While we prepare for Fashion Week after-parties and turn our thoughts to the end of year celebrations, top natural beauty brand AJALI is busy prepping a new store and spa launch this weekend in Lekki (Phase 1), which – according to our interview with the brand owner below – will see a line of new and exciting handmade products on offer, too.
Great news for good skin-wanting individuals is that there will also be skilled therapists on hand to offer you facials, massages, wraps, body scrubs and organic hair removal treatments, but before you visit the spa this Sunday November 1st, found out more about the brand and its beginnings via our chat with AJALI’s founder Ifeyinwa Ojekwe below.
Hi Ife! We love your products and they’ve been on our radar since the brand launched in 2013 – but when did you love of natural products begin?
I had a major health scare in 2012 that made me more conscious about what I was putting in and on my body. I decided to eat better, stop relaxing my hair and pay more attention to my cosmetics.
I started off making moisturisers and soaps from recipes I found online and soon after that, word-of-mouth kicked in. I found myself making products for my family and friends and in August 2013 I decided to brand it and see how it would do at an exhibition organised by church, and here AJALI is, nearly 2 years later.
Wow, so it was a whirlwind beginning. What was the first product you made?
The first product I made was whipped shea butter following a recipe from YouTube. I had so much fun making it and tweaking the recipe with different ingredients and proportions until I developed the perfect recipe that I’ve now sell as the AJALI Butter Soufflé.
Your brand is built on firm beliefs in fair trade and promoting home-grown ingredients – why is this so important to you?
I am very passionate about ‘third world’ development because I want to do my part to help Nigeria and Africa as a whole, shake off that label – and that can only happen when we become less dependent on the more developed economies.
AJALI sources ingredients as locally as possible, predominately from Nigeria and Ghana, and the term ‘fair trade’ simply means that we pay a fair price for them. Right now, we’re not operating at a scale to influence market price but when that time comes and AJALI has that sort of power, we won’t abuse that.
Even at the level we’re operating now, we’re constantly planning initiatives to give back and support the local community.
How do your West African roots manifest in your products?
I am very proud of my background and it’s apparent from the brand name which is an Igbo word, to the ingredients we use, which are hugely locally sourced.
We will not import anything that can be produced (at the same quality) in West Africa, even if it means we have to pay a higher price for it. Once the sourcing is done, all the producing is done right here in Nigeria by hand and distributed from here too.
You’re brand is named with the Ibo word for “red earth” – are there any tribe traditions that have been worked into your products or brand practices?
Yes! A lot of traditional medicine or beauty treatments work wonders and I’m always looking into incorporating them. As long as they’re safe!
What would you say are the benefits of using naturally-made goods as opposed to some big name brands that mix ingredients with unnatural or processed components?
There’s absolutely nothing like knowing that what you’re using on a daily basis is not killing you. That may sound extreme but it’s a known fact that over 80% of cosmetic products on the market contain known carcinogens (cancer-causing ingredients).
I personally try to live as naturally as possible and I admit it’s not always easy to eat clean, but switching to natural cosmetics is something you can do simply. There are so many resources to help you make better choices about your cosmetics, such as Skindeep.com
What are your favourite products from your brand – and do you use any non-natural products at all? (Nail varnish, shampoo, any guilty pleasures?)
I love the AJALI Fresh Face Masks. I’ll admit I was inspired by Lush to start making them! The masks are made from fresh fruits, vegetables and clay and need to be kept refrigerated.
The French Green Clay one helps me keep my oily skin under control and there’s nothing like putting on a cold face mask and relaxing at the end of a long day. They’ve done really well at exhibitions so I’m excited to finally have a place where I can sell them all year round.
I also love the AJALI Sea Salt Body Scrub too, it’s a another pamper-time favourite of mine.
And yes I do still use some non-natural products unfortunately. Mainly makeup but I’m hoping the AJALI brand can expand to natural makeup someday. Oh and I’m still searching for a good all-natural deodorant.
Have you managed to have any top name clients hooked on AJALI yet?
TW Magazine publisher and media personality, Adesuwa Onyenokwe has been a big supporter of the brand – she particularly loves the Lemongrass Butter Soufflé and she uses it as a face cream too.
In terms of your brand, you’re part of the ‘natural cosmetics revolution’ going on in Nigeria at the moment, being one of a few natural brands around at the moment. What has it been like positioning your brand in the growing market?
There are quite a few other brands in the ‘natural cosmetics’ catergory but we offer a unique, handcrafted, artisan product; I make all the AJALI products personally, in very small batches to ensure that the quality is not compromised.
Of course there are a lot of people that don’t really appreciate this kind of thing, because they don’t understand the level of detail that goes into producing each product or the importance of natural skincare, and that’s OK. But generally I find that people are very excited to see a brand like this in Nigeria.
Beyond that, the AJALI brand is not just about selling products, it’s about supporting the local industry and encouraging us to live a healthy, fun life. We take part in events and try to raise awareness for the lifestyle we promote.
What myths would you like to dispel about natural or handmade goods?
…That they aren’t as effective. All I’ll say is back in the day when all skincare was plant-derived or animal-based, we had Cleopatra who’s still referred to as the most beautiful woman in the history of mankind.
Do you have any natural product ‘don’ts’ – tips for newbies just discovering or starting out with natural goods?
Yes! Work with reputable suppliers. I lost a lot of money buying bad quality ingredients in the beginning, especially shea butter. There are a lot of bad shea butter suppliers out there.
The trick is to melt it down. Good shea butter should be a clear, honey colour not dark brown or black when melted.
You’re opening your first flagship store and spa (congrats!) this weekend in Lagos – what can attendees expect from the launch event?
Thanks! It’ll be an opportunity to show case the brand to people who may or may not be familiar with our products. The great thing about having a physical space is now you can come in and test the products before you purchase anything.
I’m also launching some new products and of course having taster treatments at the spa! It’ll also be a celebration so you can expect to have a good time! There’ll be drinks served too, courtesy of Simply Green Juices and Ekulo Wine World.
What type of services and treatments will be on offer at AJALI?
Think of our spa as an extension of our cosmetics brand – fresh, pure, and effective. We partner with local farms to provide you with fresh skincare recipes, made by hand.
I’ve also hired skilled therapists to offer you facials, massages, wraps, body scrubs and organic hair removal treatments in a peaceful, tranquil setting for an affordable price.
What products should anyone visiting the launch or the store not leave without – the top three must-have products for one’s natural beauty regime?
It’ll be hard to mention just three… The Butter Soufflé is a fan-favourite because it doubles as a hair and body product and smells amazing; The Konjac Face Sponges are a vegetable fibre and mineral-infused face sponge, which make a massive difference to your cleansing routine and you practically experience immediate results; plus the Growth Stimulating Oil and Signature Oil Blend are back in stock! I know a lot of people will be happy about that.
Lastly (I know, I’m cheating), we have a new range of face oils that I’m very excited to be launching on Sunday that I hope everyone loves as much as I do.
Thanks Ife! We can’t wait to investigate at your store and spa launch this weekend!
Image source: Ajali.com.ng