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Karité’s Shea Butter Skincare Is Good For You (And The World)

Sisters Naana Boakye, Abena Slowe, and Akua Okunseinde talk to HealthyWay about bringing premium Ghanaian ingredients to American skincare.

Out of Office is a regular feature of brands we love—and we think you will too! Each of the brands we highlight must meet three criteria: 1) have a woman (or three!) in charge; 2) create sustainably, responsibly, and thoughtfully; and 3) fit in with the lives we’re actually living. Read on to find out more about this week’s brand, the ladies behind it all, and the advice they have for women everywhere.

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Women of color supporting women of color by creating a product that’s great for everyone? That’s something we’re 100 percent on board with, hence our pick for this week’s feature: Karité.

Karité (which means shea in French) is a shea butter–packed skincare brand based in New York City, founded by three sisters from Ghana. Though their offerings may be limited to just two products (for now!), their body butter and hand cream have been expertly designed. If you’re feeling skeptical, thinking that there are plenty of body lotions on the market, rest assured that Karité’s founders know what they’re talking about.

After all, they’re pretty closely tied to their creams’ formulas: Both the body butter and hand cream were designed by co-founder and CEO Naana Boakye, MD. Yep, one of the co-founders is a dermatologist, and she’s the one who develops their products (she also runs her own dermatology practice just outside NYC).

Lest you think that’s the only trick these sisters have up their sleeves for Karité, there’s more—a lot more: Abena Slowe, Karité’s chief operating officer, is a lawyer in New York, while chief creative officer Akua Okunseinde has years of experience in sales, marketing, and finance (most recently for Google). Oh, and they’re all moms. Talk about badass.

Akua Okunseinde, Abena Slowe, and Naana Boakye of Karité Skincare
Akua Okunseinde, Abena Slowe, and Naana Boakye of Karité Skincare

Naana, Abena, and Akua are from Ghana, and growing up, they had access to some truly incredible products. Their favorite moisturizers were chock full of shea butter—an ingredient indigenous to Africa (and primarily farmed by women). But when they moved to the U.S., they were hard-pressed to find creams that lived up to their standards; the products they found were often full of highly processed, refined shea butters. They knew they could do better, thanks especially to Naana’s dermatology expertise.

Karité’s body butter and hand cream are hypoallergenic and free of artificial dyes, parabens, silicones, and pointless fillers that sit on top of the skin. Instead, they’re packed with raw, unrefined shea butter, sustainably sourced palm oil, and unrefined organic coconut oil. They worked with Ghanaian vendors to find the highest quality ingredients to bring to America. And in the process, Karité is helping support the more than 600,000 Ghanaian women who depend on shea butter production for their income.

While this shea butter production is good for devotees of Karité’s products and for the bank accounts of Ghanaian women, it isn’t always so great for the environment. That’s why Karité is a member of the Global Shea Alliance, a non-profit association based in Ghana that works to promote sustainability around shea butter production, developing environmentally friendly best practices, and setting industry quality standards across the world.

I use Karité’s products, and my dry skin is a huge fan. (See why below!) But in 2018, our purchasing power can be political, and it feels good to support a company owned by women of color in a time when, astoundingly, that in itself can be controversial.

That Karité’s ingredients are thoughtfully chosen, sustainably sourced, and add to the livelihoods of Ghanaian women and their families is just another reason to support Naana, Abena, and Akua and companies like theirs. Keep it up, ladies; HealthyWay is cheering you on.

Karité Product Spotlight

In need of hydration from head to toe? Well, Karité’s Crème Corps Hydrating Body Cream’s combination of shea butter, coconut oil, sunflower seed oil, and herbs—all sustainably sourced, of course—is gentle enough for everyday use while also being effective on particularly rough bits. (Head, elbows, knees, and toes, anyone?)

On the other hand, if you just need a product to throw in your purse and put on every single hour (I’m guilty!), the Crème Mains hand cream is your girl. It’s formulated particularly for the hands, which can dry out easily from hand-washing, cleaning, and general life. This cream is also formulated with ingredients that are ideal for sensitive skin.

Q+A with Naana Boakye, Abena Slowe, and Akua Okunseinde

What is your why behind the brand? What inspired you to start your company?

Naana: Our family roots are in Ghana, West Africa, where much of the shea butter you know and love is sourced from. Our family has used shea butter in its raw form as a daily moisturizer for as long as we can remember. While raw, unrefined shea butter is the ultimate moisturizer for your skin, it’s quite difficult to spread on the skin. We would often mix the shea butter with over-the-counter lotion to make it easier to spread. This is when we had the idea to make our own all-natural version of liquid shea butter.

Based on what I’ve learned in my practice, I was confident about the type of formulation we would need but knew it would take time to perfect. We started brainstorming about starting this brand back in 2013 and officially launched in February 2017.

Karité Shea Butter Skincare

Walk us through your typical work day.

Abena: We really don’t have a “typical” work day—every day is different since we are a start-up.  There are a lot of moving parts, and it can be crazy and chaotic at times. When we are working on the brand, our time is spent on customer orders, managing and expanding our retail and wellness partnerships, social media, communicating with bloggers and magazines on features, and strategizing about the vision and future of the brand.

What’s up next for Karité?

Akua: Our key focus has and always will be our products, specifically ingredients that we source to provide maximum hydration for our customers’ skin. We have some ideas of what products we want to add to our line, but we are constantly researching to make sure that we make the right determination. We are not trying to have a ton of products all at once—we find that being deliberate and intentional with a slow rollout is working well.

We are also expanding our retail brand partnerships within the U.S. We love the fact that so many indie beauty stores are cropping up and really loving what we have to offer. We look forward to collaborating with those that share a similar mission to ours.

Akua Okunseinde of Karité gives her best advice.

Tell us about Karité’s products!

Abena: We currently have two products available: Crème Corps Hydrating Body Cream and Crème Mains Hand Cream, and both are really incredible and have been well received.

The hand cream is great because it’s the perfect size to carry in your purse and it’s also TSA compliant so you can take it with you when you travel. Your skin gets extremely dry on airplanes, so it’s important to stay moisturized. Our hand cream is lighter in texture and leaves your hands feeling hydrated but not at all greasy and also has a light pleasant smell.

Our body cream has been extremely popular because it feels so rich with its thicker consistency, yet it’s super smooth and hydrating when you rub it into your skin. A little goes a long way.

Because we focused on making sure our products are non-toxic, they are great for the entire family. We use both products on our kids all the time!

Five-Minute Mentor

What’s your best advice for someone who wants to start a small business?

Akua: Perseverance, patience, and being open-minded are key. It’s easy to come up with an idea and bring it to fruition, but marketing, selling, and dealing with the day-to-day is pretty challenging.

Sometimes you take a step forward but then end up taking two steps back. It’s the nature of being a small business. But we are starting to see things fall into place in a very positive way due to our perseverance and patience.

What was your lightbulb moment, where all the hard work felt totally worth it?

Naana: In the very beginning, you try to market pretty widely to become known because there are so many brands in the beauty space. Pretty soon after we launched, we got, and have continued to get, incredibly positive feedback on our brand from press, customers, and retailers!

When someone tells you that they heard about your brand or saw your brand in a magazine or in a store, that feeling just never gets old. It’s pretty amazing.

Akua Okunseinde of Karité
Akua Okunseinde, chief creative officer of Karité

What’s your favorite way to practice self-care?

Abena: In terms of routine, everything shifted when I had my second child about 9 months ago, so my intention has been to try to adopt a more consistent self-care practice. For now, it’s finding a bit of alone time, even if it’s only for 10 minutes, sleeping in a bit over the weekend, or going for a walk around the neighborhood. I also practice breathing exercises, which forces me to focus and calm my energy. Eventually, once I have a decent sleep routine back, I plan to get back to distance running.

Naana: I also have two kids, and being a mom often means putting yourself last. Over the last year and a half, I have made it a point to really take the time to focus on myself because I’ve found that overall it’s made me more focused, healthier, and happier. I’m an early riser and I take advantage of that aspect of myself. I try to hit the gym 4 to 5 times a week first thing in the morning around 5 a.m. I lift weights and really enjoy the group classes at my gym because of the great energy. I also try to eat a well-balanced diet leaning heavily towards plant-based. (But I still indulge in sweets!) I also love going to church on Sundays with my family.

Akua: I’m a new mom! I had my first child 5 months ago, so it’s been pretty life-changing for me and I am also trying to get into a more consistent self-care routine. I definitely cherish some alone time, sneaking in a nap during the day to recharge or soaking in a bath for some calm.

Balance or harmony?

Abena: Haha, is there such a thing? But seriously, it’s something I think we all constantly strive for. I think there are moments of balance but with all we have going on, it’s hard to constantly feel balanced.

Abena Slowe of Karité talks balance vs. harmony.

Harmony speaks better to my mindset—you can try to manage things in your life in a way that causes the least amount of stress and makes you content. There also needs to be flexibility because it’s different every day. Some days you may be more tipped one way versus the other, but that’s okay.

How do you define wellness?

Naana: It’s so many things, and it’s a full-body experience, both spiritual and physical. It’s being confident and feeling good about yourself, it’s taking care of your body and being mindful of what you put in it and what you expose it to. It’s taking the time to uplift and be compassionate to someone every day.

Some people may not think of skincare as part of wellness, but it very much is and that is what we are trying to teach our consumers. Your skin is the largest organ of your body and you have to be mindful of what you expose it to. It’s important to take a deep look at your beauty cabinet because studies have shown that many skincare products contain irritating chemicals that cause skin conditions such as rashes, itching, and cracked skin. Be kind to your skin and your body and strive to use natural and non-toxic products.

What book do you think all women need to read?

Abena: I have enjoyed reading Own Your Glow by Latham Thomas. It’s a really inspiring book that pushes you to focus on wellness, self-awareness, and self-love. Anyone who is struggling, who is looking for more self-care tips and wisdom—or if you just need some uplifting and a confidence-booster—this book is perfect for that.

We live in some pretty crazy times right now, so I think this is a must-read for all women. I’ve had the honor of meeting Latham a few times, and she is truly such a sweetheart, is full of so much love and light, and does such good work for women. All of that translates in her book.

Pick your fuel of choice: coffee, tea, or something else (if so, what?).

Naana: Latte. I need two shots and mixed with milk. If I don’t start my day with that I’m not coherent.

Naana Boakye, chief executive officer of Karité
Naana Boakye, chief executive officer of Karité

Abena: Hard to choose, but I rotate through lattes, matcha lattes, flat whites, green tea, and chamomile tea. It all depends on my mood.

Akua: I go back and forth between coffee and tea. Since I don’t get much sleep these days, I definitely love treating myself to a good latte in the morning.

What’s your ideal day off of work?

Naana: It’s funny because we are all moms, we feel like we are always “on” even when we have a day off. But my ideal day off would be a workout in the morning, followed up by an incredible massage at a spa. After a good lunch, curl up on the couch and enjoy a book near a window.

Abena: Take a nice long walk in the morning or go for a run, then catch up with a friend over coffee/breakfast. Relax at home with a book or watch a movie. And take a nap!

Akua: I’m currently on maternity leave, and I’m cherishing that I get to spend this time with my baby. I know many women struggle with their employers having little or sometimes no maternity leave at all. Right now my ideal day off would consist of catching up on sleep. Otherwise a nice lunch and spa treatment would be great!

What was your first job?

Naana: I worked in an administrative office at college making copies. It was great because I learned all about time management, which is a skill set that I use every day.

Abena: I was a sales associate at a women’s clothing store, so I had a lot of interaction with customers.

Naana Boakye of Karité explains that it's not supposed to be easy.

Akua: I was a camp counselor for 3- and 4-year-olds. It was exhausting but I have always loved kids so really loved my job!

What has been your biggest obstacle in building your company and how did you overcome it?

Naana: The biggest obstacle is that there is no roadmap or cookbook to starting a small business. In medicine and in law, there are protocols. Starting Karité took a lot of research and learning a lot about business beyond the formulations and beyond the beauty industry. We have faced a variety of obstacles.

Being that we are a family business, it was hard to give up control and delegate certain areas of the business to others, but there were some aspects that we just did not know how to do and it made more sense to bring on people who could handle those aspects of the business more efficiently.

Abena Slowe, chief operating officer of Karité
Abena Slowe, chief operating officer of Karité

When starting a business, there are always many obstacles and roadblocks and it can be frustrating—you have to decide whether you are going to throw in the towel or push through the challenge. We are extremely happy with our brand and the direction it’s going in, but it’s not easy. And it’s not supposed to be easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.

How do you stay motivated?

Akua: Some people ask how we like working with each other—we love it. We have always been close and we get along incredibly well. It helps that we also have similar taste in pretty much everything. But we do each have our particular strengths, which keeps us motivated and keeps our bond stronger.  

Also, every time we get feedback that someone has fallen in love with our brand, it just reinforces to us that we have made really good products and we want to keep growing.

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Shop Karité on their website and follow them on Instagram and Facebook.