How the Past Is Shaping LIHA's Future

This Women’s History Month, we’re shining a spotlight on the women behind some of the biggest brands in the beauty and wellness industries. we’re sitting down with Liha Okunniwa and Abi Oyepitan, long-time friends and the founders of vegan skincare brand LIHA, to learn how their cultural, familial, and personal histories have helped shape their brand.

Liha, you’ve mentioned before that your mother is an English aromatherapist. Can you tell us about what that was like for you growing up and how it’s influenced LIHA?

Liha: It was a lot of fun growing up! I grew up above shops where we would sell cane furniture, books candles, and crystals. On rainy days, my mum would blindfold me and do scent tests–that's how I learned about aromatherapy!. In Yoruba (Nigerian) culture, it is very natural to make your own cosmetics at the same time as you learn how to cook, so I started to mix the two things as an experiment and just kept doing it as a hobby from there. It was a big inspiration for the brand because we didn't see anyone else doing it in the marketplace.

 

Abi, we understand that your visits to your father’s town in Nigeria and bringing back Shea helped kickstart the brand! What was it like learning more about the Yoruba tradition there? How has it influenced LIHA?

Abi: Both my parents are Nigerian and the region has been making Shea for centuries. I always loved traveling back and forth as a child; I'm a very visual person and I love the colors, textures, and sounds of Nigeria and West Africa. The culture is so rich and it’s so fascinating to see how it has endured and survived in so many iterations throughout the diaspora, but to see it at the source is truly special. I have always made my own products too and, at uni, Liha and I would always be comparing and she would always ask to bring that good Shea back!

 

How have your own personal histories – as friends, caregivers, and as an Olympian (Abi) and an artist (Liha) – influenced LIHA?

Liha: I think the mix between urban and rural is interesting as Abi is very much a city person and I am very much country! The fact that we have different inspiration points but certain points that are similar offers something different. We are basically sisters at this point–we've known each other for 22 years! Abi's drive as an Olympian is relentless and I can be prone to “artistic temperament” as it used to be known, but we always work it out and find the middle point which works for our customers. We are both busy single mums so it's important we try and embody the brand values of taking time to slow down and take time for ourselves. That’s why all our products are designed to make you take time, like waiting for the Idan Oil to melt, rubbing in the Shea Butter, or making your own whip.

 

What impact do you hope LIHA has for future generations?

Liha and Abi: We want to be the heritage brand of the future, in that we hope to have shifted beauty culture a little. Luxury is also about education, minimizing your waste, learning to make your own products, and knowing the origin and narrative of the people behind the products. We hope that we have venerated Yoruba culture and made the products that we didn't see ourselves when we were growing up.

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LIHA Idan Oil 100ml

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LIHA Ivory Shea Butter 120ml

We're chatting with co-founders Liha Okunniwa and Abi Oyepitan about how their cultural, familial, and personal histories have helped shape their brand.