Maharaj, who founded Sacha in Trinidad and Tobago 35 years ago, chalked the victory up to decades of hard work and the uniqueness of his product.
Speaking to Cosmetics Design, Maharaj said he started Sacha because brands on the market at the time were made with lighter-skinned North American and European consumers in mind, not Latin and Caribbean women.
“When our women wear these brands, they look oily, ashy and two-toned,” he said.
Make-up for all skin tones
Sacha set out to develop something new: make-up that worked well on all skin tones. Its beauty products are now distributed in 23 countries, from New Zealand to Senegal to the US. It expects online sales to be its largest export market by the end of 2015.
Sacha was chosen from a field of nine nominees at the awards ceremony in Montego Bay, Jamaica, organized by the Caribbean Export development agency.
Referring to his firm’s success, Maharaj said: “I was humbled and honored since there were a number of stellar companies that were considered from within Caricom, Suriname and the Dominican Republic.”
Sacha began exporting 10 years after the firm was established, selling first within the duty-free Caricom (Caribbean Commonwealth) region. Before looking overseas, however, it focused on developing products that were good enough to dominate the local market.
Advice to startups
Maharaj said: “My advice to startups is that if you are selling a product, before you seek to export, ensure that it is good enough to dominate the global competitors in your local market, at the same price.
“Avoid at all costs to differentiate yourself by having a lower price. Do not try to be all things to all people. Pick an under-served segment and aim to dominate. It is better to sell few things to many people than many things to a few people.”
And if a startup can solve an existing problem - as Sacha did - then Maharaj feels the newcomer is on to a winner.
He added: “For years makeup artists have grappled with the problem of women looking white in bright lighting and photos. Darker women would get that dreaded ashy look.
“We worked tirelessly to eliminate this problem, which was a nightmare in a country where we have bright lighting all year round.”
Official cosmetics for international events
Because Sasha products work well on diverse skin tones and do not look chalky under bright lights, they have been the official cosmetics at numerous international beauty events, including the 2000 Miss USA Pageant and the 2014 Miss Panama Pageant.
Maharaj said: “We are seriously considering seeking to be the Official Cosmetics of the Miss Puerto Rio Pageant, possibly this year.”
Caribbean Export says its award seeks to recognise the firm which has achieved significant exporting success and whose brand epitomizes its philosophy of “Taking Caribbean Excellence to the World.”