Cosmetics require innovation

Martina Dudová first started producing cosmetics as a hobby, while completing her PhD in chemistry. In the beginning, she had just a small production facility. However, over time, she replaced it with a space three times as large, after the interest in her products began to flourish. Nowadays, Martina Dudová – who hails from the small Slovak town of Humenné – is dedicated to not only the development and production of cosmetics under her own brand Navia, but also to the development of a new brand called Solution, which is innovative thanks to its cold production method.

Although it was traditionally men who started a business, while the women helped run it, the Duda family has done things a little bit differently. Martina’s husband Matúš only joined her business after the company really started to take off. “A woman who wants to start her own family must go through a difficult period of pregnancy, childbirth and nursing. All this becomes increasingly more difficult when you’ve got a business to run,” explains M. Dudová.

According to Dudová, every type of business has its pros and cons. “A big drawback, of course, is that an entrepreneur doesn’t have a set work schedule and the business can’t be entirely separate from their personal life. It’s nothing like working a 9-to-5 job, where you can just go home once your workday has finished. An entrepreneur has to learn to live alongside their company,” the young woman explains with a smile.
As a mother and businesswoman, she has played this to her advantage. She has learned how to manage her time wisely, as circumstances required. “Even if a person is working late into the night or spends the whole night at work, at the end of the day, if they really like their job then they have nothing to complain about and don’t see this as a negative thing.
Entrepreneurship gives women more freedom than a traditional job. They can do what they love while learning to manage their time wisely, so that they can in fact devote more time to their family and household,” M. Dudová says, describing the benefits of becoming a businesswoman. She has already received her second award, within less than five years from starting her own company. Dudová most recently won the Profit Award for the Most Inspiring Business Story in the Young Innovative Entrepreneur competition, organised by the Junior Chamber International – Slovakia.
Two years before, she won in the most successful self-employed woman category, as part of the Businesswoman of Slovakia competition organised by the Slovak Business Agency. “Winning these awards has been a big motivator for me to keep going, even when the going gets tough. I very much appreciate the awards, as they have been a driving force for me. I consider them to be a moral evaluation of what I have devoted more than one hundred percent of my efforts towards, and what I have sacrificed so much of my time and energy for,” says the young businesswoman.

Martina Dudová came up with the idea of making cosmetics at a time when she and her husband started to become more interested in healthy eating. They read the ingredients of various products and tried to choose the ones that were most beneficial for their bodies. Cosmetics went hand-in-hand with this approach, as they did not always like what the drugstore counters had on offer. “As a chemist, I know that some substances can do more harm than good, and can even find their way into the human body through the skin. That’s why I decided to create simple products based on my own ideas, which is how my dream of building my own brand started,” Dudová recounts.
“It was a very modest dream. I had hoped that, after completing my PhD in chemistry, I could pursue this project in addition to childcare, as we had planned. At the time, I never imagined that it would grow to the point where I could make a living through the brand along with my husband and, in addition, provide other people with work,” she adds. Without her family to support her, Dudová probably wouldn’t be where she is today. According to Dudová, the best thing about running her own business is that it’s like a dream come true, and all the extra time she spends together with her husband is an added bonus. “Because my dream of owning a cosmetics brand is no longer just mine, but is ours.”

Business success runs in the family. Martina Dudová first got a taste of the ‘business sandwich’ when she lived with her parents, which meant she was not afraid of all the bureaucracy when it came time to set up her own business. “Thanks to my father, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting myself into, in terms of starting my own business,” she says. As a student, Dudová had certain perks with regards to running her business, especially when it came to health insurance and social security benefits.
“My husband and I both had a regular income, so investing in branding wasn’t really a problem and we didn’t need any external funding sources,” she recalls of her experience in the very beginning. However, neither of them was sufficiently prepared for the legal requirements concerning the production of cosmetics. It soon dawned on them that the initial requirements were far from being everything they needed. Establishing a production and product certification was a huge challenge that was both costly and time-consuming.
“Three quarters of a year passed after I started processing all of the necessary documents for obtaining a trade licence and setting up a production facility, before my products finally reached the market. With every step, I moved closer to my goal, but overcoming all of these challenges really took a lot out of me. It turned out I had no idea what lay behind this industry,” admits the young businesswoman. There were a few times when Dudová wanted to throw in the towel and quit, and if she had known from the start just how daunting the whole process would be, then maybe that would have scared her off from trying in the first place. But she says that sometimes it’s better not knowing. Also, quitters never win – which is ultimately why Dudová is here today with her own cosmetics brand.

“I suppose others would agree with me that this is no walk in the park. Instead of doing actual work, an entrepreneur often has to deal with the various legal requirements on all sides. These requirements change quite often, so it can be difficult to keep track of it all,” she says, explaining how she perceives the business environment. To a certain extent, Dudová feels that the state is already beginning to make changes for the better, particularly by including changes regarding the support of domestic producers.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to large food chains, it’s still always about who’s offering the lowest price. This means that some small producers simply can’t establish themselves,” she says, pointing out other complications that small businesses are facing. “As it stands now, greater accessibility to the financial resources would make it much easier for my business to operate, because we are very limited in terms of space. Finding a bigger space, remodelling it and arranging it according to our needs will be really costly, and such an investment could be somewhere in the region of hundreds of thousands of euros.”

For her production, Martina Dudová needs help to make sure everything is ready when she arrives at work. “We produce what we need, and while our assistants pack up the products and prepare the orders for shipment, I’m busy communicating with the customers, particularly when it comes to advising them about our products,” she says. In addition, Dudová gets the documentation ready for the certification of new products, or tests prototypes of new items currently in production. “In the evening, after my daughter has fallen asleep, I continue processing e-mails while also self-studying dermatology and aromatherapy, or the production of natural cosmetics.
I have also successfully completed several programmes at various international schools for natural cosmetics, and I have just applied for another one,” M. Dudová says, unable to hold back her excitement. “I feel that the knowledge you gain cannot be taken away from you, but rather it pushes you past your existing limits.” It’s very important for Dudová not to stop and to keep working on developing her skills. Only then can she improve herself and her work, provide better advice to her customers, and create products that really do make a difference.

Martina Dudová’s company operates its own e-shop, where customers can buy 100% fresh products. They send these products all across Europe, particularly to Slovaks living abroad. “Thanks to our network of business partners, some of our products can even be seen by our customers in person. After all, selling cosmetics online does have its drawbacks.” Currently, the company has nearly 100 business partners in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which alone generate more sales for them than their e-shop. “These are either online stores or brick-and-mortar shops focused on a healthy lifestyle, as well as beauty salons that work with our cosmetics,” adds M. Dudová. They also produce cosmetic products for three other partners under their brand name and according to their different specifications. There is a growing interest in bespoke production, but for capacity reasons, Dudová has already rejected some similar partnership offers. “Sometime in the near future, we are planning to expand our space, so that we can focus more on developing our brand and making more Slovak and Czech customers aware of our products,” she emphasises.

The company started operating at the beginning of 2014, but the first products were officially launched on the market a little later. This was mainly due to the handling of the legal matters involved in setting up a production facility and ensuring the product certification. “Oddly enough, I consider the real beginning and major leap forward for our company to be that period of time in early 2016 when I became pregnant and I suspended my studies. At that time, my husband Matúš joined me, because it had become obvious that I would not be able to manage the growing demand by myself.” Dudová’s husband later ended up taking paternity leave instead of her.
Soon after, the products underwent a major redesign, which was also reflected by an increase in demand. “Eventually we had to replace our small, 25-square-metre production facility with a larger one. In 2017, we bought our own space; then in 2018, we moved the production to a space that was ten times larger. We are now once again looking for something bigger,” says M. Dudová. The company’s portfolio has gradually expanded and today they offer approximately 150 products under the Navia brand, with others waiting to be launched in the upcoming weeks.
Turnover has been increasing rapidly from year to year, and the company is growing tremendously. The only thing that’s really stopping the brand from reaching its full potential is the limited production space. “Our annual turnover is currently in the hundreds of thousands of euros, and we produce around ten thousand products a month,” she adds.

This young entrepreneur believes that high-quality, raw ingredients and precise craftsmanship are what form the backbone of the Navia brand products, with tools that enable her to supervise the entire production process in great detail. “I will definitely continue to look for better raw materials and to improve our products. But I will also continue to improve myself, as this is one of the biggest benefits of my work. I feel that we should be going above and beyond to help our customers and provide them with the best advice possible, all while trying to solve their cosmetic problems in close cooperation with dermatologists from our prestigious partner dermatology clinic in Slovakia.” M. Dudová has also begun to work closely with a professional guarantor for education in the field of nutrition, in order to develop ideas in the form of counselling and nutritional supplements to help solve certain skin-related problems.
The skin is actually connected with the internal processes of the body, while the skin’s complexion is a reflection of the internal condition. Over the last two years, Dudová has also worked on the new Solution brand by Navia, which she will be launching in a few weeks. “It’s a combination of modern science, pure nature and traditional aromatherapy. At present, these products have no competition in the Slovak market for hand-made natural cosmetics, mainly thanks to our innovative cold production method. It’s not a commonly-used method, but it allows for the maximum preservation of the quality in rare plant materials, which results in great benefits for our skin, as they can work all on their own and are not just carriers of the active substances,” explains M. Dudová.
This year, she will also be launching cosmetics containing oxygen, in collaboration with the founder of the Oxywater brand, which is water with a patented oxygen enrichment technology. The next step will be to upgrade the company’s packaging materials to more environmentally-friendly ones. “This is a priority not only because it’s a trend just now, but also mainly because natural cosmetics should be environmentally-friendly. Period. We have also just introduced a recycling programme, so that customers can return their used containers,” concludes M. Dudová.