Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person's skin colour, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we're passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they're using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: Ade and Antonia Ogunsola, the mother-daughter duo behind the West African-inspired beauty brand Okiki Skin Care, made from their kitchen in Kent.
Ade: Alright, my journey. I was born in England. Part raised in England, part raised in Nigeria. My recipes and learning of soap-making comes from Nigeria, when I was young with my parents. My mummy used to make soap back home. She'd make all the concept classics, we call it Kongi Soda soap because the solid bars are actually used for bathing as well as doing your dishes and washing your clothes.
My grandma liked to have her own oils infused with dry herbs so they had a scent when she used them. That's where I learnt about infusing oils. She would have different jars where she'd put dry seeds and herbs and would have a different one for hair and body, and if she was going out in the evening that's what she used as perfume.
The idea of creating my own soap came from my mum because she used to make it during my teens. One morning, I decided to start making soap after my mum passed. We had a lot of things in common and she helped me raise the girls when she was alive. I think I started to miss her dearly, so I woke up that morning and told my other half, "I'm going to start making soap." That's how the journey started: first as a hobby, and then it turned into Okiki.
"I would use that soap twice a day for 60 seconds, and I said to my mum, 'You're onto something here because I can actually see my face changing,'" Antonia said.
Antonia: It quickly became more than just soap. We sort of suspected mum had ADHD because she's always keeping busy. She couldn't sit still, especially when making and creating. First it was soap and then it was body lotion, balms, bath salts, lip balm.
Ade: Antonia said, "Mum, you have to stop now!"
Antonia: If she can't formulate and try new things she starts to get itchy.
Ade: I'm always creating new things. Before I started making soap, I was making wine. My other half said he found it therapeutic watching me make soap. He will sit down with me and watch me formulate and even help write things down for me. He said to me: "Actually, I don't like watching you making wine, I find it therapeutic watching you make soap." So I did. But I soon realised that, actually, the food I used to buy to make the wine could be used to make soap. The second batch of soap making I tried, I used fresh fruits like blueberries, carrots, and papaya.
Antonia: Yep, that's mum. Whereas for me, my journey into beauty was a bit different in the sense that I kind of grew up just having bad skin. I had loads of acne and hyperpigmentation, which is very tough to get rid of. I did the Clinique 3-Step; I think everyone I know who has hyperpigmentation has tried the 3-Step, and I forked out for the Obagi treatment, which was about £800. That didn't really help. I mean, it helped a little, but the fundamental issue was I just kept on breaking out. One day, I just broke down with my mum because it got to a point where I wouldn't go out without makeup and that's not healthy. So, she made the Lolu Facial Soap and I've been using that for about seven years now.
Image Source: Okiki Skin Care
I would use that soap twice a day for 60 seconds and I said to my mum, "You're onto something here because I can actually see my face changing." A couple of my friends had purchased it and they were like "this is really good," so I said to my mum: "You should definitely start selling this product." And then we started going to markets together: mainly as a way to bond whilst I was at uni.
At the time I was working at Victoria's Secret, so I was quite good at selling. Being able to interact with people and sell whilst my mum worked on the formulation side worked well. Going to markets and selling that way was basically it initially; we both worked full-time alongside doing Okiki. That was until I got made redundant due to COVID-19, about two weeks into the first lockdown.
"I'm an early bird. I wake up around three or four in the morning and I will make products or pack any orders that need to be done before I even get ready for my day job," said Ade.
At first, it really threw me. I'm like my mum in that I do not like being idle. She suggested I build a website for Okiki. So I built our first website on Wix and that took about a month, and then we launched online. We only sold two products all of May and they were both my friends. I thought, "No, I'm not happy, this is not happening. I know my mum's products are good, what can we do?"
I'd followed Iman [Leila - founder of Lima Communications] for a while and finally asked her, "Do small businesses get PR?" And she told me to reach out to her. So when we were ready, I did. Initially my mum was unsure, but I told her to trust me that this would help. Iman was so useful in helping people to reach our brand.
After working on Okiki full-time after redundancy, I found my dream job and got an offer, and my mum encouraged me to take it. I feel like, for us, there's this misconception that because we've had all this press, everything is flying off the shelf and we're making hundreds of thousands of pounds. But that's not the case: we're very much still a small business. Actually, even from a financial perspective, in order to fuel the business, we need to be bringing in some sort of money as well — getting a business off the ground doesn't happen overnight.
Image Source: Okiki Skin Care
Ade: I'm an early bird. I wake up around three or four in the morning and I will make products or pack any orders that need to be done before I even get ready for my day job. When I finish my work at home, I go to the post office and drop the parcels off for delivery.
Antonia: My time is spent between organising our social media, working with Iman for our brand refresh, Facebook ads, and email marketing. Those sorts of things take a bit longer for me because I'm dyslexic.
"Even though I spent most of my adult life in the UK, you always go back to your roots. I wanted a place that I could give a little bit of my profit back to; something for people back home," Ade said.
It's a lot to balance. It was hectic last year, even working on the brand full-time. After just two sales in May, in June, we had 200 orders. We sold out of mum's stock for the year basically overnight and our soaps take a minimum of four to six weeks to create. The Aleppo soap takes nine months. And this was peak pandemic, so getting the ingredients was a struggle, too.
Speaking frankly, we feel that the initial growth came off the back of the Black Lives Matter movement, but I feel like that wave has slightly died down. So when people are buying from us, I know they're buying because they really like our products. We have a lot of repeat purchasers; one guy has just bought his 70th order from us.
Ade: Even though I spent most of my adult life in the UK, you always go back to your roots. I wanted a place that I could give a little bit of my profit back to: something for people back home. I came across One Tree, an organisation that works to plant trees in Ghana. They don't plant in Nigeria, but my other half is from Ghana so we have roots in Ghana. With every sale we make, we donate to them every month to help plant trees.
Antonia: I'm also very environmentally conscious, so it makes sense to help the planet. We've spent a lot of time deciding on the best packaging on the rebrand. It's hard because I feel like as a small business, you can be as environmentally-conscious as you want to be but it's difficult and expensive. In addition to the tree planting donation, we have a lot of leftover soaps that we don't sell because they're not quite right, but instead of throwing them away, we donate them to local food banks.
When it comes to the future of Okiki, we both agree that we want our products to be sold in a store in small batches.
Ade: My vision is something similar to Lush but different. I have way more than 100 licenses for products currently; probably about 200 actually. But we're waiting to make them at the right time since it's only the two of us and every single product is made by me.
I love it when people using my products comment on them because I've come a long way in formulating, especially bearing in mind I'm not a science student. It's so nice to see people use the products and coming back to buy more.