I am a sucker for natural skincare so as soon as Ibi of The Afro Hair & Skin Co. reached out to me, I knew I’d want to try her products. Having suffered my own woes of adult acne, I understood the benefits of a natural skincare regime. I was curious to see how her products performed and secretly hoped her hair oil could also sort out my bundle of dry curls.
Ibi has produced three products: a facial oil, hair oil and a hair butter only using ingredients sourced from the UK, making her range organic, natural and sustainable.
So who is Ibi Meier-Oruitemeka?
Oh, that’s a difficult one! I would say I’m a woman striving to live my most authentic and balanced self. My parents are Nigerian but I was born in Manchester and moved to East London aged 9 or so. I have a degree in English Literature and Media Studies. I’m a former archivist turned nature-lover. I live with my partner and our 1.5 year old son in a really lovely small coastal town.
What are your first memories of building your beauty ritual?
I remember being ten years old and winning an Oil of Olay cleanser and toner. It was presented in a small hamper style basket and for me, those bottles looked like the height of womanly sophistication. I had no idea what to use it for so I kept it on my dressing table as a show piece. When I did open it, I wasn’t sure what I was doing or what order to use them in but loved the smell and the soft touch of my skin afterwards. When I hit my teens, I would obsess over magazines looking for new, sophisticated skincare tips to try out. I was all about cleanse, tone and moisturise!
On Living in Sweden
You moved from Hackney to Sweden in your mid-twenties. Tell us about that experience?
I grew up in a predominantly vegetarian family and had always had an interest in health and wellness but Sweden was a huge turning point for me. I was under a lot of emotional stress and pressure in a kind of ‘post-university-limbo’. I had no idea what to do with my life. I was working in a job that left me feeling suffocated and unstimulated. I managed to get a 3-months internship at a small publishers based in Stockholm and ended up staying for 4 years!
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How did Sweden impact you?
Sweden really opened my eyes to a different way of life, it helped me discover and sit comfortably in my stillness. It is an incredibly eco-conscious country; the connection to nature is deep and impacts
every aspect of life there, from food to education. This was fascinating to me. The entire infrastructure is set up in order to ensure sustainability and allow for personal balance. My time there was incredibly healing and transformational.
It’s far from the utopian ideal that is often promoted but my being there definitely changed the trajectory of my life, gave me a renewed sense of purpose, reconnected me to my identity as an African woman and ignited the desire for me to create a space for black wellness. Living in Sweden helped me better access my creative confidence. It also illuminated the importance of my connection to the earth, for that I’m grateful.
On Natural Skincare
How were you first exposed to natural skincare?
Growing up in a Nigerian household, albeit in England, my mother was my first exposure to natural beauty. She would tell me stories of her childhood days spent making and selling her own coconut oil by the roadside before school. She would often bring back clays, oils and black soap in addition to herbs and bitter leaves to make cleansing detoxing teas and soups with. My mother’s beauty rituals were very simple and practical. I remember her scrubbing her face with ground clays and water and she would always explain in a matter-of-fact way, that, it’s “good for circulation”. I would watch with a mixture of fascination and scepticism, but her skin was always very clear and blemish free.
How important is it for woman to build a beauty ritual?
I think rituals of self-care are extremely important for grounding and reconnecting to ourselves. A beauty ritual can be as simple as exfoliation and a lovely hydrating facial oil, that smells nice and makes you feel good. Or a more indulgent routine that allows for more sensuality, promotes relaxation and the release of endorphins. When we do things for ourselves that make us feel good our self-love and confidence grows with it, a little self-kindness goes a long way in helping us tackle life’s challenges. I create my products to promote wellness within our everyday beauty routines.
Tell us about your ingredients and sourcing.
As the natural hair movement has grown, certain ingredients have become preferred. I find that they are often overused, limiting the diversity necessary to give your hair additional health benefits. Like many, I was preoccupied with the exoticism of many of the ingredients without giving a second thought to what might or might not be growing on my own doorstep.
Berries are a naturally antioxidant rich food source with phytochemicals that can help to protect against illnesses such as heart disease. I was excited to discover that blackcurrant seed oil was being produced in the UK. As I researched more into the potential benefits, I found out that it had been used as part of holistic treatments for many years. In its natural state, blackcurrant seed oil is a very thick and nourishing oil, it won’t clog the pores but it’s on the rich side so I balance it with other complementary and beneficial oils in order to get the best results.
Unfortunately, the UK can’t grow every single ingredient we need, but the ones we have found have been thoroughly tested with some overwhelmingly positive results.
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Will you be extending the range to include other products?
Yes most definitely! I’m currently working on new products, but I don’t want to rush and put things out for the sake of it. There are currently so many products out there. I believe that beauty rituals, should be mindful, purposeful and enhance your emotional and physical wellbeing. So I adopt a similar mindfulness when creating products with the intention of offering something necessary and life enhancing.
On starting a business
Talk us through the journey from the conception and the launch in 2016.
After returning from Sweden, I began to look into natural beauty alternatives and started making changes in the products I used but struggled to find good quality hair care and skincare that supported deeper skin tones. In 2011 I had the idea for The Afro Hair & Skin Co. This was the height of the recession. I was struggling to find stable work. I continued working on the brand and my idea more as a hobby, using my colleagues and volunteers to test my products on. I was working for an international African media organisation so I had the perfect demographic at my fingertips.
In early 2016, Oyin Akiniyi, founder of The Good Hair Club, got in contact via my newly started Instagram page, she was in the process of sourcing British brands for her new venture and was interested in my brand. At the time I was also experiencing some big changes in my work life. This gave me the push I needed to pull all the elements I had been working on together and finally make the leap.
How do you make it all happen?
I didn’t have a business degree and I am not trained as a herbalist. I developed my range slowly and carefully over 5 years through a process of research-based learning, testing and a lot of trial and error. In that time I attended workshops and spoke regularly with herbalists, holistic skin and also hair therapists to help deepen my understanding of how natural ingredients can be used in beauty products to best effect, along with their suited uses and applications.
In honesty, I would never have made it through a business course. I was far too distracted. I believe that there are many routes to the same destination. My mother showed me that knowledge, skill, patience and determination can get you far, even if sometimes it may feel like you had to take the long way around. She doesn’t see barriers in what she can achieve, and I think I inherited a similar mindset.
I work a lot in my head through visualisation, and then work in short, mostly productive bursts in the evening after my son’s bedtime. It’s a great feeling to see him growing and thriving and having everything that I’m doing in the spare moments coming together as well. My facial oil Flow was recently featured on Vogue.com as one of the best skincare products for people of colour. Recognition like that is phenomenal to me and makes it all worth it.