Long before she began developing hair and skincare products and spas, Cheryl Bowles served as chief chemist and head of research and development at Nestle Trinidad.
Originally from Woodbrook, she is an adventurous spirit not easily daunted by risks. When offered the chance to work with L’Oreal, she opted to forge into the cosmetics domain. In 1986, with TT$10,000 from her savings plus a TT$10,000 bank loan, Bowles took the plunge into building a herbal brand and opened The Herbarium Ltd. In a cozy retail space at Roundabout Plaza in Barataria she sold unique herbal tea blends.
That venture lasted one year due to roadblocks caused by the short shelf-life of certain herbal ingredients. Her mother, Merle Bowles, was a hairdresser with a craving for a hair food designed specifically for the Caribbean. Using her mother’s clients for product development research, Bowles applied their feedback on whether “the fragrance was too aggressive or if it was too oily” to perfect her first hair food product under the Cher-Mere label.
Her three steps to developing her brand: “I got a TT$50,000 loan with an overdraft of TT$30,000 to get the capital for chairs, manufacturing costs and operating expenses. I contacted a TV station and “bought 5 minutes of air time just before the Young & Restless [soap opera].” Bowles wrote her own script on how to stay inspired and didn’t hard-sell the product. Instead, she would “talk about aloe and stories around traditional ingredients.”
She asked viewers to write her to receive a free pamphlet. “The response was so overwhelming [the TV station] asked us to reroute the mail,” recalls Bowles. She also hosted free skin analysis at pharmacies. Gordon Grant facilitated distribution while she developed a business plan, then Bowles used her lone product to wage a brave battle for marketshare against foreign pomades by Dax and Ultra Sheen. “We were challenged,” she recalls, “because there were many foreign products on the market.” And the prevailing consumer perception was that local wasn’t good.
“What is considered a cosmetic [in the Caribbean] may not be a cosmetic [in Canada].” They have strict screening addresses labeling and categorization. “I can’t say acne toner because it becomes a drug, I can call it toner for blemished skin.” Expanding Cher-Mere into the Canadian market, which has no shortage of cosmetics or spas, is stewarded by Bowles’ daughter, Dr. Aba Bailey. “It was interesting to me because now I am in a Caucasian market,” notes Bowles. Catering to Canadian consumers starts with studying the Health Canada website (www.hc-sc.gc.ca) to “see the classifications and what are permissible ingredients,” explains Bowles, who remains driven to innovate and elevate.