The Doctor Who Ditched Clinical Practice to Sell Perfumes — A Week in the Life

April 26, 2022

A Week in the Life is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.


Kedei Ibiang is a medical doctor who specialises in public health, but she quit her job this year (2022) and turned her focus to selling fragrances and scented candles. For today’s A Week in the Life, she explains the process of making fragrances, why she quit her job and the beauty of being in control of her time.

Photo of: graphic design of a doctor who left her job to sell perfumes

MONDAY

I’m not a morning person, so when I wake up at 7 a.m., the first thing I do is pick up my phone to check social media. I spend about 20 minutes checking my inboxes to ensure I’ve not missed any messages or inquiries from customers or prospective customers. Then, I catch up on Facebook and Instagram. There’s always one drama or the other. The recent one is about some lady influencer who scammed people for billions of naira in a Ponzi scheme. After 30 minutes of mindless scrolling, I’m out to face the business that pays me.

I spend the rest of the day packaging orders within Abuja for the delivery guy to pick up. When he does, I follow up with him and ensure that all the orders reach their buyers. For interstate orders, I have an account with a delivery company. The dispatch rider picks up the orders and drops them off at the company’s office, and they take it up from there.

I have terrible eating habits which means I often forget to eat. Ironic that I’m a doctor but I’m not a fan of food. If I could find a way to exist without eating, I would. But by late afternoon, I order food and go back to work until 7 p.m. I don’t have a social life, so after work, it’s Netflix until 10 or 11 p.m. when I sleep.

TUESDAY

When I started using perfumes around 2006, I discovered that I couldn’t use most sprays because my mum and I are asthmatic. I had respiratory allergies myself, which meant that the alcohol in perfumes choked me. The best I could use were roll-ons and body mists because of their lower alcohol content. Even then, I would run into the bathroom, spray whatever I needed to spray while pinching my nose shut, and run back into the room, slamming the bathroom door shut so I wouldn’t inhale the spray. Wild times.

But in 2017, I decided to look for non-alcoholic alternatives that are non-toxic and hypoallergenic. My search led me to start Kay’s Perfumery the following year. I eventually Then I expanded my product line to producing and selling scented candles, diffusers and room sprays. I also formulate fragrances once in a while.

My process starts with contacting my supplier in Dubai. Once every three or four months, I send him a list of fragrances I need, and we conclude on quantity, sizes and pricing. My orders usually cost anywhere from ₦300k to ₦600k, but the naira’s freefall has really affected my business. The quantity of oils I’d have gotten for ₦300k in 2021 now costs me an extra ₦75k to ₦100k. It’s really wild.

When I’m ready to pay, I send the payment through a middle man who converts my naira to dirhams. Once my supplier confirms that I’ve paid, he ships my order.

I play around with ideas in my head a lot, so when I get one that sticks, I just type it out on my phone’s notepad and expand on it. When I have enough options for the notes, I start formulating the scent. It’s sort of an elimination process: I decide on my main notes and the ones that I want to be in minute quantities, then I come up with the first sample which I test for notes and sillage — the trail created by a perfume when it’s worn on the skin. If I don’t feel comfortable with the scent, I go back to tweak it — drop some percentages, increase others, add a new note and repeat the process to come up with a second sample. I test it again: do I like it? Is it nice? Does it linger? I could repeat that process up to five times until I get something that works nicely. When I’m satisfied, I wear it out to gauge people’s reactions and the kind of compliments I get. 

If it’s a scent I think would sit better on a guy, I gift it to a few friends or some old customers — if a longtime customer is lucky enough to be placing an order at the time I’m creating a new scent, I just throw in a small sample and ask them how they like it. I use their feedback to decide whether or not I’m adding it to my product line. 

And when I create a scent that bangs? It really bangs. In December 2021, I formulated a signature diffuser — I called it “Christmas Wine” — that was a hit. I sold over ₦400k worth of it in eight days! The orders poured in so much that I had had to stop taking orders for two days so I wouldn’t break down from stress.

WEDNESDAY 

Today, while I was writing ideas down for a new candle scent, I remembered the time I made a scent that flopped. 

Before Valentine’s Day this year [2022], I was working on three special candle fragrances: Date Night, Love Potion and Let’s Get Nutty (which had coconut and truffles in it). I spent so much time on Love Potion because I wanted it to be the flagship. I had made noise about it on social media and people were hyped! I received so many pre-orders. The mix of notes was just perfect… in theory, but when I produced it, it turned out mid as fuck. 

I tried so hard to make it work but it just didn’t. I was running out of time so I had to abandon it and inform my customers that Love Potion wasn’t going to be available due to unforeseen reasons. Luckily for me, customers accepted other fragrances. The Let’s Get Nutty that I didn’t really put much effort into making turned out to be the star — and saviour — of the show. 

THURSDAY

Even though everything in this Nigeria is out to frustrate business owners, I still derive joy from this entrepreneurship thing. I carry my customers on my head, and I love it when they’re delighted, but once in a while, someone comes around and moves mad.

When I’m not making signature scents, I sell candles wholesale and produce in bulk for other brands. The candle industry is fairly new in Nigeria. People have started appreciating scented candles, so these days, they bring me almost 70% of my monthly revenue. Vendors buy my custom scents, slap their branding on them and resell. Sometimes, I take orders to import specific scents that can’t be found here, and I sell them as well.

In February, a lady reached out and asked me to make candles and diffusers, and import packaging materials for her. She had very niche requirements, and her order amounted to ₦1.2m. We spoke for over a week. I invested so much time and effort into this deal. I even informed my suppliers, and we finalised on shipping and delivery timeline. All that was left was payment. Then this babe ghosted me.

This thing pained me, I can’t lie. I’d been so happy about the deal because I wanted to get some things from a supplier in China at around the same time she reached out. I was like, “Oh, perfect. I’m just going to throw my other cargo into this and ship all of them at once.” The ghosting touched my chest. 

To add insult to injury, she now blocked me. I was shocked when I found out. All she needed to do was just let me know she wasn’t going to proceed, but she just went ahead and blocked. Just. Like. That. 

Me that like closure, I reached out to her through my personal IG profile only to receive excuses and apologies. She told me that something came up and yada yada yada. She now promised to continue the deal later on. Abeg abeg. At that point, I no longer gave a damn.

That experience has taught me to be more apprehensive of customers when they make certain inquiries. Sha the information I fed that babe for free, ehn? I suspect she didn’t really want to buy from me; she just wanted information. I hate when people waste my time. But we move.

FRIDAY

It’s not every day you see a medical doctor who sells perfumes, but abeg, at the moment, I’m not “doctoring”. I never liked clinical practice because it was very monotonous. I hated going through the same processes every day go to the hospital at 7:30 a.m., work all day till maybe 4 p.m., attend to the patients, rinse and repeat.

When it was time to specialise, I decided to go for public health because no two projects are the same. There’s always variety. I could work with organisations that either run as private firms or provide public health services to the government. So everything from infectious diseases or sexual reproductive health or maternal and child health. 

For a while, I was running my fragrance business on the side. I used to coordinate a gender-based violence project that wrapped up in 2021. After that, I decided to take three to four months off to focus on my perfume business and do some serious marketing. During that time, I applied to several grants and won one of them. 

This year (2022), I decided to delve back into public health, so I joined an organisation in March. But it didn’t quite work out. I didn’t enjoy working there, and even though it paid quite well, the work culture was very different from what I was used to. The environment was beginning to tell on my mental health, so I quit after one month. Now, I’m back to focusing on Kay’s Perfumery full-time. That doesn’t mean I’m done with medicine. I still have a lot of plans for the year. 

I have an assistant who helps with inventory, so after the dispatch driver picks up the orders for today, I catch up on the International Health and Women’s Rights course I’m taking. There’s another course on health tech that I’ve abandoned for a million years, but I intend to go back to it.

I didn’t exactly plan my work life to turn out this way, but it couldn’t have been better if I did. I love that I own my hustle and I get to create and execute my ideas. I’m excited to see what more the future holds. Who knows? I could be expanding to skincare soon.

I study till I’m tired. By 7 p.m. on those rare days I feel like stepping out for fresh air, I’ll just check on a friend to see if she’s free. If she is, we’ll have a chill girls’ night out till about 10 or 11 p.m.


Check back every Tuesday by 9 a.m. for more A Week in the Life goodness, and if you would like to be featured or you know anyone who fits the profile, fill out this form.

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