Leading the charge in a truly Malaysia skincare revolution, Sulie Abell of Sluvi is on a mission! Her brand brings together the best in Borneo’s fine ingredients, amazing skincare products, and the empowerment of local farmers alike. Read on to learn more about her story!
This week, we shine a spotlight on Sulie ABell, founder of Sluvi, to learn more about what makes her truly Malaysia skincare brand tick!
Tell us about yourself! Where did the idea for Sluvi come about, and how did you first realise this is something you could do as a business?
Hi, I’m Sulie Abell, and I’m the founder of Sluvi. I was born in Pahang, but my father’s government work ensured our family travelled extensively around Sarawak, allowing my love of the land and its people to blossom. I had chronic eczema some years ago, and couldn’t find a single product that I could safely use on my sensitive skin. My doctor suggested that I use natural ingredients as an alternative approach. With that, I started doing research and began handmaking my own natural skincare products. The turning point came when I realised the remedies worked – AND that all these natural ingredients could easily be found in the backyard of my village, Melugu, in Simanggang.
It was during my sourcing adventures that I met Nancy, a bee farmer. We got to chatting, and I discovered that half the Melugu farmers earn less than RM200 a month. That knowledge stuck with me, and I started thinking of how I could help them out. Their situation eventually took root as inspiration for me to start Sluvi. I recalled my earliest exposure to social enterprises in my university days, where I learned about Muhammad Yunus empowering small businesses in Bangladesh with microcredit. Entrepreneurship can be risky, and my family worried initially. However, they eventually came to accept my decision, and even became my first investors.
As a self-taught natural skincare creator, I needed to do a lot of research using natural ingredients. I conducted numerous experiments, and underwent many trials and errors. Thankfully, we live in the Internet of Things era, and I could get knowledge and inspiration from Google, YouTube, and Facebook where formulas, packaging, branding, and marketing were concerned. I also attended natural skincare courses to solidify my knowledge of the industry, and to further legitimise my business. If Sluvi products could work on my problematic skin, I was certain it would also work on others’, especially those with sensitive skin.
In our pilot project or validation stage in 2017, the idea for Sluvi was accepted into the MaGIC Stanford Go To Market Program. After going through the idea with Stanford lecturers, we came to the realisation that Sluvi has the potential to go far. We validated our idea through different approaches, both online and offline – at bazaars. Through this process, we received constructive feedback in terms of packaging, pricing, marketing, ingredients, and so on. We also shared our products with family and friends with sensitive skin, and received great feedback!
By the time 2018 had rolled around, Sluvi had been accepted into the TEGAS Pre Accelerator Program and MaGIC Impact Driven Accelerator. Once we completed these programs, we went into the business for real, and officially launched in September of that same year.
Tell us about Sluvi as a Malaysia skincare company. What is the company’s ethos, and what are some of the tenets you abide by?
Sluvi is a Borneo-based social enterprise that empowers farmers, who supply our ingredients. They’re used to make natural skincare products that are safe for the environment and those with sensitive skin. We believe that increasing the income of farmers can is key in providing better access to healthcare and education for farming families. Our aim is to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 3, 4, 8, and 15: Good Health and Wellbeing, Quality Education, Decent Work and Economic Growth, and Life on Land.
We want to make a positive impact on the community that we serve. That’s why we involve our beneficiaries and the farmers, directly as well as indirectly, in the production of Sluvi’s natural skincare products. Our business model is Inclusive Capitalism.
In building our sustainable social enterprise, we ensure high quality in the ingredients of our natural skincare products. We give our farmers proper agriculture, plantation, and production training, so that we can increase overall income and productivity of farming families and promote fair trade through direct ingredients sourcing. We also manage our supply chain to improve the logistics flow, as well as conduct workshops and training to equip our partners with knowledge on quality farming.
Our target beneficiaries are poor farmers that are single mothers, elderly widowers, unemployed young adults, and fathers in village areas. Our validation process showed us that these groups require the most help for various reasons. Many need to support their kids in schools and colleges, while others simply need more funding for basic necessities. Our task is to create opportunities and thus help prevent social problems amongst village youths.
Where do you source the necessary materials and ingredients for production? Tell us a little bit about your journey with your suppliers!
We get our ingredients 100% fresh, direct from the farmers. These natural ingredients can even be taken fresh from the backyard! We use honey, ginger, coconut, rice, aloe vera, lemon, cocoa, roses – and so on. When we were about to start Sluvi, we spread the word on our social enterprise, calling out for farmers in the village that we could collaborate with. Unfortunately, despite spreading the word across various mediums – from social media to phone calls and even through word of mouth, nobody showed up. We believe that there was an initial lack of trust in the legitimacy of our company. And so, we decided to rectify that, and went on the ground to meet with the farmers. We went from house to house to explain our project in person. It was a time-consuming effort, but we managed to convince them to join us in the end!
Where do you get your inspiration for your Malaysia skincare products? Do you think your Malaysian roots play a role in inspiring your catalogue?
Borneo is rich in natural resources, but many locals don’t realise their benefits. We grew up watching advertisements on television promoting commercial skincare products, and I, among many locals, were sold on them. With Sluvi, I want to highlight how great premium Borneo natural ingredients can be for our skin. It’s true that other regions produce similar ingredients, but ours are unique as a result of our amazing Borneo soil. Our ingredients have their special benefits and different qualities; they even taste different. So, we’re eager to showcase this to the world, if we can!
At the moment, we sell just five main products. When we started in 2018, we did so with 10 products, and packaged them in paper ziplock bags. Our belief at the time was that customers would be more excited to browse a range of products. However, we soon realised that the wide range confused customers, and led to them muling over which products are suitable for their skin. We also had a hard time providing explanations, and so, six months in, we pulled the plug on five of these products. We realised that we had more time to focus on our best sellers, and could improve producing, timing, and profits this way. It was a great decision, and though we learned the hard way, we managed to make these products our signature products, and to present them in a simple, but unique and memorable way.
People say that less is more. It’s easier to attract and retain customers when they aren’t distracted by too many options. We don’t want our products to be ‘one hit wonders’, but we do want to build trust first. Slowly, but surely, we’re getting there.
What would you say sets Sluvi’s products apart from other personal and skincare product brands?
We make our products with all-natural Borneo ingredients. They’re handmade, affordable, direct from the farm, and reflect our blend of social passion and innovative standards. And, we’ll have a wider product range up soon!
Currently, our five products have similar benefits, with each focused on a specific condition. As an example: Our aloe green tea face mask helps those with problematic and sensitive, combination, or oily skin, and acne, psoriasis, and eczema. Our rice face mask is helpful for those with very dry skin. However, both masks come with other benefits and can soften, brighten, and exfoliate whilst providing anti-aging and a healthy glow. Our honey soap is an all-rounder and is suitable for all skin types – even across the face and body.
What does a Sluvi Skincare Routine look like? Share your personal skincare routine with us!
Sluvi products provide great skin with just a few easy steps!
Sluvi offers easy steps to get great skin! Besides our products mentioned above, our rosewater and aloe toner helps hydrate and clear skin of oily secretions and also removes traces of makeup left behind by makeup remover. It also makes for a cool refreshing skincare treatment on hot days, if you refrigerate it.
I, personally, have oily skin. My daily routine starts with:
- Washing my face with our stingless bee honey soap. I leave the soap on for five minutes, like a mask.
- Then, I apply the aloe green tea face mask and let it sit for another five minutes.
- After rinsing with water, I dab on the rosewater and aloe toner with a cotton pad.
- Finally, I use a handmade face lotion to control the oil on my face.
As Asians, we’re well aware of the importance of rice in our culture. Tell us a little bit about why you’ve chosen to incorporate it into your Malaysia skincare products, as well as what it does for the skin as a whole. Why is it so good?
Indeed! Rice is the bridge between all Asian cultures. I grew up watching older relatives in the village washing and steaming their faces with rice water. They would sometimes also use rice water to wash their hair.
Rice has numerous benefits, whether it’s for the hair, skin, or even internally within the body. As an Asian, I had already been exposed to the use of rice in my skincare journey. However, while I was growing up, I became influenced by modern skincare, and abandoned natural skincare up until my eczema episode. Then, I returned to old-school skincare routines. Our Sluvi rice face mask is made with 100% traditional Huma rice!
As to the wonders of rice:
- Contains many vitamins and minerals that can help achieve clean and flawless skin.
- Grainy in texture, so it can exfoliate the skin.
- Has oil-absorbing properties, which makes it perfect for acne-prone skin.
- Contains anti-aging properties.
- Excellent anti-inflammatory agent to soothe sunburns.
- Tightens skin to keep it firm, thus delaying sagging.
- Rejuvenates and adds a much-needed glow to skin.
- Polishes away flaky and dead skin cells to reveal smooth silky skin beneath.
What are some key Malaysian skincare ingredients that are traditionally used for skincare, that you wish more people knew about? Share them with us!
According to my relatives, our ancestors believed the Iban eggplant was the biggest star of traditional skincare routines. That’s why many of them aged like fine wine! Unfortunately, this skincare practice was lost in time, as the world continues to evolve. After hearing about its benefits, I found myself playing around with the ingredient for my own purposes. I’ve tried making Terung Iban face masks, with surprising results. It’s really effective in reducing pigmentation, brightening the face, and giving you an amazing glow! It seems Asian ingredients have got that much more to offer! That’s why I’m excited to explore more Borneo natural ingredients for future Sluvi products.
What is something you know now, that you wish you knew at the start of your entrepreneurial journey?
One thing I hear a lot is, “Hey, it’s good that you get to be your own boss!” However, what people don’t know is that it’s much harder than working in a team. There are plus points; I personally dislike being directed, so being able to take charge of my own business is very rewarding, no matter how hard it is. Still, I had some struggles in the early days of Sluvi.
Many start-ups fail as a result of poor finance management. I struggled to cope with this, and looking back, I wish I had learned more about finance. I slowly started to learn basic finance management while juggling my business. Thankfully, I had guidance from friends and mentors who are seniors in the industry. I’m still learning.
How do you strike a balance between the busy life of a small business owner and your personal life? What are some ways you decompress when it all gets too much for you?
It’s very simple: Work hard and play harder. I make sure I finish my tasks, no matter how difficult – it may entail sleepless nights. However, after, I make sure to rest more, so that I can recharge my mind and body for the next hurdle ahead. From Mondays to Wednesdays, we focus on production. Thursdays and Fridays are saved for paperwork. In busy seasons, we only get about three hours of sleep a night, and I’d wake up at 3AM to complete my paperwork and respond to e-mails. How I stay in the game is, after keeping busy and completing my tasks, I take a break.
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