Latoya Bianca Gerber is a very busy young woman. At age 22, she’s juggling her third year of law at Fourah Bay College, an internship at the Ministry of Lands and growing her company Toya Creations in Freetown, Sierra Leone. She specializes in custom gift baskets; including everything from flowers, perfumes to local fruits and vegetables. There is something for everyone, and a gift basket for every occasion. There’s even a coffee lover’s basket for the caffeine junkies out there.
Social media has been really important to the growth of Toya’s Creations. She has a combined following of about 10,000 on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, a noteworthy feat for a new start up. Her customers are young and old, including Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora who want to send gifts to their family members back home. The bulk of the sales come from social media, people see her posts and contact her to make an order.
She started out after her mom encouraged her to do a couple snack gifts baskets. They did well and so it inspired her to continue. Mom is her chief supporter and de-facto business partner.
Even though most of the gift items include the usuals like perfumes, and chocolates; her stand out product is her local calabash fresh gift basket. She buys the fanners in bulk and then uses banana leaves for the base and the sides. She sources the fruits and vegetables from Regent, Grafton, Leicester and other communities in rural Western Area. The baskets are truly original and unapologetically Sierra Leonean, with fruits such as malombo, kushu, carambola (star fruit), tombi (tamarind) and other rare and local favorites. The calabash baskets also come loaded with traditional snacks like coconut cake, benni (sesame) cake and congu.
So far business is growing. She can deliver up to 50 orders in a month. Her next target is to get businesses to order branded baskets from Toya Creations. When customers ask for their orders to be delivered, she makes sure she does it herself, to add a personal touch and ensure that each person as a good experience. For now she has an assistant and a driver and she does everything else from sourcing to marketing on her own.
Toya Creations retails at a shop at 36 Sanders Street in Freetown but by November this year, she hopes to relocate to a family owned store at Pa Demba Road.
What keeps Ms Gerber going isn’t just the profits, its the satisfaction she gets from knowing she is providing a much needed service. She believes that there is a gap in the market for the local gift options both with regards to availability and price. There are gift items from as little as 50,000 ($7) and as much as 1,5 million ($200). Miss Gerber loves to see a happy customer.
“When I get large orders, I don’t eat. I want to be a household name, with positive reviews,” says Ms Gerber whose ultimate goal is to run the largest gift shop in Sierra Leone.