Black success is often told in the United States and the United Kingdom. However, in recent years, China has emerged strongly as a favorite destination for African businesses and entrepreneurs although they largely engage in retailing of goods from China to Africa.
One Senegalese entrepreneur made China the home of her business, overcoming stereotypes to find success by leveraging WeChat, which is now one of the largest social media platforms in China, with over 1 billion monthly active users. Adja Sy first moved to China in 2012 to launch her business.
Adja Sy started a natural skincare business called Lalu and later followed it up with a clothing brand. The idea to start a skincare business in China’s Shanghai province started when she struggled to find a skin product or makeup suitable for her skin.
She was sold body creams to make her skin lighter but insisted on products that are friendly to her skin. Having had enough, Sy was ready to provide a cream that is not only suitable for her skin but to provide a solution for other persons of color doing business in China. With that, she started Lalu and shared her product on WeChat. Sy’s products are made with holistic, all-natural plant and fruit-based ingredients.
“I’ve been interested in cosmetics and body care products for a few years now, and have always liked to experiment with ingredients and make my own creams. When I moved to Shanghai it was a hassle to find products that worked for me – particularly since I’m dark-skinned and suffer from a few allergies,” she told thatsmags.
“Many products have whitening additives here, which made the quest for stuff I could use even more difficult. That’s why I decided to start making my own products, first for myself and then for others.”
She started Lalu in 2015. Soon, hundreds of users reached out to her to inquire about her all-natural oils, scrubs and body creams and also place orders. The interest initially unsettled her since she didn’t have anything yet but was determined to meet the expectation to create a good impression. She got in touch with a friend who made her a simple package and eventually sold out.
Six months later, she decided to run Lalu full time and sold her products mostly online. She subsequently launched a clothing brand called Nubien inspired by bright African fabrics and clothing, she told FT.
“When you are wearing bright things people smile at you,” said Sy. “And Shanghai is a good place to be to launch a business. In Europe, you’d prepare everything first — the concept, market research, the details, the design, and then move forward. In Shanghai you don’t do that, you just go — try it and see what happens.”