Jamyla Bennu is a lifelong naturalista who created Oyin Handmade in 2001 and has remained committed to producing conscious natural hair and body products to her customers with acts of self-care. As a family-owned and operated business, Jamyla has partnered with her husband Pierre to develop and formulate products that have natural, organic, and food-grade ingredients aimed at providing excellent styling and essential nutrients for textured hair. Jamyla incorporates family into each aspect of the brand whether it’s encouraging customers to tag themselves using #oyinfamily or naming the business “oyin” after discovering it as her baby brother’s naming ceremony. Over the course of the past decade Oyin Handmade has expanded to include body products, a men’s line, and lifestyle products that include accessories and books. We spoke with Jamyla to discuss her tips for reading ingredients, which products are great for retaining moisture, and the legacy she strives to leave.
Can you describe the moment you knew you wanted to start creating your own products?
I’ve been making my own hair products since about 1999 - 2000. It’s important to understand that at this time literally everything on the shelves in the ethnic hair care aisles was targeted towards straightening and changing the texture of our hair. So it was not only about wanting to find and create with natural ingredients because I believed in the power of nature, but also wanting to have hair products that affirmed my decision to wear my hair texture in its unaltered state.
At that time there were many women of color and curly haired women connecting online in forums such as nappturality.com and naturallycurly.com. We were sharing recipes and tips and tricks and really trying to re-discover our hair’s capacities and needs, often after lifetimes of chemically straightening our hair. It was a small, but deeply passionate movement, and I’m so proud to have been a part of it. This wave of personal decisions - women choosing to love themselves and reclaim their right to beauty - has helped change industries!!
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Where did you discover the term “Oyin” and what makes that ingredient special?
The term oyin means honey in the Yoruba language spoken in Nigeria, West Africa. I discovered it as a child at my baby brother’s naming ceremony, and it’s been my favorite word all my life. It’s an incredible ingredient for natural hair care because honey is so moisturizing and hydrating. And just like in English where it’s often used as a nickname for people we love, we find it delightful that it stands for sweetness, love, and joy.
Two heads are always better than one, what was it like collaborating with your partner Pierre for your brand?
Pierre and I have collaborated on almost everything since the day we met in 1998. A big part of our entrepreneurial journey is about our intention to build a life where we could be creative, celebrate and empower our community, and experience freedom. There are many people on our team without whom Oyin would not have been possible,but he’s definitely the first.
What are your suggestions for helping customers understand how to read ingredients?
A great guideline to keep in mind is that ingredients on product labels are listed in descending order of volume. That means the first ingredients are those most prominent in the formula. Too often we’ll pick up a product because it says “natural” on the front of the bottle, or features an awesome “hero” ingredient or powerhouse oil, but when you read the full list the first five ingredients are things like mineral oil or petroleum, or it may contain silicone or other non nutritive ingredients and then there’s like one drop of that hero ingredient at the very end. So definitely always turn the bottle around and make sure that the highest concentration ingredients are things that you want in your hair!
Food can be such an integral part of our hair health, can you describe the types of “food grade ingredients” used in Oyin products?
Our skin and hair absorbs what we put on it, and I believe in nutritional density. To style and not nourish feels like a waste to me. We use food grade ingredients for max nutrition: Honey, of course, as well as virgin coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower, avocado, hemp seed and walnut oils, cocoa butter, Shea butter…Wait you can’t eat Shea butter. But the Shea butter we use is also unrefined and super nutritious.
We’re coming up on the fall season, what products would you recommend for helping retain moisture?
Our rich moisture collection features superfood ingredients like honey, quinoa and bamboo extracts, and hemp seed oil. This collection includes our amazing What The Hemp deep conditioning mask, as well as our Burnt Sugar shining and sealing pomade.
You recently released the Conditioning Care Collection, what are some tips you recommend for a successful wash day?
Detangle gently, replenish moisture, take care of your scalp, and always use a leave in. We’ve got multiple leave ins of a varying weights: from our “juices” tea-based leave-in sprays (great for daily hydration on all textures and lightweight enough for locs), to a lightweight detangling milk, (oh my glide, w/avocado oil) to our creamy leave in lotion (hair dew, which is in the Naturally Curly Hall of Fame!).
My number one tip for washing highly textured hair is to always detangle from ends to roots, and in sections. If your hair is very thick and/or long, it also makes a lot of sense to section first, and wash one section at a time.
We’ve been discussing the importance of teaching your children to love their textured hair, as a family-owned company, what are ways do you share with your kids the importance of self-love?
I believe the best resource for teaching young people to love their textured hair is a general attitude of appreciation for it while engaging them in the rituals of self-care. Highly textured hair is incredible in its variety, and has superpowers! In our house we try to make hair care time quality time - I’m braiding or twisting, my husband is working the clippers, we’re all watching a movie. It’s a time to look forward to.
There are loads of awesome books about hair texture - one of my faves is My Hair Is A Garden by Cozbi Cabrera which is not only a lovely story about a young person discovering the powers of her hair but also includes step-by-step how to information and even some recipes! I’m a maker at heart so this part of the book puts it right at the top of my list. I’m also working on my own book with my husband, who is an illustrator, which we hope to have ready by this holiday season. I just said that to give myself the pressure to get it done.
What is the legacy you want to leave behind?
My mission is threefold: to bring joy, empowerment and delight to the everyday rituals of self care. To highlight the power of natural ingredients and to encourage us all to embrace our natural and unique beauty superpowers.