Small Tunisian company out to win in organic cosmetics
Riding the boom in organic products, Bouchra Masrour has carved out a niche in Tunisia’s cosmetics industry. She grows the ingredients, makes the products, and sells them. Now, she’s ready to export.
This is Bouchra Masrour’s motto.
And it’s the reason she left an 18-year career at a private clinic in Tunis to embark on a new adventure, bringing life to her passion for organic cosmetics.
As a native Moroccan, Bouchra inherited a love for growing olive and argan trees. The nutty oil produced from thorny argan trees is distinctly Moroccan, used to produce beauty and cooking products that form part of women’s daily lives in her home country.
These products stem from thousand-year-old artisanal traditions, providing both income and social cohesion for the networks of rural women who make these products.
After moving to Tunisia, Bouchra was inspired in 2016 to create Bahia Cosmetics, which makes certified organic, natural beauty products. They’re all ammonia-free and wrapped in environmentally friendly packaging.
"Once I realized that Tunisia was importing argan oil from France, I decided to make certified organic products from our local harvest,” she said.
Her love of plants has built a bridge between her scientific education, her knowledge of herbal medicine, and her Moroccan heritage. The result is her Bahia Cosmetics brand.
Bahia Cosmetics started with two employees and a small workshop in a certified laboratory.
The lab provides the raw materials, and Bahia Cosmetics adds its plant and essential oils, made from argan imported from Morocco and from olives and prickly pear seeds grown in Tunisia.
Tunisia is the first country in the world to standardize prickly pear oil, setting its technical specifications, its quality criteria, and its composition.
As for olive oil, Tunisia is the fourth largest producer in the world after Spain, Italy and Greece, producing about 350,000 tonnes in the 2019/2020 season.
Bouchra's husband is a farmer. Together they grow figs, olives, mastic, and rosemary on certified organic land in the Kairouan region, without pesticides or insecticides.
To harvest the rosemary and mastic resin, she employs local women. This allows her to maintain traditions while empowering women with jobs.
In addition, Bouchra belongs to a group of women entrepreneurs who are working to trade through the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. Known as COMESA, the trade bloc covers 21 countries, including neighbouring Libya and nearby Egypt.
In 2018, Bahia Cosmetics expanded and employed five lab technicians and two sales agents. The company has a showroom in the inland desert city of Kairouan, with a sales outlet in Tunis. Bahia directly supplies several pharmacies.
The Tunisian perfume and cosmetics sector could grow much more by harnessing the country's agricultural and human potential. The industry mainly consists of small, dynamic companies with an excellent capacity for innovation.
However, the sector is hampered by the national tax system and other barriers.
Bouchra received training from the International Trade Centre (ITC), under its Tunisia: E-Commerce for Women Entrepreneurs project.
“We’re always looking to improve our skills. Being accepted into the ITC programme is a great opportunity for us to improve our knowledge and skills in digital marketing,” she said.
“Through the ITC programme, we have been able develop our own e-commerce site. We can now sell more products. Our production is up, and our employees are very happy to be earning more income.”
The training also covered how to create business plans, to develop content and to take professional photos.
After the training, Bouchra joined Little Jenaina and ILEY’COM, two Tunisian digital marketplaces, and hired a community manager.
With her new digital marketing skills and her excellent products, Bouchra now feels ready to take on regional and international markets.
"Soon I would like to open a branch in Morocco because of the very high purchasing potential, and then expand into markets in the Gulf countries,” she said.
To tackle the Gulf countries, she plans to review her brand strategy to appeal to the luxury market.
The International Trade Centre (ITC) E-commerce for Women Entrepreneurs project in Tunisia aims to increase exports of small, women-led businesses through digital marketplaces, a new channel that offers innovative business opportunities. The aim is to create new jobs for women and ensure more inclusive and sustainable social and economic development.