We discovered LIHA Beauty on Instagram (where else!) and had to reach out after trying the beautifully aromatic coconut oil infused with tuberose flower. We’re not the only ones that love it as it was recently featured on Vogue.com.
The founders are Liha Okunniwa and Abi Oyepitan who champion natural ingredients in skincare but also want to shine a light on traditional Yoruban beauty, where women make their own beauty products and learn how to prepare natural ingredients from a young age.
Luckily we got both Abi and Liha for the interview.
Abi: I grew up mostly in NW London but I’ve lived in Hackney now for quite a few years.
Liha: I grew up in Gloucestershire, living above shops and moving around quite a bit. When I left for London to go to Uni at 18, I swore I’d never come back but I missed it after a few years of fast living!
Abi: Both my parents are Nigerian and my heritage definitely inspires and influences our brand. Not only from the ingredients and techniques we use, but also from tales, richness and abundance we want to convey about our culture and heritage.
Liha: My Dad is Nigerian and my mum is English. They both have a crazy work ethic that has motivated me non stop! They would be up at the crack of dawn to go to work, and all us kids would have to help in the shop on Saturdays, and do house chores Sundays.
Abi: My mother definitely inspired me as a child. For a long while she was a single mother as my dad lived in Nigeria. Seeing her work so hard bringing up four kids in a very tough neighbourhood was something that has always stayed with me. She never complained, she always made it look so effortless but it made me work just that bit harder because I know she sacrificed a lot to give us a better life.
Liha: I was very inspired by my parent’s shops which sold African crafts, clothes and furniture as well as local craft and aromatherapy oils. I was a massive bookworm!
We didn’t have a TV for a big chunk of my childhood which forced me to read a lot and get into music. My dad’s old pictures of him hitchhiking around the world in the 50s were a big inspiration. I used to look at their photographic slides and write little stories about the people in the pictures. It made the world seem small to me.
Abi: I think now what inspires me are the many women we’ve met since launching LIHA Beauty. I’ve been inspired and humbled by the support we’ve received from so many women who are also trying to build something and pave the way. Women like Sharmadean Reid who has been beyond supportive and her advice has been invaluable. Women like Michele Scott-Lynch founder of the brand Boucleme and Akosua Afriyie-Kumi founder of AAKs.
Liha: Definitely all the women we meet, and all women in general! I find the fact that feminism isn’t a dirty word anymore inspiring, and the idea that some of that could be down to a book written by a Nigerian woman (We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie).
I’m currently reading a book called A Time Before Crack by Jamal Shabazz about early hip hop culture, which is another constant inspiration for me, and a book called New Atlantis about how musicians survived in post -Katrina New Orleans.
Liha: In Yoruba culture there it is normal for women to make their own beauty products from a young age, and learn how to use natural ingredients like coconut oil, or plantain ash which is used in Black soap. Now more people are into natural ingredients we wanted to shine a light on the amazing ingredients and techniques from Nigeria, which is why we have used Yoruba language for the names. We will take traditional recipes and tweak them, by adding a British twist. For example, we couldn’t leave the plantain skins to dry in the sun in rainy England! So instead we roasted them in the oven and added English Rose essentials oil, and carefully selected ingredients from Africa like Molasses and skin brightening Moringa. We are trying to think really far ahead, so that as our production grows in size, the crops we use will have a we can have a positive socio-political impact on the world around us.
Abi: My earliest beauty memory is probably watching my mum shaving off her eyebrows and drawing them back on with ultra-black eyeliner pencil. I think back in those days the thin, black rounded eyebrow shape was all the rage!
Liha: My mum would make fresh blends of aromatherapy oils each week and keep them in a big abalone shell in the bathroom, a little out of my reach. It was always so mysterious and magical to me, and I couldn’t wait to learn.
What do you find beautiful and why?
Abi: I find the chaos of my family beautiful, I find the craziness of nieces and nephew beautiful – it reminds me that those traits are passed down one generation to the next and that’s comforting to me.
Liha: I find my daughter beautiful -she’s a constant inspiration to me.
I also find England really beautiful and inspiring. It’s hard to beat England on a sunny spring day, and the street style we have here is my favourite.
Growing up I would look out of the shop window and see Skinheads, Punks, all sorts! I think we are in danger of things coming a little too homogenous.
We need to make sure we preserve the parts of our culture that ensure creativity and diversity-it’s so depressing how many record shops and important music venues have closed down in the last few years.
Abi: I was a professional athlete for 12 years. I went to two Olympic Games including London in 2012… basically I travelled the World training and competing. As a former professional athlete I do quite a few things alongside building our brand; I’m a coach and personal trainer, and I’m also learning to be a Pilates teacher. I do quite a lot of motivational speaking to young adults and corporate engagement work.
Liha: I have an art publishing company that makes posters of classic literature, and I was working as community engagement officer at a Museum. I really miss that educational element, but our workshops make up for it a little!
Abi: For me I want the beauty industry to be more inclusive; It’s no longer about having one shelves tucked away at the back for WOC, it’s about having a range of products for any skin type on the same shelve regardless of race.
I would also like to see it being more transparent in terms of what is in the products.
Liha: I agree- I would like brands to stop trying to sell the same thing over and over again in different packaging! People are too smart for that.
Liha: We will be at Wah Power lunch on 20th April talking about product development. We also have a workshop coming up at Shoreditch House on the 27th May and some in Boxpark also in Shoreditch in the Summer. We will be launching some exciting new products soon, so keep checking in!