The NaturallyCurly Leaders in Curl interview series highlights the people and the brands that are redefining the beauty industry – one curl at a time.
Botanika Beauty is the Latinx haircare brand looking to infuse and instill self love for all hair texture within the Latinx community. Aisha Ceballos-Crump is the founder and CEO of Botanika Beauty who started developing beauty products and haircare formulas after graduating from Purdue University with a degree in chemical engineering. She’s been working for over a decade as an entrepreneur with her first haircare line, Honey Baby Naturals debuting in 2016. Botanika Beauty debuted in 2019 after Aisha realized there was a gap in the haircare market that lacked products for the Latinx customer. She wanted to create products that broke stereotypes, provided hair remedies for common problems, and could cultivate a community similar to the one’s Latinx people experience everyday. We sat down to speak with Aisha about the inception of her brand, her expanding entrepreneurial pursuits, and filling the gap for Latinx people.
What prompted you to pivot from chemical engineering to the beauty industry?
I’m a first generation college student so when I was deciding the type of degree I wanted to pursue I was looking at job stability. I landed on chemical engineering which I didn’t love, but I learned to appreciate that we can take a substance and make it better. We use our brain and critical thinking skills to innovate and create products. I knew I didn’t want to pursue engineering as a career which led me to working in sales and then becoming a mother. When I was ready to pivot to an industry more aligned with my beauty passions, I ended up selling chemicals for the beauty industry. I worked for a company called Croda which was the number 1 manufacturer of specialty chemicals where I would teach chemists in the Chicago area about formulating products. Engineering is critical thinking that I used to get my feet in the door within this industry and I use it even now to innovate better products.
Who were your entrepreneurial inspirations as you were building your career?
I was very lucky that I got a chance to work with Croda for 5 years where I watched the Luster and Gartner families create multi-million dollar empires in ethnic hair care. I worked with a variety of brands for so long and eventually switched to contract manufacturing. I had so many people like McBride from Design Essentials who were legacy brands that were cheering for me. When I decided to jump all in 2016 with Honey Baby Naturals, I had a village behind me to encourage me, uplift me, and support me.
Why do you feel the Latinx community has been overlooked in the haircare industry?
I’m a 100% Puerto Rican, puro Boricua who grew up in a primarily Black community which is even reflected in my name. I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to prove my Latinidad because of my hair texture, skin color, and the same thing happened in this industry. When I was initially pitching Botanika Beauty to buyers in 2020, there was no interest. I remember Target doing a series on minority entrepreneurs and all the founders were Black. They didn’t understand that Latinas aren’t a monolith, we’re multi-faceted with varying textures and stories. I was already in Target and Wal-Mart with my first brand, it was being pitched as a Black brand because my children were Black and I could never get featured for being a Latina entrepreneur. I was always categorized as multicultural. I was the first Latina to have a natural hair care brand and skincare brand in Target, but that wasn’t reflected in the branding.
I was inspired to create a whole new brand which is when I started pivoting to Botanika with the Latinx culture being at the forefront. It’s called Botanika because when we came to this country we didn’t have healthcare and you would go buy your herbs and remedies from the local botanica in your community. I added the “k” into the name because all of my children’s names start with a “k”. I wanted to put some sazon, adobo, and everything magical into this brand to make it Latina as possible. Unfortunately I launched right before the pandemic and that put a wrench in alot of my promotions with Wal-Mart. To this day we’re still fighting for placement, visibility, and support for the Latina consumer.
What are misconceptions people have about Latinx hair?
People don’t understand the textures versus thinking it’s all about race. Your hair is not about being Puerto Rican or Mexican, it’s about understanding your texture. I have a lot of white, mixed, Jewish, and Black women who use my haircare. The shelves are still very segmented and that continues to push this ideal that you need to shop for products by your race. You need millions to win in this space and many small businesses learned during the pandemic how challenging it could be. Our manufacturers are not us and most minority brands are not self manufactured. I’m trying to change that and build a manufacturing facility to gain control over my supply chain. I’m not giving up, I’m determined to make this work.
What type of ingredients did you decide would be staples of your products?
Everything that you would find in a kitchen: avocado oil, sage, basil, garlic, mango butter. We wanted to mix science and nature, I wanted ingredients my Abuelos had growing up. I don’t just have herbs and water, I’m a scientist and I want a balance between that culture and chemistry in the products.
How do you support your local “Botanika”?
Unfortunately there are very few left in Chicago. In Humble Park there are some apothecaries we do pop-ups in, but botanicas are few and far between. I have a dream to eventually source and supply my ingredients with products from local neighborhoods in Chicago.
Which products are essentials for first time users?
The Mender protein treatment helps to reinforce strength, balance, and can be used on any damaged hair. I would follow that up with a Revitalizer deep conditioning mask that is buttery and thick to soften the hair. The names of the products reflect the power of Latinx people like “La Madre” “The Lifter” “The Enhancer”. You will always get innovation from Botanika Beauty and I’m excited to create more products in the future.
I’m not just putting a product on the shelf. My staff is minority women, I source from minority suppliers, I’m creating jobs. I’m trying to create something bigger than a brand that evokes legacy for myself and the people in my organization.
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