“Working for someone else is a lot easier because they are telling you everything that you need to do. But being an entrepreneur is much more fulfilling; the accomplishments are more rewarding”.
Born in Trinidad, Shenelle Hills-Fife grew up in the countryside. She enjoyed the outdoors and planting was one of her favourite activities as a child. Shenelle also had an entrepreneurial role model in her father, who was always seeking out opportunities to earn money to support their family.
Studying literature as a student at the University of the West Indies, Shenelle had no idea then that her eventual postgraduate career would require business knowledge. After earning her degree, she began teaching in primary school, a job that she thought was her passion. However, after a few years, Shenelle came to realise that it was not right for her. When her business calls became a continuous interruption during class, Shenelle decided to quit her teaching job and focus on De Jeunésse, the business she had started with her sister Jenelle.
De Jeunésse is a line of skincare products handmade by Shenelle. While at University, Shenelle was constantly looking for opportunities to make money. Attending a self-care and wellness conference exposed her to the skincare industry, specifically soaps and lotions. Upon examination of a few of the products there, she realised that it would be easy and relatively inexpensive for her to produce her own products.
Sourcing ingredients for her products locally, Shenelle uses elements such as avocado, cacao, aloe, and coconut. She has a room in her house dedicated to making her products and she produces most soaps and lotions completely by herself. Her husband takes care of the deliveries and if she is filling a large order, she occasionally recruits one other person to help her. Aside from the occasional help, De Jeunésse is a solo operation.
Since Shenelle had no knowledge of the business world or how to run her own company, she began to search for resources that would teach her the basics. She came across the Youth Business Trinidad and Tobago (YBTT) Facebook page and reached out to the organisation. YBTT provided training, mentorship, and access to finance that allowed Shenelle to build a strong foundation for her company that would allow her business to grow. “YBTT helped me to open my mind, encouraging me to aspire toward expanding to international markets. They have even helped me to adjust my business model to make my goal attainable”, Shenelle said.
Shenelle’s products are sold in both retail and wholesale. She also sells her soaps and lotions at street markets, local popup shops, and in schools. Through collaborations with other companies and creative entrepreneurs, Shenelle is always trying to increase awareness about her brand. In the same vein, she is beginning to market her products more through social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. When considering possible growth for her business, Shenelle aims to eventually export her products to places like St. Lucia, Barbados, and the United States.
De Jeunésse greatly benefits the Trinidadian community, as Shenelle uses local suppliers for the ingredients that go into her products. She also does her part to encourage entrepreneurship among young people, as she goes into schools and shows children how to create their own skincare products. Most recently, Shenelle hosted an event for a group of young boys and walked them step-by-step through the process of starting a business and making their own products. She recalled how excited and enthusiastic they were to learn about each component of building a company.
Shenelle addressed how the world of entrepreneurship can sometimes be an intimidating place for women. However, she encourages other women to seize opportunities, strive to secure adequate financing, and consider the long-term rewards. Though the initial stages of starting a business might have their downfalls, the eventual benefits make everything worth it—something she notes as important to remember during the hard times.
"Don’t be afraid to be an entrepreneur. Think about what you love doing and what makes your product unique in your local market. If you work hard enough and seize the opportunities then success will follow".