Abena Boamah-Acheampong founded Hanahana Beauty four years ago with a clear-eyed mission.
When Abena Boamah-Acheampong founded Hanahana Beauty four years ago, she dove in with a clear-eyed mission: sustainably source shea butter from her native country of Ghana while giving black women the power to care for their skin outside the restraints of typical beauty standards.
The brand became famous for its whipped shea butters, as well as exfoliating body bars and other shea-based moisturizing products for body and face. (Their four-year anniversary collection, 4ever not ashy, celebrates good moisturizing.)
Not only did the former middle school teacher create the supply chain of her dreams, which she personally fosters when she lives in Ghana for part of every year, she's grown her brand while staying true to her vision of transparency and empowerment of both her customers and the shea cooperatives in Ghana.
The brand includes Hanahana Circle of Care, a foundation that supports the cooperatives they source from by doing things like providing access to healthcare.
CartHook chatted with her on Zoom from Hanahana HQ in Chicago, as she looked ahead to returning to Ghana for the first time since the pandemic began, celebrated being featured in Vogue magazine, and planned for the company's growth on a more global scale.
CH: Tell us how Hanahana Beauty came to be. Why did skincare speak to you?
Abena: I came from a teaching background and therapy, and I thought my purpose had to do with education and creating space for education. Skincare was something that I went to as a self-care act. And I think skincare is a big space because your skin is your largest organ, right? And what you put on it is what you put into your body--everything affects it.
So for us, we found a path, a lane. We're also creating experience and education around the process of creating the product. I found that you can use this platform as a way to educate people, to make people feel more comfortable about themselves and what they put on themselves. It's part of the whole act of taking care of themselves.
CH: Part of Hanahana's message seems to be that part of the self-care act is being informed about what you're putting on your body.
Abena: Exactly, yeah. I think in general, the beauty industry, even now the wellness industry, has really been pushed by marketing standards. Like, we women shave because it was marketed that we were supposed to shave. We use a three-in-one because that was the easiest way. It wasn't because you can use shea butter on your skin and this and this and this. It's all about marketing.
So as a woman, and as black people in general, I think we have to be very intentional about what we put on our body and where it's coming from and why we use certain things, especially when you know the history of this industry.
CH: Tell us about the shea butter sourcing in Ghana. Was that something you planned to do when you started Hanahana Beauty, or did you swerve to get there?
Abena: I'm Ghanaian, so for me to create a brand that uses shea butter from Ghana, it made sense for me to be able to source it directly from whomever was making it.
Being able to go back and actually meet with the cooperatives--that whole social impact channel of how you look at sustainability now and transparency—formed from those conversations that we had with the cooperatives.
I think that's why it's been easier for us to scale sustainably, because sustainability has been a part of our foundation from the beginning. It wasn't like, oh, let's think about sustainability and add it. It was like, okay, as I'm growing this business, how do I continue to have that within our foundation, so when we do scale, it's just a part of what we do.
So now, regardless of whoever is coming in for the brand, whatever money we get in, sourcing, scaling, it allows us to continue to scale in that way.
CH: We're curious about your trips to Ghana and what those mean to you now that you're four years into running Hanahana Beauty.
Abena: For the past four years, I've been living back and forth between Ghana half of the time. It was very important for me to live near the community that I was serving. And with Hanahana, we are intentionally serving the cooperatives that we work with. So it only made sense for me to be able to be there and learn about that community.
It's definitely changed how I look at my lifestyle, sustainability for my own self, what makes me feel good, where I want to live, how I want to live, and how I want to grow Hanahana. Not only is it something to scale within the States, but globally, how does that look like?
So it's not only how do we serve that community in the sense of sourcing, but how do we serve a community in the sense of providing products within the continent of Africa?
So it's definitely, I think it allows us to look at things at a global perspective of impact and also at a global perspective of who our possible customers can be, who we can serve in that way, because for us, we look at sustainability path from producer to customer, and also in that, it's being able to intentionally have black women globally in mind.
We can't talk about having black women in mind globally if we're not even talking about the black women on the continent. Being in Ghana allowed me to really just be there and dive in, because I lived there as a child.
When I was younger and I knew the language, but being there has helped me get better with the language now. It's how I connect with people, and it's also allowed us to creatively connect with creatives in Ghana. Our rebrand was created by a Ghanaian graphic designer in Ghana.
Our team is split between here and Ghana, so it just allows us to really continue to grow and create access in different ways.
CH: When you go to these cooperatives, what is it like? Who are you working with and sustaining?
Abena: We work with Katariga Women's Shea Cooperative, which is made up of 60 women between their late twenties and early sixties.
I don't think it's about us sustaining them, they're also sustaining us. It's really this relationship, right? Without the women that we source our products from, we couldn't have a business or we would have to source from somewhere else. So it's this growing relationship, it's not a by force relationship, right?
I try to make sure that we are not a charity because charities are not sustainable. And we really look at self-sustainability. So, in all the things that we're doing, it's conversations with the women.
CH: It must feel good to make that difference. That's such a tangible thing, access to healthcare.
Abena: Yeah. I think access to healthcare is something that's so important, because obviously myself, I feel like I've had privileges of having insurance and healthcare. At age 27, I lost my healthcare. Even then I still had the privileges of knowing where to go, that was sliding scale or all these different things.
I've always had this level of privilege, but healthcare really shouldn't be a privilege. It should be something that's accessible. And s that's what we strive for with Hanahana.
CH: Tell us about your ecommerce strategy and where you're going with it. How do you to connect with your customers for the long term?
Abena: For us, it's really telling the story in different ways. We are now incorporating a lot of different ways of reaching our customer, even just how we talk about the products from our PDP page, to our brand page, to our social platforms. And now, as we're growing and being more intentional, it's about how do we intentionally reach our customers through their inbox, through mass SMS. Those are the types of strategies that we're trying to continue to incorporate to bring customers back, to let them know what's going on, and also to make them feel special.
Sampling is something that we would love to do, but it's simply so expensive. However, it's how can we make sure that our newsletter community feels different from just the community that's on our social platform?
CH: Do you, as the brand's founder, feel a responsibility to be a cornerstone of that strategy?
Abena: Yeah, I think because we are a founder-facing brand and when I started, my face was the push and the story and how my story is quite intertwined with Hanahana's story. Strategically I know that if I receive opportunity, that means Hanahana receives opportunity.
I am very much intentional and strategizing around how I continue to present my story and how I share Hanahana, because I know it's helpful in our growth.
And also because Hanahana is really a part of my life, right? Like, I breathe, sleep and work in the same space of all these things. I continue to put myself out there and grow myself in a place where I can continue to be open and share that story.
CH: What are you planning for the future of Hanahana?
Abena: Right now we're very much focused on scaling throughout the States and how we continue to grow our ecommerce, and what does it look like for us to launch into retail strategically?
When I think outside of the United States, we already ship internationally, which is really great, but being able to be more intentional about those from the UK, and our Canadian and German buyers. All those types of places that before the quarantine we had visited, doing our pop-ups and our events. So those places like London, like Paris, Ghana, all of those are places that we want to continue to grow our community there.
So for us it's about, before even selling the product somewhere in a different place, it's about growing community and understanding what we have, because we can offer more than just our product. And that's how we created with Hanahana's approach, in which we can offer accessibility to the brand and it doesn't have to be the product, so it can be through a platform. It can be through how we curate learning experiences
CH: When you talk about community, are you hoping that people are delving into skincare or sourcing? What does community mean to you?
Abena: It doesn't have to be traditionally the skincare community, right? I think our community can hit anyone that wants to care about their skin and their wellness. So, when we're creating curations, it's not just about skincare, we're doing yoga and chill, we're having access to yoga classes or just conversations in general that can talk about the aspects of wellness and skincare, but of what hits us as people, as a black woman, as Ghanaian women, as whoever. Whoever's having that conversation, giving different perspectives of one, blackness, but also just different perspectives of different types of people.
Because I think in general, when you think of skincare, when you think of black people, when you think of all these different niches that I'm a part of, it's a monolith, right? We don't see the fact that there are different types. So for us, our platform and our community is being able to allow people to understand that you can see yourself within the brand.
CH: It's a form of inclusivity, right? You're saying, we are here for all dimensions of women.
Abena: I think black faces and black people inspire others.
As a brand, we want to continue to be authentic to what we set this foundation to be, but also allow for people to know that you can see yourself within this because it's deeper than just visuals. It's about what we're giving you and how you can learn from those people and share in that format. I think I really just take the aspect of the teaching to it.
You create space for people to feel comfortable to learn. And honestly, when you feel good in your skin, when you're moisturized, when you know that you're applying something that does good for you, when you know that you're putting your money into something that is actually ethical, you're going to feel more comfortable to take in more information.
CH: What brands inspire you? What's on your radar right now?
Abena: I really love how Tata Harper has been able to create this authentic brand that is in their own lane, from how their stores, how they create, how they put out their products. It's a lot of intentionality.
I'm definitely inspired by brands such as Glossier, Tower 28, Cocokind, and Golde. These are the brands within my own space of products that I use. I'm inspired by the founder stories, how they continue to grow, how they're being intentional about their growth, and also the products that are being created.
CH: What advice do you have for Black women who want to start a brand?
Abena: Start first with looking at the brands that you are inspired by and really taking time to look at their pages, look at their websites even, how people are conveying their message. Being able to see the guidelines of what is the standard of information that you need to give, but then also being inspired by how other brands are doing it, to be able to create your own.
I think that's just like the right-off start is just going to those key brands that inspire you already. But I think other than that, it's really being able to form out what your mission is, what you want to do and why, and making sure your product is top key. Being able to take the time to build a product that works and does exactly what it's supposed to do.
I think sometimes we're so rushed to just start a brand just to start a brand. But at the end of the day, if Hanahana wan't good, regardless of how our story went or whatnot, no one would be buying our product.
It can be ethically sourced, but I feel confident putting my product in someone's hands and knowing that they'll have a good experience. Be able to get yourself to that level of confidence about the product and how it can work.
It can take time to grow a brand that's intentional, sustainable, and transparent, but that's what we're doing.
Hosting her podcast, the Conversations Podcast