Girl Scout alum Christina Funke Tegbe, founder of skincare brand 54 Thrones, says that one of her weaknesses as a new entrepreneur actually turned out to be her biggest strength.
“I was naive when I started out, but being naive helped me,” she explains.
Growing up in Austin, Texas—where she was a Girl Scout Daisy and Brownie—Christina remembers selling cookies but never thought about becoming an entrepreneur.
“I was a very stubborn child, and I like to do things my way. I believed in myself; I knew that I could do it. When I looked at McDonald’s and Coke—I thought, at one point, those were ideas that someone had.”
Christina’s own idea was inspired by the people she met while exploring Africa.
“For about a year, I traveled to different African countries because I wanted to learn more about where I came from—Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, Egypt. That was where I was drawn to women who were making jojoba oil and shea butter.”
“I met so many people on my travels and when I finally got an idea that I wanted to start a brand, I wanted to work with the people I had met,” she adds.
“Every place that I traveled to, I went to the market and asked where I can buy, say, argan oil and someone would just take me and show me where to go,” Christina recalls. “In African countries, people are a lot more willing to help. I would email and call people and then I would just buy a flight and go there. That was also something that differentiated me—you can send emails, but it is different when you show up on their doorstep. I am happy that I did it that way even though it was harder.”
From Moroccan argan oil to Ugandan shea butter and Nigerian baobab oil, Christina continues to go right to the source for natural ingredients. Of course, there are easier ways to source, but—because of that time she spent exploring—the product was developed with traceability and sustainability in mind from the beginning.
For many of Christina’s customers, this ethical sourcing is a what makes all the difference.
“I work with different women cooperatives and farm owners. I also work with men who own farms, especially in Egypt. But the bulk [of where my ingredients have been sourced from] has been from different cooperatives. Some are larger and some are smaller, but to be able to work with people and add to their communities is amazing.”
In many of the communities she visits, natural skincare regimens began generations ago out of a lack of access to other products.
“They had the things that came from the earth, and those turned out to be the best things to use. The beauty secrets that we use now were often first used for healing or celebrations,” Christina explains, adding that she meets many people in Africa who tell stories about their grandmother using these ingredients on them when they were children.
The name of the brand itself, 54 Thrones, is a nod to Africa’s 54 countries.
“It’s been a beautiful experience because it is one thing to start a brand, but it is another thing to start a brand that resonates with people. We’re able to attribute our traditional African rituals through our storytelling and create products that work.”
Girl Scout alum and CEO Sarah LaFleur aims to give professional women time back.