The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted many industries but it has come with many lessons and one of them is that it is very important to have a fallback plan and extra sources of income.
Geraldine Gitau, a pilot working for Kenya Airways, founded Scents by Geraldine in 2016, a start-up that sells perfumes. It is also home to Kenya’s first original designer perfume.
The aviation industry in Kenya is one of the hardest hit during this period but Geraldine is glad to have started Scents By Geraldine four years ago as it is now growing. Nairobi News caught up with her for tell-it-all interview.
Briefly tell us about yourself?
I am Geraldine Waruguru Gitau, a 36-year-old Kenyan woman and a mother of a seven-year-old boy.
Tell us about your upbringing and early childhood
My upbringing is quite interesting because I was born in Kisumu, did my nursery schooling in Gatundu, Kiambu. My primary school was in Mombasa and my high school in Nairobi. I finally settled in Nairobi for work.
Why did you decide to pursue piloting as a profession and how has it been so far?
My late father was a ship Captain and when I was younger I wanted to be like him. He, however, wasn’t amused by the idea so instead, he took me to Moi International Airport in Mombasa and introduced me to one of his pilot friends who took me inside the then called cockpit – it was love at first sight (laughs).
Flying is one of the most exhilarating careers out there. I’m ever on the move. Assessing and evaluating different situations and making quick and timely decisions. I love it. Keeps me on my toes.
You run Scents By Geraldine. Tell us how it all started
I have had the wonderful opportunity of travelling widely, meeting people, experiencing different cultures, and sampling perfumes out there. I love perfumes and so when it was time to start my business, I dived into what was natural.
Mid-2016 I started my research into the art of perfumery. I settled for a German company in Berlin to develop it and one year later my first signature scent landed in Kenya.
How has the business been so far?
Like any other business, starting is never easy. You have to have a passion for it otherwise you will easily give up. It has been a struggle creating brand awareness and changing perceptions that a quality fragrance can be made by a Kenyan. The reception has been great in the Kenyan market. Our low-cost perfumes have also been received very well as they are both original and affordable.
What are some of the challenges you have faced so far in the venture?
Our local market is filled with foreign brands and imitation perfumes. People choose the price over quality. Changing that buying culture is not easy but we are getting there.
What do you envision to be the future of Scents By Geraldine?
The sky is limitless. We envision a time when Scents by Geraldine will be a Kenyan sensation in the perfume market. We look forward to the day when most Kenyans will have sampled one or more perfumes in our range of scents. This is because we know once you try them, you will be hooked just like our loyal customers.
What is the greatest life lesson you have picked so far?
You can never do anything alone. No matter how small. There are actually people out there who can walk with you, uplift and inspire you – even if you don’t see them yet.
What would you be your advice to young people wishing to scale the heights you have done so far?
Fear is all in your head. Before you shoot yourself down try. Fail and try again. Get a mentor to walk with you. Faith it until you make it.
Your industry (aviation) has been one of the hardest hit during this period, how has it been for you and how are you coping?
Like everyone else, this period has been challenging, particularly because of the health scare and the uncertainty surrounding our job security. I am lucky to have started this perfumery business a few years ago even though it isn’t really where I want it to be but at least I have a fallback plan.
For my own safety, I’ve minimised my social interactions and adopted a healthy lifestyle of eating well and working out as we pray for this stalemate to end sooner. My amazing team at Scents By Geraldine agreed to take a pay cut that way I kept their jobs secure. Communication and transparency with them is key.
Who do you look up to and why?
Foremost, God for his love for me despite my shortcomings. I am where I am today because of the belief and confidence my father had in me. He was my one true supporter. I want to make him proud of me even as he looks down on me as he dances with the angels.
I am inspired by Tabitha Karanja because she just went for it and fought amongst giants. Suzie Wokabi is also one person I would love to talk to because we are in the same industry. My mentors Francis Njue and Amos Oluoch-Olunya walk by my side.
Anything else you would like to say? Your parting shot?
Never give up before you have tried something for long enough. Do your research and please seek advice and help when you need to. Remember – you can’t do it alone because you’re not alone.