Beauty Idol: Abi Oyepitan and Liha Okunniwa from LIHA Beauty

LIHA Beauty foundersLIHA Beauty was created by two friends, Abi Oyepitan and Liha Okunniwa, who are self-confessed product junkies. British athlete, Abi and publishing pro, Liha had many things in common and one of them was a real love and passion for natural beauty products. Both would create their own products at home so these two brown beauties decided to team up and create their own beauty brand. Last year LIHA Beauty was born, in their portfolio is the much talked about Idan Oil and their own Shea Butter. The duo took some time out of their busy schedule to give us an insight into their career. What made you decide to set up your own beauty business? It was kind of a happy accident - Liha and I first met at university 15 years ago. To see another girl rocking an Afro through campus was something of a rarity back then, so we instantly gravitated towards each other. We were always talking hair and skincare; comparing discoveries from out travels. As we got older, and our knowledge grew, we started making our own products and sharing recipes and ideas. She would always ask me to bring back Gold Shea when I travelled to Nigeria.

We were both constantly searching for that one magic multipurpose product that we could take to the gym, travelling, or wherever and use head to toe. We had been tinkering with our Idan Oil for a long time because we wanted something which was super moisturising with a subtle but powerful essence - neither of us are big perfume wearers as we react badly to the chemicals. We wanted something that could also work as an alternative. Suffice to say our Idan Oil kept going missing off our shelves and so many people asked if they could buy it so that inspired us to just go for it and set up LIHA Beauty.

What is the concept behind LIHA Beauty? Wildcrafted, small batch handmade products, with African roots and a quintessentially British attitude. The brand is a mix of both of us, and so combines both urban and rural references to create a truly unique new offering.

What sort of research did you do to find out what sort of products your customers wanted to buy? Being beauty junkies, we knew the market inside out already, and could see we had a unique brand. To be honest, the only research we did before we launched last summer at the Port Elliot Festival was the feedback we got from our family and friends. We were so sure and passionate about our products that we decided to take a gamble and launch at the four-day festival. The response we got was phenomenal - our cosmetics workshops and our products sold out on the third day and we had to pack up early.

How did you decide on the look and feel of the brand? It was quite organic. We knew we wanted our brand to look as simple as possible and true to what we felt the product represented. We didn’t want too much fuss or anything that took away from the products themselves. We worked with two amazing young graphic designers called Frank Close who helped us bring our vision to life. They were so spot on and they totally got all our weird references. ‘Afro-Scandi’ was a favourite that was inspired by Liha’s Dad's pictures from the sixties when he hitchhiked all around Sweden and Denmark.

What are your future plans for LIHA Beauty? We want to continue making really unique and unusual products that fuse natural African and English ingredients and aesthetics. Long term, we hope to be able to help suppliers in Africa get the correct certification so we can actually be helping them to expand their business and empower communities. Another long-term dream would be to eventually have the capacity to grow all or most of our ingredients ourselves. For now, we are carefully expanding our range taking time to make sure each product we add is perfect and necessary. The newest addition is our black African soap, Ose Gidi (Yoruba meaning: Real Soap) launching in the spring.

What are your favourite beauty products? Abi - I personally don’t have an extensive beauty regime – I use Shea in the winter and I also make my own concoctions of products with Shea Butter as base. In the summer when my skin can get quite oily I tend to use a light touch of Idan Oil on my t-zone and then use it to moisturise the rest of my body. I’ve realised as I’ve got older I’ve become quite intolerant and sensitive to products that contain quantities of chemicals and so I try and keep it as natural as possible. Liha on the other hand is a beauty junkie... I will let her explain her beauty regime.

Liha - For hair, I cannot live without Bumble and Bumble Coco Riche Masque. I discovered this last year and when I combine it with Idan Oil as a leave in, it’s the only thing that lets me do a wash and go on my hair. I have had natural hair for 35 years so this is kind of a breakthrough. No more twist outs.

For my body I use Idan Oil and layer with Shea if I’m really dry in the winter months. On my face I love Caudalie Eye and Lip Serum, Weleda Wild Rose Smoothing Day Cream, Una Brennan Neroli Firming Range and Ren Flash Rinse 1 Minute Facial Treatment. I exfoliate twice a week with Dermalogica Gentle Cream Exfoliant, and do a face pack three times a week at least. Dr Jart+ Most Moist Water-Max for dry days, and for breakouts. You can't beat a good old cheap original mud masks.

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to set up their own beauty business? Don’t expect things to come quickly or easily - it took us at least two years planning and organising to get to the point of launch. There is so much competition out there that I would say don’t even bother to look at it – you’ll put yourself off. Do your research, do you and if you feel you have something special to offer then go for it.

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