Yoko Obata has lived the last 18 years in the UK where she has pursued her career as an artist and has worked as flying assistant in international flights. She would have never thought she would become an entrepreneur, especially because her venture started to solve her own problems of skin irritation.
Few years ago Yoko decided to take care of her irritated skin with natural cosmetics. The beautifying effect of creams and oils intrigued her, so she enrolled on courses to learn how to make them at home. Later, the idea became more entrepreneurial. “After some time I was treating my skin with natural products, everybody noticed that my skin was actually smoother. The interest around how I did it increased, and that’s when I first thought that there was potential to sell my cosmetics” she recalls.
So she gave it a go! Initially, word of mouth was Yoko’s only publicity and it worked beautifully. As the pool of her initial informal customers grew in number and satisfaction, she realised the potential of her cosmetics and decided to explore the beauty market with a proper brand: KOTOHA (former Flourish Natural Beauty). She joined the MBA (Migrant Business Accelerator) organised by This Foreigner Can in London and started professionalising the business side of her project.
So far, her products have passed the EU certifications that allow her marketing them publicly. Products on her website can be purchased online and are delivered by post; together with products, Yoko also offers services of beauty counselling. She thinks KOTOHA will be profitable by the first quarter of 2016.
The UK counts many portals which offer natural cosmetics. Yet, Yoko says that, “The definition of ‘natural’ on a product is very ambiguous. Often it appears on the labels because recipes which are actually composed mainly of chemicals include in small percentages extracts of raw products — which are so refined to lose their original properties.” She explains that, “KOTOHA is 100% natural in the sense that I don’t use any chemical at all.”
Yoko creates her own recipes incorporating the knowledge of Far Eastern traditional herbs,“I take inspiration from several oriental cultures, but I’m mostly influenced by the Japanese tradition,” she says. However, although most of the ingredients she needs are east Asian, she confesses that, “It’s much easier to source them from the UK or US.”
She says that the ‘cosmetic-making’ side of her business is very enjoyable, but financing has been quite a challenge. Yoko, who until recently was a part time translator to sustain her expenses, shares that, “I have not applied for business loan because being a foreigner I thought my request might be rejected. So, initially I have been using my saving..And sometimes it hasn’t been easy. In this respect, I found that setting up your own business is lonely process and it was challenging sometimes for me to keep my motivation going and keep my dream alive.”
Yet, she adds that, “The satisfaction of seeing something done with my own efforts is priceless. Also, this activity allowed me to fuse my Japanese heritage with the British business culture. My nationality naturally influenced my products formulations in terms of herbs and is a very important strong point for my brand.”
This is the beginning of a journey for Yoko, and so far she found that there are two sine qua non conditions to start up a business outside one’s home country: “Firstly, I think it is fundamental to learn the language in order to understand exactly and to speak clearly. Second, it’s much simpler if you learn how law and legal issues work because they can give very bad headaches.”
Even though she has just started, Yoko keeps her eyes on Japan and cultivates her relations there. Who knows, one day KOTOHA might become and international company!
To visit KOTOHA’s website, click here.
Click here for their Pinterest profile.