Beauty Roots

Abena Boamah's Hanahana Beauty Sustains People, Not Just The Planet

“You can’t create a brand if it’s not going to help sustain the people that are sustaining the brand.”

Abena Boamah tells Bustle about Hanahana Beauty, sourcing shea butter and other pure ingredients, an...

In Beauty Roots, Bustle chats with diverse creators in the beauty industry about how their heritage has influenced their businesses and routines. Here, Hanahana Beauty founder Abena Boamah talks about how her Ghanaian roots influenced her love of simple beauty, and how social media sparked the creation of her beauty brand.

Abena Boamah’s approach to beauty is pretty straightforward: It’s all about keeping it simple. As a Black girl growing up in Ohio, the Hanahana Beauty founder didn’t necessarily look to magazines for any beauty icons. Instead, Boamah looked to her mom and the women around her and learned how to live confidently in her skin — both inside and out.

“Growing up in a Ghanaian household, beauty was very simplified,” Boamah tells me over Zoom. “It was more around like cleanliness and taking care of yourself.”

Confidence is beauty for her, something she thanks her mom for instilling. “My mom is the most confident person I know. I never felt I needed [makeup to be beautiful],” she adds. “At home, I would be like, ‘Okay I look nice and washed — I look good.’ But then someone is telling you ‘Oh, you’re not cute because you’re dark-skinned, too skinny, or whatever.’ So [society’s definition of beauty] was confusing.”

Keeping her skin healthy and well-nourished was all done with the help of raw Ghanaian shea butter. She explains to me her mom would mix shea butter with different ingredients such as cloves to make a better product. She then took that knowledge and has been creating her own shea butter-focused products since she was a junior high math teacher. At first, the products she created were just for herself. But after some convincing from her students, friends, and family, she set out to create products for others — and that’s when Hanahana Beauty was born.

The ethically-conscious brand has always done more than just showcase the beloved nourishing ingredient in its products. From its conception in 2017, Hanahana has always been transparent about ingredient sourcing while also providing income and healthcare for the Ghanaian shea butter producers.

As the brand celebrates its five year anniversary on March 15, 2022, Boamah tells Bustle more about starting Hanahana Beauty and how the brand creates a community that educates and supports the female Ghanaian collective who source its hero ingredient.

What inspired you to start Hanahana Beauty?

[Starting a beauty business] wasn't my intention when I first started making my own products. Even when I was making [my own products] for years, I was playing around with the idea of some sort of education business because I was in education. I was also living in New York for the summer and trying to figure out ways to build community centers and cool programming.

What made you change your mind?

What sparked it for me was social medial. This was earlier in social media times. People were just watching me [using my own products] and wanted it too. My parents were like, “You should probably sell this.”

My friend Deun, who does our photography now but was the creative director of Black Girl In Om at the time, was asking if I was selling it. [Black Girl In Om founder] Lauren Ash then asked if I could bring products to sell for this pop-up. I had a conversation with my roommate and was like, “Yeah, I guess I could start this.”

How was the beginning process of that like? How did you come up with the name and what made you want to source directly from Ghana?

My dad is the one who came up with the name. “Hanahana” means smooth and malleable in Twi (a dialect of the Akan language spoken in southern and central Ghana). It's like a slang word for something that’s smooth. So you'll say like, “Oh, that’s hanahana.”

Even when launching it, I was just so much more focused around the production of things. There’s this Ghana-based beauty brand Hamat Beauty. The founder is a Ghanaian woman and she would make all these videos of where she’s from and show them making the shea [butter]. I was like, “If I’m going to make a brand around shea butter being our main ingredient, I’m going to make sure I source directly from Ghana. I’m Ghanaian, so I have to. I’m going to go back to Ghana and find producers [of shea butter] and work with them directly.

I want this to feel connected for like all types of people to feel like you need to take care of yourself. The way we say, ‘there’s no need to be ashy.’ There’s ashiness obviously with skin but I think [it’s also] about how you move through life. There’s really no need to move through life dry.

What was the most surprising thing you learned when creating your products?

The lack of sustainability behind it. I didn’t realize where it was being created, who was making it, or what the process was like until I went to Ghana. I didn’t realize that people were purchasing shea butter for under a dollar. I didn’t realize cooperatives were making this still. It continues to drive inspiration [when creating] a brand; [it’s] making sure there’s a level of sustainability. We’re working with entrepreneurs; these producers are their own that was something I think that I continue to learn.

I love that sustainability is a big focus. How does that tie in with Hanahana’s initiative, Circle Of Care?

I wanted to be in a space where I could teach and learn. When we first launched Circle of Care, we focused on the producers [of the products and main ingredients]. How do we create intentional initiatives around people sustaining the brand?

[At first] the focus was just production and the producers being able to ask two times the asking price and being able to give [them] access to healthcare in the community as well as healthcare education. In the past couple of years, we’ve expanded the Circle of Care to be more intentional around the community we’re giving back to and environmental sustainability. Being able to curate learning experiences that create access to wellness and learning.

Also, environmentally, beauty and fashion are not the most sustainable things. So it’s like, “How do we as a brand look at environmental sustainability not just in the packaging but also in the aftermath of our packaging. The environmental portion of the Hanahana Circle Of Care is something that we’re continuously developing. The farming, production, and just how things are going are things we are interested in. But in everything that we’re doing, we want to take our time with research before we launch things. You can’t create a brand if it’s not going to help sustain the people that are sustaining the brand.

That’s a good point. Some people don’t understand there’s a whole production team behind a single product. Just like what your site states, a lot of these women who source the shea butter don’t profit off their hard work.

Yeah. It goes back to the other side too, right? Black and brown people, especially Black women, have been sustaining [the beauty] industry with our dollars forever. Brands can do more than just create product. We’re going to continue to ideate around how we can create solutions.

What is your personal skin care routine like?

My skin care routine is really simple. I love Klur’s Gentle Matter Cleanser; it’s amazing. I’ll also use our Hanahana Beauty Black + Brown Exfoliating Cleanser too. I use Tower 28 Beauty SOS Save.Our.Skin Daily Rescue Facial Spray for my toner. I love Dieux Skin’s Deliverance Serum. I love Cocokind’s Watermelon Hemp Oil, but if I don’t have any [of it on hand] I’ll use any hemp oil. I’ll use our Hanahana Beauty Shea Body Butters all over my body and in my hair. I’ll also use our Hanahana Beauty Skin Nutrition Mask or the Cocokind Organic Ultra Chlorophyll mask and alternate between those once a week. And sunscreen — I love Supergoop!

You’ve mentioned that you didn’t grow up with major hair and makeup influences when you were younger. Has that changed now?

It’s just still the simplicity [of hair and makeup]. I recently cut my hair; it’s Nia-Long-short-hair-in-the-90s-inspired. I love the simplicity of a gloss. I love our Hanahana Beauty Shea Lip Balm, but I also really love Ami Colé’s Lip Oil. Things that are really simple continue to inspire me. I do love a pop of color, like an eyeliner color, sometimes. But most of the time I will have a darker lip liner, some gloss, and maybe toss on a Glossier Cloud Paint.