BEATING THE ODDS
Entrepreneur Annabel Biggar-David’s journey from a troubled past to a bright future
‘At Organico, we believe that everyone deserves a life of happiness and wellness, so we offer safe, natural products that deliver results,’ Annabel (42) says. Her business specialises in a range of diffusers and essential oils. It’s unsurprising that Organico’s ethos centres on wellbeing: the abusive environment Annabel grew up in was perhaps the very thing that drove her to establish a company with such a holistic approach.
The Durban-born entrepreneur moved to Mitchells Plain on the Cape Flats when she was four, and returned to Durban a few years later to live with her grandmother.
‘I went back to the Cape Flats when I was 11,’ she says. ‘That’s when everything changed.’
Like most of us, Annabel’s childhood informed who she would become as an adult – but in her case, it was by clearly showing her what she didn’t want to become.
‘Things got rough: my father started drinking and doing drugs again, and was abusive and incredibly violent. Home was no longer a safe haven.’ Worse yet, says Annabel, her father was a child molester. ‘It was my testimony that put him in jail.
‘Life makes bricklayers of the best of us, but we get to choose which side of the wall we live on.’
I remember the call from prison: he said that as soon as he got out of jail he would kill me.’
Having to confront her parents at age 13 to reveal her father’s abuse was the most terrifying thing she’s ever had to do, she says.
‘I wish my mother’s response had been different – “no one will believe you and no one will ever feel sorry for you”, were her words. But that experience allowed me to see the world as it shouldn’t be.’
Such a tumultuous start in life would understandably have put many a person on the back foot. Not Annabel, who founded Organico in 2015. ‘We officially launched on Freedom Day in April 2017 and have been incredibly humbled by the amount of support we’ve received,’ she says.
‘We’re focused on quality, and we guarantee the purity and authenticity of the oils; we know exactly where they originate.’ In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as well as Ecocert SA have certified Organico as organic.
‘When you buy products that are certified organic, you’re helping to reduce the amount of pesticides used. These toxic chemicals have far-reaching effects on our bodies, on wildlife and the environment,’ says Annabel.
She credits her grandmother with instilling in her an entrepreneurial spirit as well as a social conscience in the two years she lived with her.
‘My gran taught me kindness. With every new toy I received, one of my older toys went to a less fortunate child. She also helped me start my first business, selling fudge, when I was nine!’
When Annabel returned to Cape Town, she kept up with that business and extended her range to toffee apples. After high school, she enrolled at the University of the Western Cape, but financial difficulties compelled her to drop out. She quickly found a job, and started making dreamcatchers and candles on the side. In this way, she was able to help support her family and buy her first car by the age of 19.
Perhaps it was her troubled early years that taught Annabel that no amount of security is worth living a life of regrets, and it’s probably why she took a gamble in establishing Organico.
‘I wanted to contribute to something bigger than myself, to make a difference. I didn’t want to be imprisoned by the thought of “I wish I had”, so I risked almost everything I owned. I sold most of the possessions my husband and I share, and tapped into our access bond.’
Annabel’s timing was perfect: the business launch coincided with a spike in demand for plant-based, certified organic products.
There have been many highlights in Organico’s short existence: the company has been acknowledged by the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Small Enterprise Development Agency as a success story in creating employment, and Annabel is in negotiations with a large retailer to have her range on their shelves from this month.
‘This is very exciting, because it makes our range more accessible. I’ve also been blessed with the offer of a scholarship from the Gordon Institute of Business Science to study there, and I was invited by the DTI to attend an outward selling mission to Austria and Germany, which will hopefully enable us to start exporting our range.’
It’s an extraordinary story of success, but Annabel is equally forthcoming about her failings. She ‘went off the rails’, as she puts it, a few years ago. ‘I started abusing alcohol and did things I’m not proud of. I guess this was a culmination of many things that finally erupted, like a volcano.’
Typically, she doesn’t dwell on the negative but is instead thankful for the life experience. ‘As Oscar Wilde said: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”’
And Organico certainly seems to have a future – it’s been showered with numerous accolades. ‘We made the final round of the SAB Entrepreneurship Programme,’ says Annabel. ‘We won the Regional Business Achiever award through Hirsch’s Homestore, and were finalists in the Business Achiever of the Year. We were also nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year by Women of Stature.’
Annabel says her relationship with her grandmother and her family’s parish priest have made her the woman she is today.
‘It’s taken me a long time to get to this point. Life makes bricklayers of the best of us, but we get to choose which side of the wall we live on.’