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How Joy Ekhator Landed Her Luxury Skincare Brand On Retail Shelves Using African Tradition
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How Joy Ekhator Landed Her Luxury Skincare Brand On Retail Shelves Using African Tradition

When it comes to beauty and skincare brands, finding the right fit as women of color can be quite a journey—especially when seeking to support women-owned or Black-owned brands. And when wanting to upgrade to luxury for taking care of our body’s largest organ, it can get even more sticky.


Joy Ekhator, founder and CEO of skincare brand Lovinah, started her luxury skincare brand as a side hustle while balancing motherhood with a full-time job in tech. Founded in 2012 but launched officially in 2016, the brand was set to be a luxury, science-centered solution, according to Ekhator, for skin issues, including eczema, a challenge she saw many people of color face. Fast forward to today: Her products are now sold on Macys.com, and the mother of three is now a full-time entrepreneur.

Lovinah’s line of cleansing balms, creams, oils, masks, and cosmetics includes ingredients like vitamin A derivatives, beetroot extract, and fermented elements with striking names that definitely intrigue.

Here’s more on the Houston-based entrepreneur’s journey to land on retail shelves, how she infused her Nigerian culture’s traditions to come up with her line, and how she’s been able to sustain a luxury Black-owned brand that serves as an innovation-centered presence in skincare:

​xoNecole: You have a 20-year background in tech. What inspired you to get into beauty and skincare?

Joy Ekhator: Because of my children and myself, I decided to lead in starting to make skincare products. I have a lot of chemist friends, and chemistry was my minor in school, so it was easy to come up with the formulations.

Between that and getting the product stable, packaging, and all those different things, we had a focus group, and people loved [it], and that’s what inspired me to continue to pursue a career in skincare.

Lovinah

​xoN: Your product offers a specific value in terms of luxury and the quality of that. What was the process like to get your product on retail shelves?

JE: It was hard [laughs]. This is one mistake we made: I came into skincare, assuming I have a new business and everyone is going to support me. Friends and family are going to buy it, and it’s going to make money from day one. Once you actually get into business, you realize, no, it doesn’t work that way.

We started with social media, had a couple of brand ambassadors, and we went to a lot of trade shows. It takes money to make money. You have to be with those buyers and make sure your product is retail-ready—the packaging and regulations. You have to have everything set up in a way that when your brand starts getting recognition and visibility, the retailers will come to you, and they don’t have time to wait for you to go and get [things] sorted out. You have to make sure you’re prepared.

"It takes money to make money. You have to be with those buyers and make sure your product is retail-ready—the packaging and regulations. You have to have everything set up in a way that when your brand starts getting recognition and visibility, the retailers will come to you... You have to make sure you’re prepared."

We also pitched—we still pitch today—and we got a lot of no's. When I’d get no's, I’d ask them, "What am I doing wrong?" and gather feedback. Sometimes, it would be something to do with the packaging or something to do with the ingredients. Sometimes we would be told we’re too forward-thinking or too futuristic. I’m thinking my background is in science and tech!

Cosmetic Executive Women had [an award event] they did in 2020, and I was on a panel. From there, Macy’s reached out to us. They wanted to carry us on Macys.com. I worked with buyers, they reviewed my SKU [Stock Keeping Unity] and made sure everything was okay because when you’re selling with a major retailer, you have to make sure—[from] the right insurance to [product stability]. Everything has to be retail-ready.

You have to differentiate yourself, pitch and pitch and pitch, put yourself where those buyers are going to be, and know your ideal store—the companies that you’d like to work with. Not every retailer works for your brand.

And build a good relationship with your customers. They sell for you when the product works, and it becomes a must-have product. This is something that solves a problem.

Lovinah

​xoN: A lot of skincare brands focus on one key ingredient that makes their products work so well. What would you say that ingredient is for your line?

JE: This is what makes Lovinah unique: We don’t just base things on one ingredient.

You hear a lot about probiotics and prebiotics in skincare, but if you really look at the origins of probiotics, this started in ancient Africa, where they didn’t have access to antibiotics, preservation systems, [or] refrigeration. So what they did was preserve their food by fermentation. When you’re sick, you have eczema, and all these things, you were given fermented things to drink.

That’s still my grandmother’s first line of defense. And even living in the Western world, when I get sick, I think, ‘Oh, let me drink my [tonic].’ That was what they used for centuries, and it worked.

So when I started Lovinah, that was a big part of my inspiration. I wanted it to center on fermentation. So when you hear about products with probiotics in skincare, we’ve been using that in Africa for [so] long where it actually takes care of your skin.

"When I started Lovinah, that was a big part of my inspiration. I wanted it to center on fermentation. So when you hear about products with probiotics in skincare, we’ve been using that in Africa for [so] long where it actually takes care of your skin."

When the bad bacteria outweighs the good bacteria, that’s when you have those different skin problems. When you use a fermentation-based skin product, what it does is help to balance your skin’s microbiomes so you can fix a multitude of problems.

​xoN: There are so many brands to choose from on the market when it comes to beauty products and skincare. What do you want your brand’s legacy to be?

JE: I want it to be known as a brand that came in and solved a lot of problems. One of the biggest things right now is the TikTok world, with people doing a lot of DIYs. They don’t even really know what they’re putting on their skin. I want Lovinah to be known as a brand that caters to the consumer and provides solutions. I want to leave this for my kids and grandkids.

We don’t have a lot of luxury Black-owned brands, unfortunately. What makes me so happy now is that I see a lot of Black cosmetic chemists. Back [in] the day, we didn’t have [that].

Representation is everything. I think we need more luxury Black brands. We talk about La Mer and all those big companies, but we want to have our own as well. We want to be known as a go-to for the Black luxury brand that serves a purpose.

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Featured image by LaylaBird/Getty Images

 

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