Codilia Gapare found out she had breast cancer the day she was going for an interview to enter college as a mature student.
The remarkable single mom, originally from Zimbabwe, had spent years preparing for her studies so bravely went ahead and secured a spot, telling her interviewers that ‘cancer was not going to be the book of her life but just a chapter ”.
Unfortunately, trying to juggle family life, work, caring for her parents and undergoing cancer treatment took too long and she had to give up her course.
Falling into depression, she got up using a ‘lipstick and heels’ mantra that she told herself every morning so get up and get out of bed and look good for the day.
Fully expecting to lose her hair, Codilia had wigs ready but nothing had prepared her for losing her lashes and she found that false lashes just wouldn’t work without the existing lashes to hold them together. Determined to keep spirits up, she invented a false eyelash especially for people who had lost their eyelashes.
In just two years, his C-Lash brand has been worth over Â£ 1.2million and is now sold worldwide.
âI got my diagnosis at 3pm and I had my college interview at 6pm that night, and I told them cancer was not going to be the book of my life but just a chapterâ, said Codilia, 43, who has family in Birmingham. and is the mother of Panashe, 21, and Taku, 13.
Codilia had always liked her hair in different styles and colors, so she was planning how she was going to prepare for losing her to the chemotherapy. The loss of her eyelashes, however, was something she found much more difficult to come to terms with.
âHair was my thing, but I had mentally prepared myself to lose it,â she said. âI didn’t think my eyebrows and eyelashes would disappear, so it affected me more. I could draw my eyebrows, but when I tried false eyelashes they were too heavy because there was no eyelash to hold them back.
âWhen I dropped out of college, I fell into depression. But I knew I had to be there for the kids. So I started something I called âlipstick and heelsâ where I would wake up every morning, take a shower, put on makeup and a nice dress and heels.
âI didn’t think any further than that. It was something I could control. And it got me out of my depression. It doesn’t work for everyone but I think it’s good to find something outside of yourself, maybe like growing food, or flowers, so that you don’t focus on your aches and pains all the time.
“As a result, for me my eyelashes have become a bit of an obsession.”
Codilia bought a lot of false eyelash sets and started modifying them on her kitchen table. She realized that she needed a thin strip to go through the eyelid that blended with the skin and a very strong glue to keep the lashes in place, but that she was hyperallergenic and gentle on the skin, because cancer treatment makes the skin very sensitive.
While researching how to make prototypes on the internet, she found that most of the companies were based in Asia and that she wanted the eyelashes to be made in the UK. Also, she didn’t want to turn to an existing eyelash brand as she was worried that, not having done this themselves before, they would tell her it wasn’t possible.
So she boldly tried something completely different. She took the eyelashes she had created to an engineering company that normally makes auto parts and asked them to make her prototype.
âSometimes it’s better to come from a completely different point of view,â she explained. “They said we didn’t know anything about eyelashes and I said it was fine, I just want you to take what’s in my head and replicate it without telling me it can’t be did. And I said please don’t get me down, because I will discouraged and I do not want to. “
She added, âI didn’t want to create a new face, I wanted to get my old face back, so I wanted something natural looking that would mirror my own lashes. I talked to people and realized that I was not the only one with this problem.
Once she had her prototypes, Codilia took them to every drugstore and supermarket she could think of. Eventually, Boots said they were interested in taking it, but it needed to be registered or patented.
âI searched for this online and realized it would cost between Â£ 15,000 and Â£ 22,000 to do it – I didn’t have that money,â she said.
âSo I sat down for six weeks printing whatever I could find on the recording of the design and put it all together. It saved me Â£ 15,000. “
Next, Codilia launched its product, now called C-Lash, against 36 other companies in front of a panel of Dragon’s Den-style judges at the London Business Show. She was the first to arrive, winning the Show’s Innovator Award.
As a result, she secured a partnership with a brand called Eylure, with whom she spent the next two years working to ensure the product was safe for people with immunosuppression.
C-Lash finally launched in early 2019, about four years after Codilia first came up with the idea. The eyelashes are now sold in Boots and Walgreens in the US, for just under Â£ 500,000 in the first commercial year.
In the last quarter of 2020 they started to be sold in Australia and are now also available throughout Scandinavia. Her eyelashes are recommended in hospitals and cancer treatment centers and the brand is now worth around Â£ 1.2million gross worldwide.
“I could never have imagined it would have turned out the way it has been,” she said. “I never ran a business in my life, I didn’t know what I was doing.”
She added, âMy business advisor was Google. I did everything backwards. It doesn’t make sense that a girl like me, who was always at the bottom of the class, who grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe, has managed to do as much as I have.
âI had always been at the bottom of my class. I didn’t know why I couldn’t get things when I could keep information. At the age of eight, I had decided that I wanted to become a lawyer after watching an Australian Series on television. When I arrived in England in 2004, at the age of 26, I was diagnosed with dyslexia but that didn’t stop me. “
Codilia says that if she could have gone back, she would have treated her diagnosis differently with her children.
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âLooking back, one of the things that I did wrong was that I was always very protective of my children and I didn’t want to tell them about my diagnosis. They were seven and 15 at the time. I thought I might hide my treatment from them. “
âBut I forgot that kids are very observant and insightful and they found out early enough and to try to protect me they didn’t tell me they knew. We finally sat down and talked but I would have liked to do that with them as soon as I knew.
“They did well and did their homework well.”
Codilia’s story is featured in a new book called Inspirational Women, Inspirational Lives, which pays tribute to successful women from across the country.
Compiled by Tracey McAtamney, of Balsall Common, the book is available on Amazon and all proceeds go to the Katie Piper Foundation.
Fortunately, Codilia’s cancer went into remission in April 2015 and she is just being watched now. And she got a scholarship to go back to college, completing a master’s degree in commerce in 2020.
âI think it was all meant to be, I’m really proud of it,â said Codilia, who is now a mentor and public speaker. âBeing dyslexic, I have gone through life thinking that I am not very bright but I realize that I am.
âThe business is so rewarding. I regularly get messages in my inbox from people who don’t have eyelashes who wear C-Lashes, people who have suffered from alopecia for years and are thrilled to have eyelashes again.
âI found out that I was contacted by men who had lost their lashes and had tried our natural lashes, but still found they were a bit too long, so I have now created a unisex lash.
âSometimes there will be a message from a woman sharing a photo of herself in my eyelashes on her wedding day. I am surprised every time because I created them only because I wanted them for myself and thought they could help a few people like me, I never imagined they would help people in all of these different countries. “
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