Big Ideas from Small Countries: Sacha Cosmetics from Trinidad & Tobago

The mission of Sacha Cosmetics was to develop a line of makeup that all Caribbean women could wear and genuinely look better versions of themselves. The problem that Sacha solved: all make-up products in the market were aimed at fair-skinned women and did not make dark-skinned women more beautiful. Read the case study of David and Goliath from Trinidad who makes black woman look pretty.
Today, through innovation and continuous improvement, SACHA is the most advanced brand of makeup ever developed for multicultural women – African, Hispanic, Asian, Indian and other women of color. The line consists of a wide range of high-performance products that look equally exquisite on light, medium, and dark complexions. The fact that Sacha products work so perfectly on dark skin, while those in other brands do not, give the brand a unique crossover appeal and superior marketability.
Founded in 1979 in Trinidad
150 employees, 50% market share in the Caribbean region
Sacha products are available online and in stores in Caribbean islands, Panama, Colombia and USA
16 000 product reviews on Amazon, average rating 4,6
The founder of Sacha Mr. Kama Maharaj received the Caribbean Entrepreneur of the Year title in 2017
Trinidad and Tobago has a population of 1,4 Million, GDP per capita is 15 000 USD (World Bank)
A multicultural island
Trinidad is a unique place. Most of the people are descendants of African slaves or workers from India. Almost all races and skin colors are represented in Trinidad today.
The story of Sacha, probably the best-known brand of Trinidad origin, started more than 40 years ago.
Kama Maharaj, the founder, remembers the early days: “My mother had a hair saloon Trinidad and she was very passionate about making all women beautiful. She even took a trip on a ship to Europe in 1950s and learned from the best in Paris and London.”
But she also realized that all make-up cosmetics she used were made for fair-skinned women. “If you put such make-up on black women’s faces, they look like frozen donuts,” tells Mr. Mahajaraj.
He experienced a similar problem as a student in Toronto, Canada. “Then I realized that this is a global issue. The Goliaths of the cosmetics industry, such as L’Oreal and Revlon did not have interest in designing products for black women,” he realized.
Revolution, not evolution
So Mr. Maharaj decided to start his own business and solve the problem. His goal was to create make-up products that work well on dark skin.
“I worked many years trying to improve the formulas of existing make-up products. But then I realized that I have to start from zero. I had to make a revolutionary product, instead of trying to fix the existing products."
It took 40 years of dedicated work to create the “holy grail” product called Sacha Buttercup.
Today, Sacha has 25 shops in Trinidad, Panama, and Colombia. They sell to more than 60 countries via online channels.
Expansion to US market
Mr. Maharaj tells that Sacha offer really generous conditions to its franchisees. “I think we have the most generous franchise system in the World! We offer up to 400% mark-up!”
Sacha pop-up stores that are based on the franchise model are based in the shopping malls next to high-end stores in the urban areas with a high concentration of affluent black women – Washington, DC, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Charlotte.
Sacha is like Rolex in Africa
“I recently went to Ghana and saw Sacha Buttercup for sale in many small shops. It’s all fake – they make it in China. The store owners and buyers also know that it’s fake. On one hand, it hurts my business. But it’s also a compliment for Sacha – we are like Rolex or Louis Vuitton. Nobody cares to copy lousy brands,” is Mr. Maharaj proud.
Sacha is well known in Africa because many social media influencers have praised the product.
Currently, the price point of Sacha Buttercup is too high for the African mass market.
Trinidad has great potential, but suffers from small country mentality
Trinidad belongs to the CARICOM area, they have tax-free business agreements with the EU, US, and Canada. American and European businesses pay 20% import duty for their products in Trinidad. “We speak English, we are located on the US doorstep and we are in the same time zone as the US East Coast. We are like mini-America, but our production costs are lower,” tells Kama Maharaj. “We can ship to major US cities in 5 days!”.
The biggest obstacle for entrepreneurs in Trinidad is a small country mentality. “We have a hard time asking for the premium prices for our products. Since the purchasing power of our people is relatively small, asking for higher prices in export markets is not easy for us,” tells Mr. Maharaj.
Better 1,000 micro influencers than one Superstar
The main marketing channel for Sacha is influencer marketing. “Unlike our rivals L’Oreal and Unilever. We cannot afford TV or magazine advertising,” explains Kama Maharaj. “We use microbloggers and influencers. We send our product to them and in most cases, the reviews are very positive. We are really big in Africa, unfortunately, we do not sell there yet,” tells Kama Maharaj.
Sacha’s strategy is to use thousands of micro-influencers, not a few superstars.
Sacha Cosmetics has also been a partner of different beauty contests, such as Miss USA, Miss America, and Miss Universe. “And no wonder, black women win the beauty contests more and more often,” is Kama Maharaj happy.

Lessons from Sacha Cosmetics

  • Identify the problem and solve it;
  • Don’t try to fix existing imperfect products. Start from scratch and build a perfect one. Innovation is a revolution, not evolution;
  • Don’t give up – it may take 40 years to achieve the goal;
  • Be careful with the marketing costs – 1,000 micro-influencers may work better than one superstar.