Meet The Beauty Brand Founders Taking Inspiration From Their Ethnic Identity

Photo: Courtesy Of Liha
When I was younger, my Greek grandmother used to slather my hair in locally pressed olive oil, clean my face with fresh rosewater and present me with mud masks she'd whipped up using the mineral-rich red soil that grew watermelons in the field next to her little island lodge.
As a born and bred Londoner, beauty and my ethnic identity went hand in hand. Even today, my current routine is inspired by those inherited beauty rituals – and I'm not the only one.
From Liha and Abi who launched African-English beauty brand LIHA, to Elena and Inna at Cypriot skincare brand Kypwell, we're seeing more and more beauty empires built upon the skin, hair and makeup traditions reminiscent of their founders' cultural backgrounds. Ingredients and practices are no longer confined to family circles. Now, everyone gets a slice of the beauty pie.
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Photo: Courtesy Of Kypwell
Kypwell

Friends Elena Elraie and Inna Orlova met while studying in the UK. Their skincare brand, Kypwell, draws on Elena's Cypriot heritage.

"In Cyprus we have around 2,000 plants and herbs," says Elena. "Therapeutic remedies using them have been passed down from generation to generation. Growing up, herbal remedies were very much part of my life. As a working mother with little time for myself, I was looking for ways to relax and have a calm night. So of course I went back to my traditional ways of using herbs and experimented with herbal teas. This was the beginning for me and I looked more deeply into the healing herbs of Cyprus and how I could make them known to the world."

So what makes Cypriot-grown ingredients superior to others?

"Cypriot herbs are considered to be some of the best quality medicinal herbs in the world, due to the volcanic soil, 300 days of sunshine a year, and minimal toxic production on the island," says Elena. "We only use locally grown herbs from Cyprus and have total control over the growth and production process. We source our ingredients from fields which have been officially certified as organic by LACON Institut and all our herbs have official BIO certifications to ensure they can be used as active organic ingredients for cosmetics. To guarantee product efficiency, only the top-quality herbs are selected."

But it isn't just the physical ingredients. The Cypriot way of life influences the products, too.

"Cyprus has its own unique rhythm to life, which we call 'siga-siga', meaning 'slowly slowly' or 'don’t rush'," says Elena. "In Cyprus we also believe optimum health and wellbeing comes only from nurturing the three elements of life into a harmonious balance – spirit (pnevma), soul (psihi) and body (soma). So spending time with family in nature and away from digital distractions is very important to us – this is why Inna and I wanted to create a collection of natural products intended for 'slow beauty'. We all would benefit from slowing down a little!"

"Good skin is quite important for the Cypriot community," adds Elena. "As the herbs and plants were used to cure many conditions, they have also played a great part for skin conditions, either in drinkable forms or as skincare applications. Rose was one of the first ingredients used in Cypriot skincare and still is today. This is because rose trees are abundant in Cyprus, especially in the Troodos mountains. Today we have seen a great increase in skincare products and services in Cyprus for women and men, with a special focus on natural, organic products."
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Unlike other foaming cleansers, this is super kind on skin and lifts away all traces of dirt, makeup and oil without leaving your face feeling tight and uncomfortable.

Kypwell Gentle Herbal Cleansing Foam, £34.50, available at Kypwell
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This facial mist hydrates, balances and soothes skin without making it sopping wet. Even better? It smells like a wedding bouquet.

Kypwell Signature Flower Mist Toner, £33, available at Kypwell
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Photo: Courtesy Of Liha
LIHA

University friends Liha Okunniwa and Abi Oyepitan founded LIHA – a 100% vegan, cruelty-free beauty brand with "African roots and a quintessentially British attitude" – in 2015.

"We launched LIHA because we realised that so many people in the natural skincare community had no idea what shea butter was," says LIHA Beauty cofounder, Liha Okunniwa. "We wanted to educate people about how wonderful shea butter is for your skin and how easy it is to use. We're trying to go somewhere with this for the culture."

So what sets it apart from other brands? Well, the sustainable, homegrown ingredients are a good place to start.

"The formulas, first and foremost," says Liha. "The mix of African and English ingredients makes a really unique offering and radiates an unexpected luxury. Everything is made in small batches in Cheltenham and Hackney but shea butter is known as 'Women’s Gold' in west Africa because it has helped so many women gain independence through the co-operatives – we know them well. We wanted to be a go-to sustainable source, and also to bring the Nigerian shea to market. It's waxier and smells much earthier compared to the more common Ghanaian version.

"Ingredients are organic as the trees need no irrigation whatsoever – they just grow naturally, and as the nuts fall, the women process the goodness. For the Ose Gidi (black soap) in the line, we choose crops that will grow as we do. Our goal is to one day have a farm in west Africa with our own co-operatives, where everything we grow will have a benefit socially, environmentally and even politically. For example, molasses creates a waste material that can be used as a biofuel, and moringa can have astounding effects on food poverty."

The key to the brand's success also lies in its Instagram-worthy aesthetic. In fact, you've probably seen the pretty, flower-infused glass bottles in many a #shelfie.

"The design inspiration comes from my father," says Liha. He became a strict minimalist after hitchhiking through Sweden in the '60s, so growing up, our house was always empty, save for a few touches of Yoruba culture. He is an endless inspiration for us. We added the Queen Idia head to our candle design because we wanted to celebrate the pre-colonial matriarchal societies in our culture that are often dismissed as myth by academics."

Despite the minimal aesthetic, looking good is an incredibly important aspect of the Nigerian community, which is how Liha and Abi found their niche.

"We like our skin to glow," Liha says. "Traditionally, it was quite common to learn how to make soap and body products while being taught to cook, so nothing was wasted. We say, this part of shea can be used for food and this part of the coconut can be used for hair. In fact, zero waste has been hot in Nigeria for a long time. That’s where the plantain ash in our Black Soap comes from. It is naturally exfoliating and high in potassium hydroxide. The great thing is that these recipes have been tested for centuries, so when you put this and my interest in hedgerow medicine together, you can’t really lose."
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Infused with a tuberose flower, this natural, cold-pressed coconut oil can be used to nourish hair, face and body. It sets in colder temperatures but doubles up as a subtle solid perfume.

LIHA Idan Oil, £39, available at LIHA
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Slather this onto dry limbs, lips and cuticles and let the intensely moisturising vitamin E work its magic. It's incredibly rich, so a little goes a long way.

LIHA Ivory Shea Butter, £20, available at LIHA
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Photo: Courtesy Of Mauli Rituals
Mauli Rituals

Husband and wife team, Anita and Bittu Kaushal, are native Brits of Indian origin and founded Ayurvedic beauty and wellness brand, Mauli Rituals, together.

"I had been brought up to appreciate holistic health and my father-in-law happens to be an exceptional Ayurvedic doctor," says Anita. "The deeper we delved into our heritage and discovered the power of India’s herbs and Vedic traditions, the more we knew we had to follow our passion. We fuse Ayurvedic wisdom from India, with a sense of British refinement, with natural products made in England."

The British touches are subtle, but they are there.

"We were familiar with natural beauty and wellbeing products from India, but these lacked the texture, scent and application we had come to expect in the UK," explains Anita. "For Mauli, we sourced the most opulent and efficacious natural ingredients for inner balance and outer radiance, because we believe one can't truly exist without the other. Every single ingredient is chosen for its benefits to mind, body and soul as a unified whole. Beyond this, we work with growers who are Soil Association-approved and in choosing ingredients consider environmental factors as much as anything else. Our star ingredients are amla (Indian gooseberry, which has 20x more vitamin C than an orange), powerful adaptogen turmeric, and moringa for its exceptionally high active content."

For Anita and Bittu, skin and body care isn't a luxury, it's an essential part of everyday life – and these inherited rituals translate into every one of Mauli's products.

"In Ayurveda, we look at putting the purest products onto skin and they are made in a way that preserves their rejuvenating properties," adds Anita. "Our Supreme Skin Face Serum is inspired by my mother, who only ever used oil on her skin, and at 82, she has the most luminous glow. Indian women have a tradition of putting oil on their hair, skin and body on a daily basis. It’s not an indulgence; it’s a must for building healthy bones, firm skin and an alert mind. The practice of cleansing, anointing and layering with oils, herbs and flowers also remains an integral part of Ayurveda. Bathing in exquisite scented water, cleansing skin with purifying clays, nourishing scalp with potent herbs and applying pure fragrant blends to pulse points signal respect for the body housing the soul."
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Warm this between your hands before applying from head to toe. Chamomile, frankincense and ylang ylang are said to calm anxious energy.

Mauli Rituals Surrender Vata Body Oil, £47, available at Net-A-Porter
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Fine Himalayan salts buff away rough, scaly skin without leaving limbs red raw, while coconut and argan soften.

Mauli Rituals Reawaken Himalayan Hand And Body Scrub, £58, available at Mauli Rituals
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Photo: Courtesy of OPV Beauty
OPV Beauty

East London-based sisters Bukola and Opeyemi Adeyemo recently launched makeup brand, OPV Beauty, into Beauty Bay. The collection takes inspiration from their Yoruba background.

"We decided to launch OPV Beauty because at the time in the UK market, there were very few brands that were inclusive of all skin tones, and those that were tended to be high end and not accessible for most people," says Bukola.

"We're from Nigeria," Bukola continues. "Because we're Yoruba, we name our products after figures from our culture. Our newest eyeshadow palettes – Yemoja and Oshun – are named after Yoruba goddesses. The colours in the Oshun Eyeshadow Palette are inspired by the colours associated with her – rich coral, gold and amber. Oshun is also drawn upon widely in popular culture – Beyoncé was famously inspired by the goddess at the 2017 Grammy Awards."

"Taking pride in our appearance is very important to us Yorubas as a community," Bukola says. "We are famous for loud and bold makeup, eccentric head-ties, beautiful materials and over the top parties. Our goal is to always look better than the next person! It doesn't stop at makeup though. Our mum is an actual skincare genius and has passed down some tricks. She puts teabags in the freezer and leaves them on her eyes overnight to reduce the appearance of bags, darkness and puffiness."
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These are some of the most intense pigments we've ever seen. Each shade blends like butter with absolutely zero fallout.

OPV Beauty Yemoja Palette, £29, available at Beauty Bay
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Tens of matte and iridescent summer eye makeup looks in one single palette. If we weren't already sold...

OPV Beauty Oshun Palette, £29, available at Beauty Bay
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