Benewaa Owusu of Obaa Beauty: Celebrating The Natural Beauty Of Women w/Sustainable Products
Updated: Oct 26, 2021
Obaa Beauty began as a side gig. The Founder, Benewaa Owusu, was only using it to sell makeup through private labels. As a child in Ghana, Benewaa would watch her mother grind rocks to create pigmentation because back in the '50s, and '60's they didn't have a lot of access to makeup. She's always loved makeup and had hundreds of makeup products. Creating Obaa Beauty was a natural transition for her.
But, a health scare urged her to look deep into the products she was not only consuming but putting on her body as well. That's when she realized many of the products she owned and sold carried many toxins. This propelled her to create multifunctional products so consumers don't need to purchase multiple products to receive the same benefits. They receive glowing, healthy skin without the added costs.
Benewaa said, "Had a lot of carcinogens and toxins in it that I was selling and many of the mainstream products, although they were labeled as paraben-free and cruelty-free there were about maybe 12 ingredients that the FDA has banned. And over a thousand that the EU has banned. So the U.S. is definitely lagging. And so I wanted to revamp my brand and create a brand that had ingredients that were friendly, skin-friendly, and also create a healthy skin environment."
Obaa means tree in Ghanian. Obaa is a celebration of one's natural beauty. You don't have to be perfect to be beautiful. Their products enhance your natural glow and celebrate women. A portion of their revenue supports women's health, specifically Black and Brown women who tend to have higher rates of health conditions.
What are you most proud of when it comes to Obaa Beauty?
Benewaa is most proud of the evolution of her business. She shared, "Starting just like a from a side gig to extensive research working with chemists. To actually create something that came out of just a thought that, oh, I'm going to sell makeup. And then, after my surgery, I realized that there was something bigger than just makeup. We need to create something that will be beneficial, not only to women, but it will help actually to contribute to clean beauty."
For her, it's essential to create a healthy product and a product that also considers the environment. She's revamping her packaging to be biodegradable. She hopes to create a product that contributes to the betterment of the world by empowering women to be themselves.
What were some of your biggest fears along your journey?
Getting customers was Benewaa's biggest concern. The beauty industry is an innovative and competitive space with consistently new products. She was also concerned about receiving funding for her business. She didn't want people to see her as a makeup brand without a purpose. She is a beauty brand with a social cause that cares about people and the environment.
Tell us about any significant setbacks that you had in your business and how you recovered?
Benewaa had many setbacks along her journey. In 2020, she ran out of money through marketing costs and had to suspend her Instagram ads. She then lost her job. Despite these financial setbacks, she had a different perspective of those hardships.
Benewaa said, "So it also helped me. I'm grateful for that because it also helped my idea more and be more attentive to the business because it started off as a side gig. So I really enjoyed the process and the year. I wouldn't say that they were setbacks. They were just moments for me to come back and actually be more attentive to my business. Because if you keep on doing this, you will never grow this. You'll never go to the other one. So I'm really grateful for that year. I'm really grateful for the lockdowns. It helped me just to sit down and say, "Hey, what can I do to make this better?"
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition?
This was Benewaa's second pitch competition, although the BGV pitch was the most intense experience. As a nervous introvert, being a part of this competition was outside of her comfort zone. She shared, "But one thing that I kept in my mind is, just be yourself and just present your case. If it's genuine, people are going to love it."
Benewaa credited pitch practice as a helpful tool to refine her pitch and to help her become more comfortable with the process. She woke up two hours earlier that day to rehearse her pitch and to perfect her timing.
Her advice to those looking to pitch is, "Find a course for your business. I sometimes think, especially as Black people, we are very industrious. However, we don't—we don't think far in terms of creating that brand that will revolutionize an industry or anything like that. So we have great ideas, but let's refine our ideas. And also, just be genuine about your idea. If you're trying to sell people, it's not going to work. You have to tell your story and lead with your story. And that's one of the feedback that I received from the judges. Just lead with your story, and people are just going to buy into it."
Benewaa plans to use her pitch funds for branding with her next product launch and product development to create new ingredients.
How do you measure success?
For Benewaa, although sales and KPIs are necessary, what matters most to her is completing a project. It's also reflecting on how to make each project better than before. But, most of all, happiness is her ultimate measure of success.
Support isn't always given to Black and Brown women in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Benewaa shared, "Although we had the wave of Black Lives Matter and everybody was jumping on the bandwagon, many of the programs, especially any of the programs in the beauty industry, try to put in place for "Black people," they really didn't include anything about funding. So, I think we can talk more about getting shelf space. We can talk more about exposure, but if there is no financial backing or how to get it, we're never going to get there because when you read every day, there are new beauty brands that are starting, that big VCs back, and they have millions of dollars in funding.
So, if you're trying to bootstrap with just $10,000 or 20,000, 30,000, you're still at a disadvantage. So I think there should be more opportunities where at least there's information about getting funding for a woman of color, creating a pitch deck, things that investors are looking for.
And I think once those things are put in place, we will also be competitive because we are very brilliant. We are driven, we are goal-oriented, but we just don't have the funds, or we don't have the knowledge to get them."
What's the most critical lesson that you've learned about business?
Benewaa finds learning about marketing and product launches to be difficult. With influencers in the competitive landscape who launch products and sell out in minutes gives you the impression that you can do the same. Marketing is more granular with many elements. Benewaa learned that social media isn't the only option. There are multiple avenues, from PR firms to print and even TV.
She said, "So that's something that I didn't know, in the beginning. And when I found out I couldn't afford it—I can't afford paying, a PR from $5-$10,000 a month. And then, on top of that, paying for my online advertising because I'm bootstrapping. So I have to be very diligent with my finances. So, when I'm launching a product, I make sure that I put into place a marketing plan or hire a marketing personnel to drive the business."
What's the most exciting part of your business?
Benewaa enjoys the research process, product creation, and ensuring that her messaging always returns to the core of her product. She loves choosing the colors that are relevant to the brand and the message she wants to convey. The creation process is what she's in love with.
What's the biggest risk that you've taken so far?
When Benewaa's employer furloughed her due to COVID and asked her to return to work, later on, she said no—that was a huge risk for her. In retrospect, she believes it was a worthwhile decision because of the forward momentum that her business has taken. She's won a pitch competition, and that freedom has given her time to research, network and rebrand.
What do you think the future holds for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs and small business owners?
Benewaa said, "We're learning more now than before, you know, as I did mention, Black women have always been industrious. I mean, from my African background, women always had their business. It's either they're selling water on the streets or something. They always had their small business growing up. My aunties had a little shop in the market selling either cloth or anything. So we've always been industrious, but I think it's about bringing it on the biggest scale.
And that's what we are learning now—the disadvantages were finances and funding. And we're actually getting into that. So I think, in the future, in the next five years, ten years, you're going to see a lot more Black brands, especially women of color brands, multi-billion dollar brands because we went to the right channels to get us there.
It wasn't just a mom-and-pop shop that we are selling on, on Instagram, or, you know, had a little shop in the mall, but we are a global brand, and we have a global footprint. So, I think the knowledge is there now, and we are all catching up on it, and once one person does it and we see that somebody else has done it, we can also do it. So the future is bright for us."
If you and I were meeting three years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel over the moon about your progress?
Benewaa would love to see Obaa Beauty in a big brand name store like Sephora. She hopes to expand the brand overseas into the European, Asia, and Middle Eastern markets. And she'd like to branch into other sectors of the beauty industry, such as hair care.
What do you think is an important skill or asset that you need to have to be successful in business?
Benewaa had a hard time choosing one skill. She said, "I think being diligent is one. It's also very important to read because I think one thing that women of color might not do well is read what's trending in the industry. You know, sometimes we might see something hot and jump on it. But if we read them all, we can actually foresee the future and create a product for the future, not for now. And we can be more competitive.
Also, believe in yourself because there are times that people will tell you, and I have heard it before, you're not even a makeup artist, and you're starting a makeup brand. So, those kinds of stuff, things that people will say to you that might discourage you, but if you believe in your goal, why you're doing this and knowing your why, and always following your why will make you different from others."
She further encouraged entrepreneurs to celebrate their small wins, not to wait until they've "hit it big" to put themselves on top of that pedestal. Don't wait too long to celebrate all of your wins along the way.
Running a business while balancing a personal life can be demanding and taxing. How do you take care of yourself?
The first 30 minutes of the morning are dedicated to prayers and meditation every morning. This allows Benewaa to come back to herself and maintain her tranquility. She has a community to support her. Many of her friends are also small business owners, allowing her to vent and share her challenges with people who understand the journey. She uses that same group to share ideas about her business as well.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
"Do unto others as you want them to do to you."
What books and podcasts would you recommend?
Benewaa doesn't listen to podcasts.
Books: Know Your Why: How to Find Your Place in the World by Simon Sinek and How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
What's your favorite business hack or app that you can't live without?
Benewaa can't live without Instagram, Shopify, and Canva.
Name one food item that you have a hard time saying no to.
Starbucks chocolate chip cookie.
What is next for Obaa Beauty?
Obaa Beauty is not only rebranding, but she will continue her crowdfunding efforts to raise more capital for marketing, sourcing new packaging to make their products more environmentally friendly.
Last words from Benewaa, "Thank you to black girl ventures for this opportunity. If you had asked me in 2020, I wouldn't have mentioned that I would be in a pitch competition or even win a pinch competition. It's a blessing, the first pitch competition I've ever won. And I know that many more are coming and have actually given me that confidence. But I didn't really have that much confidence in myself. So this opportunity has given me a lot of confidence to go and raise more money. I wouldn't have done this without you. I truly appreciate this opportunity, and I'll never forget it."
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