Abena Boamah is the founder of Hanahana Beauty. She shares how she started Hanahana while she was in grad school, what she wishes she knew when she first started her business, and the importance of building a true relationship with the women in Ghana who supply the shea butter for her beauty products.
Can you tell me a little bit about the journey to starting Hanahana Beauty?
Abena: I started Hanahana Beauty in 2017. It's about to be two years.
But before then, I was just making shea butter. I was teaching and in grad school. I just started making it because I was really interested and curious about what I was putting on my body, and being able to recreate that. I would just make it for friends and family, and they kept encouraging me to sell it. So, when I decided to sell, I wanted to make sure that everything that we did was with the mission of being sustainable, transparent, and also providing access. I wanted black women to always be thought of while creating, and I wanted to make sure that everything we were doing was not harmful.
It's become more than a beauty skin care line. It's about community and working with those who are sourcing from us and who we're sourcing from. We want to create learning experiences.
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You pay the women you source your shea butter from -- the Katariga Women's Co-op in Tamale, Ghana -- more than twice the market value and you also support them in other ways. Can you tell me why that was important for you to foster this kind of relationship with your supplier?
Abena: When I started Hanahana, I decided to come back to Ghana and actually source directly from the women. It's been a two-year process of learning from them. I learned about what they do, the lack of pay, how huge this industry, and what the flip in the profit is. I decided if I want to get access to certain things and be accessible just like I would be as a teacher or with my friends or the people that I work with, we should also share that type of relationship. Without those women, one, I wouldn't have Hanahana Beauty and, two, you would not have shea butter to put on your skin.
Shea butter is used in all beauty products. Brands like L'Oreal... everyone is using shea butter and sourcing from these women. I thought if I'm going to be in that same business, I'm gonna make sure that we're trading access. Now, we're able to pay two times the fair trade pricing.
Then, we've created the Hanahana Circle which is an initiative that is looking to provide a holistic approach to benefits when working with each other. Healthcare is so important and it's just being sustainable.
"It's become more than a beauty skin care line. It's about community..."
Through interviews with the women, we've been able to figure out what we have access to and how we are able to be helpful and grow. Not just that Hanahana grows, but also that the women grow.
Another thing we're doing is a bi-annual health check day. We're working with volunteer nurses and doctors to make sure that the women get a checkup. We're actively raising money for that. When you're in the States, you get benefits. I'm Ghanaian and I never want to come into try to colonize a country.
I've really been taking the time in the past year to have these conversations. Everything that we do with the Hanahana Circle is from what we talk about with the women because at first when I started, a lot of people asked me, "Why don't you just give 10% back?" and I said, "What does that 10% do?".
When you just give away your money, it's not always helpful. After talking with them, they've told us they don't just want money. They want to be able to buy more seeds because the women have to buy the seeds that they process. They've also asked for kneading machines which quickens the process of actually creating shea butter. We've just been learning through conversations and expanding what we can do and making sure we're working together so that we are both able to be sustainable in everything that we're doing.
What is one thing you wish you knew about running a business when you first started Hanahana?
Abena: I wish I knew that you can get access to money right away. I mean, everything's a process. I don't regret not knowing that, but as an entrepreneur, unless you have privileges of knowing people that are just handing out thousands of dollars or are born into money, you are bootstrapping everything. Then, I realized there are grants and accelerators and fundraising and venture capital.
I wish I knew some of those things in the beginning, but I'm happy that I'm learning about all of those now. I think the whole process has been really great honestly. I'm happy with our growth. I started this when I was teaching and in grad school. I just graduated and I've been able to move to Ghana and work. It's a process. I'm just doing my best.
What product do you use the most personally in your skincare routine?
Abena: The shea body butter and the lip balm.