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Brand Profile: How LIHA Beauty prides itself on combining natural African roots and British attitude

Kelle Salle
10 November 2022

Liha Okunniwa and Abi Oyepitan launched LIHA Beauty in 2017. LIHA Beauty prides itself on creating beauty products that combine natural African roots and a quintessentially British attitude.

Co-founder Liha Okunniwa (pictured above with co-founder Abi Oyepitan) has had a lifelong interest in beauty, with her earliest memory being her mother mixing scents with almond oil in an abalone shell in their bathroom and being fascinated by how it could change every day according to mood/need.

Launching a skincare brand was something Okunniwa always wanted to do. When she met her co-founder Abi, when they were studying together at Brunel University in 1998, she noticed that Oyepitan would always bring back amazing ingredients when she travelled to Nigeria, particularly the Gold Shea, a type of shea butter. “At the time, there were still so many people who didn’t know about shea butter so we started doing workshops and making products from our kitchens. We launched with just two products and everything snowballed from there,” Okunniwa says.

LIHA Beauty was born out of a desire to create high quality, sustainable multi-purpose products that enable consumers to buy less and buy well when it comes to beauty. As shea butter was still a largely unknown ingredient, Okunniwa and Oyepitan took it upon themselves to find a reliable source with recyclable packaging and consistent quality enabling them to become the go-to for consumers who wanted the best shea butter at a reasonable price.

LIHA Beauty

LIHA Beauty was born out of a desire to create high quality, sustainable multi-purpose products

The brand takes a centred approach to formulating by ensuring that all the products it produces work for them. “Personally, we have every skin concern going - dry, oily, sensitive, hyperpigmentation - you name it. So if it works for us, we know it will be good for a diverse range of people,” Okunniwa says. The formulation process for the brand’s Idan Oil and Ivory Shea Butter took a while to perfect as these were their first products. Using sustainable packaging and formulating without water is important to the brand as its wants its range of award-winning products to be minimal and multi-purpose.

All of LIHA’s products have Yoruba names. In the Yoruba (Nigerian) tradition, making beautifying oils, soaps and lotions from the nuts, tree bark and plants that grew in abundance was a skill that was traditionally learned by all women. The brand wanted to venerate its culture and showcase the beauty of Nigerian culture. From a formulation perspective, the brand believes its mixture of African bases and English Aromatherapy sets them apart from other premium Black-owned brands in the market.

LIHA Beauty

The best-selling Queen Idia candle

The brand’s bestsellers are the Idan oil, Queen Idia candle and balm. Idan (the Yoruba word for magic) is a natural, cold-pressed coconut oil that has been immersed with a Tuberose flower, ensuring the scent of the flower is absorbed naturally into the oil by the traditional African process of enfleurage. With warming and aphrodisiac qualities, the oil can be used for absolutely everything, from a body oil to a leave-in hair conditioner or a perfume.

Named after the famous Queen Idia, the Idia candle is made from a clean burning, sustainable coconut wax blend with base notes of geranium and frankincense, top notes of lavender and hibiscus (which invokes the fragrance of soft African Moss). The brand used cotton wicks along with recyclable and reusable containers when creating the candle.

The Orinrin cleansing balm is a daily cleanser that has been created with those who have combination or dry skin in mind. It is packed with skin-loving and skin-soothing ingredients that make it ideal for a deep cleanse or indulgent facial massage. The balm can be used as the first step in a skincare regime, removing buildup, melting away makeup, impurities and daily pollutants.

LIHA’s range of natural and sustainable products even have the seal of approval from Beyonce’s stylist Zerina Akers, who said: “LIHA products smell amazing but also do wonders for your skin.” The brand prides itself on simplicity and ensuring its unique formulations work on all skin types.

LIHA has been well received by the beauty industry, with its products being nominated for a number of awards. It was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Style Beauty Awards two years in a row, the Oju Omi Mud Cleanser was nominated in the category of Best Self-Care Superstar 2022 and the brand was shortlisted for Best Wellness and Self-Care Brand in 2021 by the Times Beauty Style Awards.

The highlights of Okunniwa’s journey as an entrepreneur include launching on Net-A-Porter and being selected for Walpole’s Brands of Tomorrow Program. “Coming through the rollercoaster of the last few years feels like the biggest highlight of all,” she said. Entrepreneurship doesn’t come without a few challenges and one of the brand’s biggest challenges has been cash flow. “Rapid growth is super challenging and you always forget to raise when there is money coming in,” she says.

Diversity within the beauty industry has been a much talked about topic in recent years. While things have taken a step in the right direction with Black-owned brands like LIHA making their mark on the beauty scene, there is still room for improvement. “There are definitely more Black-owned brands on the market than they were a few years ago. Social media has democratised the ability for anyone to set up a business and go directly to customers without the middleman gatekeeping - it’s decreased the barrier for entry and in turn, retailers have seen that Black-owned brands can sell and have therefore jumped on board,” Okunniwa says.

With 12,000 beauty brands launching every year, the market is more saturated than ever, but what changes can be put in place to ensure that PoC are getting the support they need for their businesses? “A lot more needs to be done to support brands from minority groups as we are least likely to gain investment or general support,” Okunniwa says. “We are seeing great accelerator initiatives in the USA by big retailers like Sephora and Ulta for underrepresented groups. I would love to see something like this in the UK.”

If Okunniwa could give one piece of advice to anyone who wants to start their own skincare brand it would be to think about what is needed, do a lot of testing, waste as little product as possible and keep it simple. As for what’s next, the brand has an exciting launch in the pipeline which is something their customer base has been asking for. The Idan Oil Candle will be launched in February 2023.

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