"We are all worthy" - Ibi Meier-Oruitemeka, The Afro Hair and Skin Co.
"There is a distinct lack of products that cater to me specifically and I don’t think our difference should be a taboo subject…"
Ibi Meier-Ouritemeka is a natural beauty and wellness expert, creative entrepreneur, founder and creative director of The Afro Hair & Skin Co.
Black women grow up becoming accustomed to the lack of beauty products. You see your parents shopping in niche spaces and start to wonder why our products are shoved into tacky high street shops masquerading as ‘Afro Hair Specialists’, whilst things like skin lightening creams pander to the western beauty ideals that a lot of black women still feel pressured into achieving. As a teenager, being unable to participate in the same way as your friends is something to be ashamed of and these shops cater to insecurities, drawing into focus the otherness of our beauty products.
A lot of the products in those stores are unregulated. Products that are banned or aren’t supposed to be sold in the UK are still getting through - there was a study that came out last year proving exactly this. Products directed at black women contain a higher concentration of toxins than products marketed towards the mass population; they contain harsher ingredients and carcinogens. Now black women are taking their own precautions, educating themselves about ingredients and making their own natural products. It’s a process of unlearning the habits that you grow up with - when you’re raised with certain products you trust implicitly that there couldn’t possibly be anything bad inside them, but quite often they’re full of harmful ingredients.
I moved to Sweden in 2005. Their culture isn’t as diverse as the UK, so I found myself in a predicament where I didn’t have access to the products I’d normally use. I discovered a forum full of people using natural ingredients and I started ordering them online, educating myself about what was going into my beauty products. I’d always had scalp problems; I’d try out different shampoos and two days after washing my hair it would be irritated and flaky. I thought that was just the way my skin behaved, but actually, it was a direct result of using products that haven’t been formulated for our care. I didn’t realise this until the point that I changed my hair and skincare regime in Sweden – it was a real eye-opener for me and something I wanted to share with other people.
There is a distinct lack of products that cater to me specifically and I don’t think our difference should be a taboo subject. I’d notice when reading the description on certain mainstream products, for example moisturiser, it would become apparent that although they cater to a wide demographic of people, they aren’t necessarily made for me; they don’t address the concerns of black women, even though we can technically participate.
At The Afro Hair and Skin Company, we tailor our products to the health, well-being and needs of black women; I founded the company because I care. There might be an assumption that black women aren’t interested in environmental issues or health and well-being, therefore we’re neglected within green beauty spaces as well as beauty spaces in general, but we are conscious of our health and we do want to adopt holistic practices, so The Afro Hair and Skin Company gives black women that option.
There has always been a disconnect between the products that were available to us and who we are as people – these products don’t consider that we’re aspirational. In our products, I’ve tried to reflect back the life I see myself living, addressing our aesthetic needs as well as our physical needs – products that we’re proud to have on our shelves and in our lives. It’s the simple things – we’re all worthy of owning beautiful products that nourish us.
I’m also very conscious of our environmental impact as a company and we ensure that our ingredients are sustainable and that people are paid fairly. We use a lot of British grown ingredients, sourcing a lot of under-utilised ingredients that are excellent for afro hair and skin, which needs a lot of moisture and oil to thrive. Those are things that the UK has in abundance, minimising our carbon footprint and environmental impact.
People email me specifically for advice on their hair and skin, especially if they’re transitioning into using more natural products, so I have one-to-one interactions with my customers, sharing advice and techniques in order that we all grow and learn how to better take care of ourselves. Our products are handmade and made with love – that’s the one ingredient you just can’t get that from mass produced products.
This article was originally featured in Issue 1 of Ash Magazine.
Ibi Meier-Oruitemeka was interviewed by Charlotte Ruth (@charberto)
Illustration by J C Cowans. Click here to see more.
Click here for more information on The Afro Hair and Skin Co, and to shop the collection.