Natural skincare has long been gaining momentum, as a mainstream necessity. No longer considered a fad, or the reserve of hemp lovers or homeopaths, we all now know that going natural is the smart thing to do. Which is why Creative Directors Abi and Liha decided to create their own skincare line - LIHA Beauty- brimming with beautifying wholesome ingredients, like Coconut oil and Shea Butter.
As beauty junkies, the two connected over cooking up natural hair balms and creams with ingredients found in their kitchens, often adapting traditional recipes from the Yoruba natives of Nigeria.
We love that their 100% organic products are handmade in their London studio, so we caught up with Abi Oyepitan - one half of the Girlboss duo - to find out what beauty means to her and how she managed to start a business.
When did you launch your company and what gave you the idea?
So there was a soft launch in July 2014, we launched at a festival called Port Eliot, and it was just really to see what people thought of our brand. We only had two products at the time, but we wanted to see what they thought about the products, and we were doing workshops showing people how to make their own “kitchen beauty” – you known using body butter or Shea butter as a base and then adding kitchen ingredients. It came about really organically - there wasn’t some big idea we had, it just came about naturally and actually Anthropology were there at the festival, and they came to the workshops and they decided they wanted to stock us, and that’s actually when we started everything.
And you met your business partner Liha at university?
Yes, we met at Uni in 1998 and we would always make balms for hair with what we had at home, swapping ingredients, and then we would just work on one particular product, and people were really loving it – our families and friends - and that’s what spurred us on to launch the brand.
What would you say is your favourite product in your range?
I would say the soap. We’ve got our own version of African Black Soap, which was actually more inspired by a Nigerian recipe; it’s called Ose Gidi. We make it ourselves and we put a little twist on it.
What has been the biggest wow moment in your journey so far?
There’s been a few! So being stocked at Liberty was definitely something we wanted from the beginning. So one of our products is being stocked at Liberty – our oil, and then having American Vogue do a feature on us, that was a really big deal.
What was a major pull-your-hair-out moment you encountered?
Oh there are loads – so Liha and I, we both have jobs, we’re both self-employed and so it has been difficult juggling everything. These last few weeks have been nuts because we were doing Wilderness Festival and Bestival, and we’ve just been trying to stay on top of things - getting orders out, making orders, making products, doing workshops etc. It’s just a constant grind, as well as actually trying to pay the bills by doing day jobs as well, and plus Liha is married with a family, so that’s another thing!
Do you make all the products at home or do you have a lab where you make everything?
We have a workshop in Cheltenham, so she’s based in Cheltenham and I’m based in Hackney, and I go there once a week or once every two weeks, so we can batch up and just see each other.
What advice would you give to other women wanting to launch their own business?
I would say just go for it. We did it the wrong way round, but you know what, I met these girls who did an 8-week course which was about helping people leave their 9-5 jobs, and help them with their big ideas, and one of the girls told me what they tell you to do is literally to just go for it. So I would definitely say just do it! It’s a lot of hard work, but you just have to follow your passion and just be really organised.
Tell me about your heritage, where are you from?
I’m Nigerian, so my parents are both Nigerian, Liha’s mum is English and her dad is Nigerian as well.
Most interesting project you’ve worked on?
I think it’s all been interesting! It’s just all been a learning curve, the whole business has been one big interesting project, learning as we go. Liha’s launched a business before, but on a very small scale, so launching something that we are trying to scale up has been interesting in itself.
What’s your skincare regime like?
Mine’s very simple. I use Jojoba oil to take off my makeup, or any other oil I find in my kitchen cupboard, sometimes I use our Idan Oil, which is a coconut-based oil, then I just use a flannel with water. I use our soap and our Shea butter. Liha will tell you something totally different because she is more of a beauty skincare guru - she’s definitely more of a product junkie! I’m not, I know what works for me and I stick with it - all very natural.
What are your experiences of diversity in the fashion/beauty industry?
We’ve met quite a few black girls launching their own business, there’s Sharmadean Reid, she’s got WAH nails, she’s kind of been at the forefront of this generation of girls hitting it really big – she’s got her own Boots line, she’s launched her own nail varnish and she’s also in Topshop, and then we’ve got MDM Flow who’s got an amazing makeup line and she’s only 24, and there’s Michele Scott-Lynch and she’s got a natural shampoo line called Bouclème, so there’s definitely a lot of black girls coming through doing their own thing, and not going on that mainstream kind of path and actually flourishing, being picked up by bigger shops and brands. So I definitely think it is coming through, but it’s actually us doing it all ourselves, rather than trying to just be part of the status quo.
Tell me about one of your earliest beauty memories.
My mum dousing me in black soap, and my whole skin being stripped off! And I suppose I remember my mum always shaving her eyebrows and using black pencil – all those kind of things and me trying to replicate that! Personally, whenever I used makeup it was really bad, nobody ever showed me, because my mum was very natural anyway, so nobody ever showed me how to use it, and we obviously didn’t have Youtube so I just had magazines. You’d go and buy stuff in Boots or Superdrug, or Bodyshop, and actually of course they didn’t cater for kids because it looked ridiculous. To be fair even as I got older I never really wore much makeup, I’ve always been super natural. When I was younger I found that my skin used to suffer from a bit of acne, and it’s been a bit of a journey to learn what works for me. When I was in my twenties, I just basically used nothing, just kitchen products, and that has worked!
What is beautiful to you?
It sounds really corny, but I just think natural beauty. When you see a girl who is just naturally beautiful, not in terms as what is classified as the classic standard of beauty, but I think it’s about how you present yourself. You know when a girl walks into a room and you know she feels empowered and she has an aura, and she’s confident and she just emanates beauty from within and you can just feel it. And you just want to be next to that girl or that guy because they have something that gives them a glow, for me that’s very beautiful.
If you could only Slapp on one beauty product, what would it be?
Our Idan Oil. It’s a multi purpose oil – I use it as a perfume because I don’t wear perfume. I use it as deodorant sometimes because I don’t often wear deodorant or I just use natural deodorant. I just put that under my armpits because it’s got an amazing scent, and it can be used in your hair and on your face and your body, so I would definitely douse that all over myself.
Do you have a beauty muse?
I do love Solange Knowles! Lupita, I love Lupita Nyong’o, her style is amazing; people like Grace Jones, there are so many! I was watching something the other day with Tina Turner I was reminded of how amazing she is. All of them are so beautiful and empowered - they all came through so many trials and tribulations and they are still rocking it!
Follow Abi & Liha: @Lihabeauty