In the age of entrepreneurship, it’s worth considering the importance of creating a brand that is not only serving a wonderful product to consumers – but also ensuring that an ethical and holistic imprint takes form for the planet. Accordingly, sustainability lies at the heart of Abena’s skin-care brand – Hanahana Beauty – which focuses on providing a positive future for both the shea producers and consumers of holistic products alike. Wellness is also a core value that is championed by Abena – evident within her own lifestyle and approach to realizing the variety of shea-based products she features in store.
Based in the collaborative workspace of her Chicago studio, the glowing Abena met with me for an interview today. Her spirit was radiant and filled with positive vibes, as we discussed all things business and how her journey into entrepreneurship began. She revealed how starting out as a psychology major lead to an exciting turn towards starting her own business, mastering the art of wellness for skincare, evolving to create positive and sustainable futures – all the while giving back to African communities to empower them. In our exclusive interview with Abena, she unveils her journey towards creating HanaHana Beauty.
Hi! Let’s dive right in, can you tell me about how you started your brand?
Abena: Of course, so I was a teacher and finishing grad school when I started Hanahana in 2017. Before then, I was making products just for myself which was the basis of my inspiration. With my family being Ghanian, this inspired me to utilize Shea in the ways we did back home – now realized in our Shea body butter. I also started to be more intentional about taking care of my skin around 2015 – and knowing what’s actually going on my skin. And it was kind of like, I went to my parents, I told my parents I wanted to start and my dad helped me with the name. Three months later, I launched the brand in March!
It sounds like it has been a really exciting journey so far! How do you feel skincare is important to you personally?
For me, I think skincare is like a form of self-care, right? I always say this and it sounds really cheesy, but your skin is your largest organ. So it’s very important for you to continue to take care of your skin, from its cleanliness, to say if you’re going to put on five different products – it’s worth knowing what’s inside of them. But I think it’s just as important to keep your skin healthy. And for me, that’s what I am willing to do to always try to make sure that my skin is healthy, and I feel good within my skin. I feel like skincare is a form of wellness. And, you know, a lot of the things kind of mesh together. If you’re talking about holistic self-care, then your skin is definitely a part of this!
When you started Hanahana did you notice that there was something missing specifically in the market that you wanted to contribute to?
I think the intentionality and transparency behind connecting your producer all the way to your consumer and your community were missing. Being able to share and be transparent about the process of how the products were made was something that I wanted to contribute towards. I think that our consumers and communities are people who are excited to understand who is behind the products. I wanted to create a space where people know that we are real black women, in the US and Ghana who are creating these products. The intentionality behind not only creating a product a black woman could use because of her shade or whatever. But the intentionality of really creating things for black women in the sense of platform, in the sense of product, and in the sense of engaging with a community. I feel like at the end of the day, our biggest goal is how we can be intentional about making sure that black women are the mindset – and that stands for black women globally.
That’s lovely to hear. I think it definitely comes across in the way that you’ve presented your brand, like even just by looking at your Instagram, I love to see the behind-the-scenes of how the products are actually made. I saw on your website that you mentioned you’ve used shea butter as a staple growing up. I’d love to know what you think the specific benefits of using shea butter are?
Okay, so I feel like for our Shea body butter, we have created it to be incredibly moisturizing because it actually penetrates the skin and doesn’t require you to apply layers over layers. So that would be the top benefit! But you could obviously use it for your hair and different other parts of your body. I think shea butter is so great because of the different oils and butters that are combined together to help achieve the lasting feeling of moisture.
And is the shea butter that you sell at Hanahana raw or does it need to be melted?
It doesn’t need to be melted. But we do use raw shea butter, as well as raw mango butter, raw cocoa butter, and then we have oils too that we use in our formula to be able to create the product. So it’s easy for our customers to use! It’s really great with cocoa and mango butter to help with skin texture, eczema, or dry skin. But then it can also be helpful for skin texture skin and balancing it, as it helps with evening out skin tone too. The moisture brings out the hydration – all of which are achieved with prolonged use!
What are your favourite face and body oils to use?
I have a couple of favorite face oils – I think watermelon oil and hemp oil for sure. I also like black seed oil. I’m not like a straight body oil person, because I usually like our Shea body butter a lot. But with carrier oils, such as avocado oil, I love to use for my hair. I think it’s really nice and Jojoba oil! Yeah, like I think those are my go-to oils that I use daily for my face or my hair. But I love the combination of oils that we use within the butter like the use of Grapeseed oil also.
What are your staple products that you use in your skincare routine?
Okay, so for face cleansing, I use our Black and Brown exfoliating cleanser. I love Tower 28 SOS Spray – it’s really great for dry skin and just helps me to even skin tones. I think it is a great tool. I’ve also been using my Topicals like Faded. I’ll do oil and sunscreen. Then, for the body, I use our Shea Body Butter. I love our Body Bar, and I use black soap regularly. But I’m pretty simple when it comes to skincare in general. I don’t like to do too much unless it’s necessary. I feel like for me it’s important to be able to maintain skin first.
I’ve recently heard about ‘skin fasting’, which is where you completely stop using skin-care products for a month – would you dare to do it?
I don’t think I could do it! It kind of goes against the brand, ha! I definitely believe in taking breaks in your week, like not having to do your skincare every night, you know, like, being able to just wash your face and let your face breathe with natural oils. I don’t think you need an abundant amount of products. But knowing my skin at this moment in this time, I don’t think that I would benefit from not using anything on my skin at all for a month. I do understand it though and I think that within our mission as a brand it’s very important to know what your skin is naturally producing and finding different ways to protect it. I don’t use a tone of things on my face. If I had to break it down to essentials, I would say shea butter, face cleaner and, maybe oil. Three of the staples!
I saw on your TEDx talk that you regularly travelled to Ghana when starting your brand – how did you begin to source the shea butter for your products?
I definitely have the privilege of being Ghanian, right. So it was easier for me to just go back home. And so when I first started, I was sourcing actually from my aunt, and she would buy large pieces for me to use. Then she helped me to get it directly from the team who was producing it. When I later traveled to Ghana, I decided to go to the cooperative where there were 60 women producing it and I had the chance to be able to learn from them how to produce. And that’s kind of where the process activation and the videos and everything started. To be able to fully share the story. For me to buy about 50 kilos of Shea, the price they gave me was just so wild! I just thought it didn’t make sense, considering how much work they put in. So then, I asked to at least pay twice of what they were asking. Because it didn’t really add up to me. We pay twice the amount of the fair trade price because it’s not sustainable otherwise. They were being paid under $1 a kilo, and this was split between a team (even if it’s 3000 kilos) this was then still split between 60 women who were still surviving and taking care of themselves. So it was important for me to make this standpoint.
How would you describe your approach to working?
I really understand what it means to feel sustainable and what it means to have access to things. I just felt like in the relationship that I was having, and creating with these women – with them giving me access – I wanted to do the same thing too. Because without them, I wouldn’t even be able to create the product, be able to build a team, market, and push the storytelling in the way that we could, right? So it’s like, how does that go back. This led to the launch of the Circle of Care, which is an actual benefits programme, that allows us to pay twice the asking price. We also do healthcare days, twice a year, health education, and it’s something that we’ve been treating, not on a charity basis, because charity and charitable things are not sustainable. And that’s something that is very important to me. How would we create sustainable access, if Hanahana wasn’t there? How can these women continue to demand or, you know, create ways that they can be sustainable? It’s like, what are some of the issues that have been going on, and how can we help to tackle these?
Before quarantine, I was living in between Ghana and the US. This meant that I would go to counseling once a month to meet with managers, with the women, and really being able to create this plan on how to source ethically. We would also talk about creating a consciously clean brand -clean from using toxic materials, while also being conscious about how we get our materials and how we look at sustainability in more of a holistic way.
It’s great to hear that you’re actually making a difference for the people who are working with you and opening up those opportunities. So, when you asked what opportunities they needed – what answers were you given?
Well when we had that conversation, there’s a lot of different things that we talked about like, do the women actually enjoy what they do? You know, because I think that was my biggest thing in the beginning – do you actually enjoy this? Because if you don’t enjoy it, then is it because you want different opportunities? And so the first answer was that they actually did enjoy it. But what they don’t enjoy is the lack of sustainability and the fact that their children might have to do Shea, just to be sustainable. Or that they wouldn’t have other options. Or the fact that they don’t visit the hospital because they don’t have enough money. Healthcare was the biggest thing and I related to this. And through our conversation, this struck me. How is healthcare a privilege? Why should it be a privilege, because everyone should have a certain level of access. So we’ve partnered with a hospital and coordinate healthcare events to ensure our team is looked after, as well as optimising machinery and production too.
What’s been your biggest lesson over the past year?
I think COVID has probably taught us more than ever that saving for a rainy day is quite an important thing.
The word holistic has come up a lot throughout our chat, how would you define it?
I think for me when I think of holistic practices, it is the self as a whole and thinking about things as a whole. I think about morning routines such as skincare and I think about how I am taking care of myself as a whole. From being active, when working, or even what I’m putting in my body, or what I’m putting on my skin, to stillness and meditation. I think that’s what it means to me and how it just connects a lot of different things together.
Who has been your major influence or inspiration along your journey of entrepreneurship?
I’m definitely inspired just in general by black women and how we move and create. I mean, I’ve had a lot of friends that are also entrepreneurs and I’m very much inspired by them. Also being part of the Glossier event and winning the award, and connecting with other female founders – I felt very blessed and empowered.
What are your proudest moments and achievements that you’ve experienced in 2020?
Honestly, I think it’s building a team and being able to see how things are working – it makes me feel so proud. Like wow! Okay, we’re able to pay people to come in, we enjoy working and every time we have those team meetings, I feel very proud. Moving into our space in 2020 was also amazing. Winning, the Glossier award was beyond amazing. Being able to start fundraising and talking to investors – I think the growth itself from 2018 to now has been overwhelming. So just being able to have time to reflect and to take a breath – these are the moments that I’m excited about.
All of those things that you listed sound like such high achievements – so congratulations! In the midst of all of that wellness, did you have any challenges – and was there anything that was particularly difficult for you?
I am generally pretty happy, but also an anxious person. I think, with entrepreneurship, I felt overwhelmed all the time. And you know, there’s so much transitioning, there’s so much growth, and you’re also in quarantine. So, at first, I was doing everything by myself during quarantine, inside my house. I think in general, entrepreneurship is such a journey, and it can feel overwhelming. Like all of the different emotions that come with being an entrepreneur and also just remembering to be kind and give myself grace. I really learned to prioritize myself and continue to learn, and have moments of reflection and contemplation to propel me forward.
What advice would you give to any skincare enthusiasts to liven up their beauty and wellness routines?
I think it’s just important to read the ingredients and do your own research! Don’t take everything from what someone says. Actually look at what the benefits are behind the ingredients. There are some really great sources online and I think that’s my biggest piece of advice.