a bit more of this and a little less of that,” she says.
She smiles as she remembers sitting on the kitchen counter as a child and helping to make cakes. What she does now is not that different, she concedes.
“I loved fiddling around with things. I used to spend hours making an absolute mess of the kitchen counter. So, now, I go, oh so you need a foot scrub that will also heal a fungus and take a bit of my tissue oil, add a bit of this and that that I believe could clear it up. People have come to me and complained about getting crow’s feet and I suggested what they could use for that. Then I made it into an eye serum and face serum. Then, one day, a lady came to me and said she had given my face serum to a young girl to use on her stretch marks. She told me that it worked. So I added another product.”
TIME OUT FOR KAIROS
For Darry, the challenge was never about creating the products themselves but rather maintaining the momentum of the growing business.
When she moved into a small farm house with no space to make her products, she became tired and demotivated and left Kairos to idle for nearly 10 years!
A move to a larger property and the 2010 soccer world cup saw her pick up where she had left off and she created an Essence of Africa range to go with the hype of the day.
Her repeated attempts to get a slot at the increasingly popular Shongweni Market also paid off. Securing an outlet there four years ago proved an important turning point and marked a strategic move from selling through other vendors to selling her own product directly and building up her own customer base.
It was hard. When you interact with others, you have to have the gift of the gab. All I’ve ever done is sales, but, for some reason, I struggled with marketing my own product. I’ve realized that what you make yourself is actually a projection of yourself and, for some reason, I find it difficult to sell myself!”
Moving into the world of mainstream retail has been another challenge. She started supplying Home etc. in Ballito and independent shops in Scottburgh and Umdloti from 2017 and then took on a single order from Mr Price in 2000. She has continued to supply smaller, boutique shops – including an order for a group of 18 shops in the Western Cape at the end of last year – but is cautious when it comes to large retail chains.
That’s because, as a small operation, she cannot produce the volumes needed to achieve their price points. She will also not compromise on quality to achieve these.
COVID AND BEYOND
By the time Covid-19 began causing major disruptions, Darry was making more than 80 different products across seven ranges under the Kairos brand. These include linen sprays, body scrubs, body butters, skin toners, face scrubs, face masks, eye serum, face serum and even a lip gloss. She has also added both a men’s range and a baby range which already includes a baby bum cream as well as a baby cream and an ultra-gentle natural baby wash.
Now back at the Shongweni Market after the loosening of Covid-19 restrictions, she almost feels like she has hardly paused.
“Covid let me just have a rest! Basically, I have been refining and planning and plotting and designing for years. So Covid was an opportunity to focus on other important things,” she says.
Included in this very long list was the roll out of her online store which was launched in February. This takes her directly from manufacture to retail without losing out to the middle man. It also allows her to sell outside South Africa via her own and other platforms.
Darry also used the Covid break to complete the necessary administration and protocols to export and set up an ongoing relationship with a company that exports a wide range of South African products to the United Kingdom.
The exciting thing is that this is not just one of my products, it’s all of my products. This means I officially have a UK branch. They started with a few things. Again, my soap was the key. People buy it and, once they like it, they try the other products. Next was the deodorant and now they are looking for liquid soap.”
That has taken Darry back to what she refers to as her cooking pot and her refreshingly spontaneous approach to creating a product using the wholesome ingredients she swears by.
“We did half a pot and then added some perfumes. By the next day, we had liquid soap. It’s exactly the same formulation with just a little tweak here and there. The UK is all about liquid soap because they have a lot of communal living,” she explains.
Darry believes that she has now created a sound foundation from which her business can grow. The next step is a small factory from where she can produce more products and take her business to the next level.
But, no matter how mainstream her business is becoming, she is also still keen on keeping that personal touch and is happy to be back at the Shongweni Market, interacting with her customers.
“It’s lovely to work from home but it’s actually quite nice to get out and about and see my old friends. Waking up at three in the morning is not so great – but this is the place where people can meet me and exchange ideas. A lot of people had ordered online during lockdown but some people, like the elderly don’t like to order online so they came and stocked up.”
Essentially, for Darry, this chapter in the evolving story of her business is as much about growth as it is about leaving a legacy and fully realizing the meaning of the brand name Kairos – the fullness of time.
There’s definitely something special about this business. Yes, I want to generate revenue but it is also for South Africa. It is to help and even heal. I think that the meaning of this brand is important because we are at a cataclysmic time in our history and small businesses will become more and more important. From the ground up, people are going to rebuild South Africa.”