“I love cleaning. My Mum just calls me and says, ‘Sandra, can you come and help me clean the house?’ By the time I leave she’s like, ‘wow!’ So that’s where I thought of starting a business making soap.
I got my first soap recipe from a man who my mother knew. He told me the ingredients, but not how to mix them.
My first batch was in two buckets. I missed some ingredients out and as a result the final product was not good. But my customers did not tell me at first.
Even though my customers did not mention this, I yearned for my soap to get better. I wrote to the executive director of the Uganda Industrial Research Institute to ask them how to improve my product. And after a while they called me and said, ‘Sandra, your letter’s gone through and we’re going to help you’. So that was my turning point to start making good soap.
I also had to formalise the business, to be able to sell, so on advice from Enterprise Uganda, I registered the company.
I submitted so many names but most of the names were rejected. First it was Dream International. But later on I chose Pelere, which means ‘awesome’ in my tribe.
My biggest setback was losing 35 jerrycans of soap. This was 1.5m shillings (US$500) that went down the drain. At the time, we didn’t have a standard formulation, and it was supposed to be green but it went brown. When the buyer came to pick the jerrycans up he refused to buy them. I had to give it away.
I had never thought about needing a mentor but this was the time I realised why I would need one. I went to her and I cried! She told me, ‘you can do it’, she pushed me and kept on inspiring me. She was the only person who believed in me.
I’m humbled by my success, but I’m scared sometimes too. But I realise that I’m becoming a role model in the local area, and people are interested in my views. So in my free time I’m writing a book, called Things a Woman Should Know. I hope one day to get it published.”