Belinda Tetteh meets me outside Moka Bros at The Place. The sun is shining. It highlights the smoothness of brown her skin. Her kinky chocolate-colored hair is pulled high into a puff. She’s wearing red lipstick and carrying a large purse. It looks full and heavy.
We greet and enter the restaurant. It’s busy. We order drinks then make our way to a booth in the corner.
We’re here to discuss Belinda’s journey to China and the story behind her natural beauty brand, Amaks Organix.
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Belinda sets her bag down in the booth. She scoots in, folds her hands, and smiles at me.
Belinda is from Accra, Ghana. She came to China in 2014, at the age of twenty, to study medicine. Her brother had suggested to her family it would be good for her.
“I didn’t really have much of a choice,” she says. “I was an obedient girl.”
But Belinda was open to the opportunity. She is a self-proclaimed ‘science-person’ and looked forward to being on her own; making decisions for herself.
“That was something I thought would be interesting,” she says. “Then when I got here, I was like, oh my God, I need my mother to tell me what to do!” she laughs.
Belinda says she made many mistakes when she first arrived “but it made me more mature.”
At the same time, she realized medicine was not her thing. Cosmetics was.
During her first year in China, Belinda struggled to find skincare products she was used to using at home, like cocoa butter. She tried local products, but they made her skin break out — badly.
As her skin got worse, Belinda gave up on store-bought products. She decided to treat her skin using natural ingredients. She mixed olive oil and shea butter to create a lotion. Slowly, her skin began to heal.
Belinda turned to the internet to learn more about natural beauty products. “I was doing a lot of research.”
Belinda read anything she could get her hands on. She says chemistscorner.com was one of the best resources she found to learn about safe mixing, microbes, and preservatives.
As she learned more, she began to experiment — inventing new skin and hair products for herself. Before she knew it, her room was filled with oils and blends.
As Belinda used her products, people noticed how good her skin and hair looked. Her sister suggested she sell her products. Belinda began to think about it.
Then one day, some friends visited. Seeing her home workshop, one friend commented, “You have a cosmetic company.”
“When my friend said that to me, it was like a confirmation,” Belinda says.
However, there was a problem. She didn’t have money to create products for people to consume. She mentioned this to her friend. “How much do you need?” the friend asked.
Belinda was shocked by her friend’s generosity. Without thinking, she said, “1000 RMB.”
She laughs as she tells me the story. “It’s funny because I needed more than a thousand RMB.”
But she made it work. “I’m very frugal when it comes to money,” she says.
Belinda bought the raw materials she didn’t have, some packaging, and a second-hand printer from a scrap shop to make labels. Then she got to work.
She would start by making twelve bottles of each of her main products; shampoo, conditioner, hair butter, and hair oil.
When she finished, she brought six bottles of each with her to an evening service at church.
“I started telling the ladies there. I showed them the product and I was like, hey, this is what I use on my hair. They were like, how much? The very first day I came out, I sold four bottles [of each product].”
Belinda then learned through her church community about a pop-up market where she could sell more products.
“The cost of a booth was just 100 RMB,” she says. She signed up and two weeks later was able to gain some new clients there too.
“The rewarding part is,” Belinda explains, “every day I wake up and mix those oils, I know that I’m actually giving the world something.”
The most challenging part for her though is making people understand that natural products work slower than non-natural products.
She tells me that people often want quick results, but her products don’t work like that. She describes natural beauty products like working out:
To get a six-pack, you have to go to the gym and eat right. With natural beauty products you must do the same; give up the things that damage your hair and skin and use the products that will slowly work it back to life.
Despite that challenge, Belinda believes she does okay because of the quality of her products and her personality.
“When it comes to me and people, I get connected in the blink of an eye.”
Belinda recalls, “I remember the last Rumble in the Jumble, someone came to my table and I was like, Sweetie, I really want to talk, and she started laughing, and by the time she realized it she bought all the products on the table.”
“That’s one thing I’m beginning to love about myself,” she adds.
Belinda shares that she would like her brand to sell beyond China but she stayed in Beijing for so long because “the whole world is in Beijing” and that’s where she felt she could start to expose her brand to an international audience.
Now Belinda has made her way back to Ghana and continues to work on growing her brand from there. Her business is now registered in Ghana.
“You never know what you are capable of doing until you do it,” she says. “At first it was all in my head.”
Belinda recounts some of the failures she’s had over the years. “You know, for every product I make, I have a batch that I throw out. Like four times.”
While sometimes she can be self-loathing, especially when she wastes expensive materials, Belinda says failing is a part of her success and should be a part of yours too.
“Any time you fail, sit back, and realize you did something. You will never have experience until you fail.”