A passion for Sarawak’s homegrown skincare

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The brand rose from Sulie’s own experience in finding safe skincare products for herself and the lack of employment opportunities in her village of Melugu in Simanggang.

KUCHING (July 4): As an ever-competitive space, the skincare industry is one that is not easy to break into, more so here in Sarawak.

However, this did not stop a determined entrepreneur, Sulie Abell from coming up with her own homemade natural skincare brand, Sluvi.

Her story began in 2018. The brand rose from Sulie’s own experience in finding safe skincare products for herself and the realisation of the lack of employment opportunities in her village of Melugu in Simanggang.

“Our products are made from Borneo’s natural ingredients, and also a blend of social and innovative standards,” she said in an interview.

“Sluvi’s natural ingredients can even be taken from the backyard such as honey, ginger, coconut rice, aloe vera, coffee, rose flowers, and so on. Those ingredients are sourced from local farmers, and produced in Simanggang.”

Sluvi offers a range of products that are suitable for customers with different types of skins and lifestyles. This business came about when Sulie herself suffered from chronic eczema several years ago but could not find a suitable product for her sensitive skin.

“My doctor then suggested that I try another alternative by using natural ingredients. I started doing research and began creating my own handmade/handcrafted natural skincare products and surprisingly it worked for me,” she said.

“I realised all the natural ingredients could be found easily in the backyard of my village, Melugu in Simanggang. As I was sourcing the ingredients around my village, I met Nancy, a local bee farmer.

“When we had a chat, I was surprised when I found out that half of Melugu farmers earn less than RM200 per month. Then, I started to think about how I could help these farmers.”

Sulie then had the vision to create a better farming ecosystem in Sarawak villages.

“Through this project, farmers can have sustainable income, improve their skill and knowledge in farming, produce quality farming natural ingredients and have job and training experiences.

“Our mission is to empower the farmers by getting natural ingredients from them for the products, which includes increasing overall income and productivity of farming families; do fair trade by sourcing natural ingredients directly from farming families; manage the whole supply chain; and conduct farming workshops and training.

“Sluvi is a social enterprise which empowers farmers by sourcing natural ingredients from them and creating natural skincare products originating from Borneo that are safe for the environment and its people, especially those with sensitive skin.

“By increasing the income of the farmers, it gives their families access to better healthcare and education.”

As a self-taught natural skincare creator, Sulie said she participated in many natural skincare courses to develop her knowledge and further familiarise herself with this industry while making her business more relevant.

Sulie then had the vision to create a better farming ecosystem in Sarawak villages.

Shell LiveWIRE journey

Her journey was bolstered by the Shell LiveWIRE accelerator programme.

“Since I have always been involved in TEGAS programmes, they encouraged me to join the accelerator programme.”

“I joined the programme in 2018 at an ideation stage. I had not even registered the company yet at the time and I was still in my experimenting/R&D stage for the skincare products.

“Since I was still a newbie in entrepreneurship, this programme really helped me with ‘101 ways on how to be an entrepreneur’, especially in getting our products out there.

“This programme really helped me in polishing my pitching skills too which is a very important aspect of being an entrepreneur.

“Before that, I needed a lot of help with my public speaking skills because I was too nervous.  The programme helped me gain confidence in pursuing my dream.

“Without the Shell LiveWIRE Programme, I don’t think Sluvi would be where it is today. What I like about this programme is that despite graduating from it, the mentors still follow up with you about your business at all times.

“The mentors and focal from Shell have been really supportive. For the first two years, we always had weekly/monthly check-ins with the mentor where you will be able to share and get advice on whatever concerns we have on our minds from running our day-to-day business to which, they always responded promptly.

“Sluvi expanded and I grew my business consistently, from sales and marketing, retail, operations and most importantly funding. All of which, I received guidance and mentoring from the Shell LiveWIRE programme.”

Sulie says the Shell LiveWIRE programme helped to polish her pitching skills — a very important aspect of being an entrepreneur.

Sluvi after Shell LiveWIRE

Sulie confirmed that the business has taken off well since her journey with Shell LiveWIRE. For the past five years, Sulie said it has consistently and gradually grown in revenue and in size.

“For the first two years, we focused on getting Sluvi’s name out there, through our participation at art markets and expos, media features, using social media and word-of-mouth campaigns.

“Then slowly we managed to get Sluvi’s products in selected stores. Now we have our own e-commerce website, sluvi.com.my, which has really helped with the growth of our sales.

“In our first year of operations, Sluvi has made a lot of changes, especially on the packaging. Last year, we started to explore using paper ziplock, before changing into transparent ziplock and using plastic jars.”

When asked how this industry has evolved since 2018, Sulie affirmed that the skincare industry has always been a competitive space.

“More products are coming on board the industry,” she said. “I feel that when I was starting Sluvi, the skincare industry had just started booming, especially in Sarawak. Skincare routine nowadays has become a necessity in our daily lives, and it is attracting a lot of new businesses to venture into this industry.

“When I first started Sluvi, the most challenging part was managing the financial aspects of the company. I was not familiar with accounting stuff. Then I started learning slowly about basic financial accounting.

“Maintaining social enterprise is harder than a commercial business. I feel pressured, no sales, I would not be able to help the beneficiaries and there will be no positive impact on the community.

“In terms of product market fit, things were a little bit complicated at the time when I kicked off too. But we have managed to pull through. Since our products are handmade, affordable and direct from the farm, we have managed to expand our product range and trully emphasise the social impact our business while ensuring we meet innovative standards.”

Her advice for young entrepreneurs? “Get yourself out there.”

“First of all you have to get yourself out there and get familiarised with the entrepreneurship community by going to startup events, workshops, conferences and business matching/networking events.

“Through networking, we were able to find partners and collaborators that are now be our suppliers and potential clients. Best of all, you will get valuable feedback about your products for continuous improvement.”