Sometimes the best solutions aren't found in reinventing the wheel but instead found through getting back to the basics. That is a truth that helped founder and CEO Abena Boamah-Acheampong sow the seeds that would eventually make her clean beauty brand Hanahana Beauty bloom. Birthed from a place of needing nourishing skincare products to combat Chicago’s harsh, cold weather, Abena happened upon a solution for dry skin by turning to a trusted product she grew up on, shea butter.
This time though, instead of just using the raw material, the Ghanaian-American began formulating different products in her kitchen until she landed on three body butters, lavender vanilla, lemongrass, and eucalyptus. And after trying the products on her family and friends, the former algebra teacher said goodbye to education and hello to the beauty space with the launch of her brand, Hanahana Beauty.
Since launching in 2017, Hanahana Beauty and its holy grail Body Butters have become more than a skincare and wellness brand. In addition to providing skincare essentials for melanated individuals, Abena wanted her brand to have a social impact that offered levels of sustainability for not just herself, but for the Katariga Women's Shea Cooperative–where she sources her shea butter–through her Hanahana Circle of Care, an organization that provides healthcare access and education and wellness activations.
Today, Abena is preparing for retail expansion following her recent launches in Revolve and JCPenny, as well as looking for new ways to create access to the brand by listening to her community and focusing on what they want. In this conversation with xoNecole, Hanahana Beauty founder, Abena Boamah-Acheampong talks with us about the importance of creating a sustainable beauty brand, how her time in Ghana shaped Hanahana Beauty, and what advice she gives to the next generation of Black women entrepreneurs.
xoNecole: When did you realize you wanted to go into the skincare and wellness space?
Abena Boamah-Acheampong: In 2014, I was teaching and in grad school, and started making shea products for myself, because the cold weather in Chicago was drying my skin out. I'm Ghanian. So the first thing that I thought about was shea butter. I grew up using it and wanted a better product instead of the raw material.
I became interested in the wellness space, through the eyes of what it would be like as a therapist in beauty. But around 2017, as my parents and my friends began using the products, they encouraged me to start something. And that's when I decided to start a business. But even then, I was more so interested in the social impact.
I felt like the beauty industry was unsustainable, and it didn't make sense to me. I realized how much money was being made and saw how there was a lack of sustainability. So as I started, I became more interested in beauty and wellness as a business and a brand. But all of it came back to me being both an educator and a graduate student, and how to create levels of sustainability through people or whatever I wanted to do.
"I became interested in the wellness space, through the eyes of what it would be like as a therapist in beauty. But around 2017, as my parents and my friends began using the products, they encouraged me to start something. And that's when I decided to start a business. But even then, I was more so interested in the social impact."
xoN: How much time did you spend with the Katariga women in Ghana as you were developing your brand? What did you learn from them? And then how did your time there shape Hanahana Beauty?
ABA: I launched in 2017 but didn’t go back to Ghana until after. There, I met the producers of Katariga Women's Shea Cooperative, and that experience shaped the whole look of Hanahana Circle of Care. After finishing grad school in 2018, I moved to Ghana and lived in Accra. I was going back to the city of Tamale–which is where we source the raw materials–once a month.
And during the first seven months to a year of living in Ghana, the Hanahana Circle of Care began as an initiative surrounding healthcare and access to it. Because the women there felt that that was what they were lacking. So we held bi-annual healthcare days along with monthly health education and just kept growing. During this time, we began to look at what are some things that we, as a brand, have access to. And what can we give access to?
Then, in 2021, we decided that with all of the work that we had been doing–where we were pulling money from our sales to do this work–how do we now just create it, so it's more sustainable and expanding? So how do we look at access to healthcare in a way that we can mobilize it? So that's when we formatted it to become a fiscal sponsor.
We worked with The Body: A Home for Love–a nonprofit founded by Deun Ivory–who is our fiscal sponsor. When I launched Hanahana, being a B Corporation was always something that I strived for and now the Hanahana Circle of Care is moving into becoming a nonprofit.
xoN: How many products did you initially launch and how long did it take for you to develop them?
ABA: We launched with three shea butters: lavender vanilla, lemongrass, and eucalyptus. We also launched the shea balm which, at the time, we called the exfoliating bar. I had been making the products since 2014 and just working on different formulations for myself. And in December 2016, I went home to see my parents and told them that I wanted to start a brand. I already knew the formulas because I was working on them for three years for myself and my friends and family, so it took me three months to launch the brand.
Now, if I was launching a whole brand today, I would think of it very differently. But that time was perfect for me because people got to grow with me as a founder, as a person, and as a teacher who was making products. They got a chance to grow with the brand from the time I was making products in my kitchen to now having a team and doing different launches.
xoN: How was the transition from being an educator to pursuing entrepreneurship full-time?
ABA: My transition came from a place of me having to do it. I was in my second year of grad school and had been teaching for two years. When it came to my third year of teaching, I had to decide to move into finishing my master's program and that’s when I started Hanahana. But when I finished in 2018, I moved to Ghana and was a therapist for maybe six months while still building the brand. And in 2018, I was just doing Hanahana full-time.
I feel like I didn't realize [the career transition] because, for me, it was more so the idea that I wasn’t going to apply to anything else after grad school. I remember talking to my parents because they wanted me to get my license. But I felt like if I couldn’t make it in Ghana, then I would keep doing therapy.
While in Ghana, though, I was inspired to continue taking the creative entrepreneur route. And if Hanahana didn’t work out, then I had already realized how my skills as a teacher and everything that I learned as a therapist worked in the creative and entrepreneurial space.
"I have to prioritize my growth to be able to prioritize anything. A lot of times in this self-care era–and in spaces where you're promoting self-care–people find themselves promoting and centering self instead of growth. And I think when you center growth, you're going to think of how you affect people through work, through your personal life, all those things."
xoN: What have you learned about yourself since launching Hanahana Beauty and how would you use that to inspire the next generation of Black women entrepreneurs?
ABA: I've learned that I have to prioritize my growth to be able to prioritize anything. A lot of times in this self-care era–and in spaces where you're promoting self-care–people find themselves promoting and centering self instead of growth. And I think when you center growth, you're going to think of how you affect people through work, through your personal life, all those things.
So I think that's important because as entrepreneurs, and especially as Black women entrepreneurs, we're told to focus on one thing. But then how do you build this brand if you want to be a mom, or if you are a mom, or if you're just being a Black woman in general? Sometimes capitalism can be very consuming and it really pushes us to a level of self-centeredness and also lack. And I feel like when you prioritize growth, it allows you to see every situation as a new opportunity for yourself to grow.
Featured image courtesy of Abena Boamah-Acheampong