Hobby turns into business for entrepreneur

Ivana Rivera made vegan products for her own skin issues before discovering SpringGR.
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Ivana Rivera attended SpringGR courses to learn about finances, marketing, taglines and other business essentials, after which Koki really took off. Courtesy Cherith Hope Photography

What started out as simply making vegan products for her own skin issues is now a full-fledged business for Ivana Rivera.

She is the founder and owner of Koki, which makes skin care products for hair, body and face.

Rivera started her business in 2017 after encountering a series of health issues, including a breakout of rashes on her chest, face and arms, and inflammation in her knuckles and knees that left her with more questions than answers after doctor visits.

“I began experiencing health issues about nine to 10 years ago and doctors left me undiagnosed but wanted to prescribe me immune suppressants that would most likely cause my other organs to fail,” she said. “I was immensely scared and lost at that point, so I basically did my own research and it led me to understand the dangers of conventional skin care products and the food that I was eating, my diet.”

Rivera began making her own vegan skin care products such as toothpaste, body lotion and deodorant from different ingredients, some of which she bought from fair trade sites such as coco butter, shea butter, coconut oil and other oils. Other ingredients are grown in her own backyard, including lavender, comfrey, chamomile, calendula, sage, hyssop and marigold, among other fruits, herbs and flowers.

Rivera is the sole crafter of her products. She spent the first year of her business testing her products and trying them on family and friends who were willing to help. 

“It is a trial-and-error process (when making the products),” she said. “I do a lot of testing beforehand. My testing process is, I need to test it for at least six months before actually selling it. I create the initial recipe (and sometimes I think) the scent is not right; I don’t like the combination of it, or the herbs and flowers didn’t fuse right with the water or whatever I was using. I just figure out what works, and it takes time. I love it because when I actually get the right (recipe) I am like, ‘OK, this works, this is right and that’s it, I am selling it.’ It takes a lot of time, but I love it. I just have my own little creative ways of doing things and it is working.”

The New York native now offers a product lineup that includes lip glosses, perfumes, oils, soaps, toner, butter, serums, bug repellents, deodorants, pastes and hand sanitizers.

Although Rivera started her business in 2017, she wanted to know more about the business world, so in 2018 she attended SpringGR’s eight-week business course where she learned about finances, marketing, taglines and other business essentials.

“I really thought my business was just a hobby, but when I went to the business classes … I realized that my business is my baby,” she said. “It evolved into something bigger and something greater and I just continued going. SpringGR offered a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful business course. I met so many people, so many entrepreneurs.”

Prior to COVID-19, Rivera said she went to several craft fairs, vendor shows, expos and pop-up markets to showcase and sell her products.

“Usually when I am at a vendor show or pop-up market and I actually see the customer’s skin, I can see what kind of products to use,” she said. “If there is a teenage boy or girl with intense hormonal acne, usually you just want to treat the skin nicely — no harsh chemicals. I usually ask them to wash their face with a good cleanser, toner and definitely moisturize it.

“It is always rewarding when you get that new customer or returning customer and they tell you, ‘Oh, my gosh, your products are great and I came back for more.’ I love speaking to the customers face to face. I love it because they get to know me and they get to really understand what I do.”

Although the pandemic has put a halt to large indoor events, Rivera was one of the 68 entrepreneurs who received Start Garden’s 100 Comeback Fund. The nonprofit awarded the recipients a total of more than $300,000.

Rivera sells her products on her website, koki.life, and also at several locations in Grand Rapids, Grand Haven and Stanton.

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