Meet mompreneur, mixtress, all natural beauty product maker and mom of two Jamyla Bennu. Recognized for her love of organic beauty products, this creative starlet is the definition of a woman prepared to take over the world.
I connected with the Oyin Handmade founder (who shares the role with her husband Pierre), to discuss her journey into the beauty arena, as well as her inspirations, her super fab family, and *claps please* – her future pursuits – which includes Oyin Handmade’s presence in Target stores. (Get there fast, they’re flying off the shelves!) Take a peek at the fab naturalista, Jamyla!
Konnectshun: Tell us a little bit about Jamyla Bennu and her journey into the beauty arena? Have you always had an interest in natural and organic beauty products?
I was raised on castille soap and olive oil for body care, so yes — I’ve always known that effective beauty and body care could be natural and awesome! It wasn’t until I was an adult that I discovered I could create products myself.
Konnectshun: You launched Oyin Handmade in 2001 with your husband…what was your source of inspiration and truly, what makes the product so unique?
The line was inspired by my own need. At the time, there were hardly any commercially available products that catered to the moisture and styling needs of highly=textured hair. I have always been a crafty person, so making my own hair and body products felt like another way to exercise my creativity, explore my hair, and have fun!
I started sharing the goodies I made with friends and family and they seemed to love them! But it was my husband, Pierre, who really encouraged me to create a website to share the goodies with the world. Then, as it caught on, [he] worked with me nonstop for years to help it become successful and sustainable.
One of the things that makes Oyin unique is our belief that highly-textured hair is a pretty amazing and versatile fiber which should be treated gently and simply, enjoyed, and allowed to shine. We consider it a major part of our job to AFFIRM and ENCOURAGE our customers. One of our main slogans is “your hair is awesome – shouldn’t your products be awesome, too?”
So much beauty marketing speaks to our insecurities: be more of this and less of that with XYZ product. We always strive to speak instead to the celebratory impulse — from how our products are conceived and formulated, down to the descriptive language we use on our website, and all the way to our social media interaction. We really want individuals to feel elevated when using our goodies, to know that they were made with love with their needs in mind, and to feel inspired to treat themselves with loving care.
Konnectshun: What are the key ingredients in your collection? Actually, what does Oyin mean?
Oyin means honey in the Yoruba language, which is a fabulous ingredient for skin and hair. It promotes healing and moisture, is a humectant and a natural antimicrobial… and is also delicious! It represents both health and sweetness to us, and we try to inject both into each product that we make. Many of the products include honey as an ingredient.
We also utilize a number of other powerhouse ingredients from nature like shea and cocoa butters, olive and coconut oils, as well as wonderfully detangling and conditioning emulsifiers. Oyin Handmade is a full line of hair and body care products made with nutritious, food grade ingredients and lots of love!
Konnectshun: The packaging is beautiful, what inspired the fresh hues?
These are serious products but we didn’t want them to appear intimidating – we wanted to create packaging that was fun, exuberant, and exciting! We want our customers to feel like doing their hair is a celebration!
Konnectshun: With so many products in the marketplace that focus on going natural and being handmade – how do you make sure that Oyin stays in a lane of its own?
We think it’s great that folks with highly-textured hair have so many opportunities to find the perfect products to make their hair happy, but we recognize that sometimes lots of choices can be overwhelming–so we try to help our Honeys find us by being transparent, visible, and helpful. We love helping folks learn about their hair and all the awesome things it can do, and always try to explain the ways in which our products work so that as folks try them out, they can use them correctly and have the best chance of success. And the more we all learn, the better we understand why certain products do or do not work, which can lead only to more informed choices.
Konnectshun: You currently have a flagship shop in Baltimore, and the products are in some Whole Foods. We also know you’re now in Target – did you think your products would have such a mass appeal? If so, how did you get the message out?
At the very beginning, no – we didn’t create the products with the idea that they would be sold nationwide in large box stores or grocery chains… we were very artisan/mom & pop in our initial idea. It was the response of our early customers which let us know we might have a winner on our hands!!
We are lucky enough to be in an industry with wonderfully engaged and enthusiastic customers… the community of natural hair is so generous with each other and helpful with sharing product reviews and care info! This word of mouth and internet buzz has enabled us to grow slowly and sustainably for over 10 years now. So we have had a while to get acclimated to the idea what we are not the only ones who love Oyin goodies.
Konnectshun: What are your favorite products in the collection? And which demos are you targeting – naturalistas, new moms, kids, men?
Our products are truly for the whole family, and many are multipurpose. There are a bunch I don’t think I could do without, with the main ones being the Honey Hemp Conditioner, Hair Dew, Burnt Sugar, and Boing!/Shine & Define. But the one I cannot leave the house without is the HoneyStick lip balm.
Konnectshun: What challenges have you faced in the development of the product? Did you really create this out of your home?
Yes, really! Once the experimentation bug bit me, I sometimes spent more time dreaming up and playing with hair care ingredients than I did cooking food [laughs]. In the early years, it was a challenge to find organizational and storage tools so that the ‘production’ kitchen could exist in the same space as our regular kitchen.
Konnectshun: Outside of your loyal consumers and true supporters, do you envision any celebrities that you would love to be the face of your brand?
We believe that there is something uniquely beautiful about each of us, and admire anyone who boldly rocks their hair with style and individuality! Some of the heads in the public sphere which we admire are designer Whitney Mero, model Nakia Phoenix, singer Shingai Shoniwa, actresses Kimberly Elise and Tempestt Bledsoe (remember her fly natural cut on The Cosby Show?!)… and of course, Lupita N’yongo with her epic precision barbering.
Konnectshun: In 2012, you were named by Ebony Magazine as ‘The Coolest Black Family In America’ – what is the secret to keeping such a tight union?
There’s no secret. We really like each other and each of our nutty kiddos, and like plus love is a powerful combination. For us, it’s mainly about keeping the lines of communication open and being honest with ourselves and each other. Also, a light-hearted perspective goes a long way when keeping the daily balance. We get overwhelmed or exhausted just as much as everyone, but when we can make each other laugh or realize we are in it together, that brings us right back to center.
We actually just wrapped up a series of relationship videos on Ebony.com called “Love Works” — check it out if you like! This link is actually to the finale, but it has all the other episodes listed so it’s a good place to start.