Women in business: Ekwy Nnene of Equi Botanics

We catch up with entrepreneur mum Ekwy Nnene who has launched a new haircare brand for afro hair called Equi Botanics, now her daughters have naturally long hair

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Sum up your brand in three words?
Pure, High-performing and Exquisite

Where and how did the story begin?
My story began eight to nine years ago, when I was pregnant with my second daughter. I didn’t know anything about conditioning and moisturising my hair or about how key ingredients are vital in retaining hair growth and maintaining scalp health. Upon removing a very tight hair extension weave, the hair at the crown went along with the weave, leaving me with a bald patch. Just like her older sister, my second daughter was born with a full head of hair and that made me question and begin to investigate what happens to our hair from the time we are born to when we get older. The trauma I felt at my hair loss, coupled with an almost obsessive curiosity led me to research scalp health, ingredients and haircare techniques. I realised that my scalp was inflamed, not necessarily sore or raw but the follicles were weak and therefore hair loss occurred easily.[/two_third_last]

How did you come up with the name?
Equi comes from our goal to balance our identity as black women loving the hair we were born with, the nature that surrounds us and scientific intelligence in all our products. It is also a twist on my name, Ekwy and is how my Mum spelt it for a while.

What sets Equi Botanics apart from similar brands?
Unlike other brands, we believe in excellence – from the selection of our key ingredients, the expertise in crafting our formula to the packaging all with one goal in mind – to impress our ideal client beyond his/her expectations. I say ‘his’ because we have men who use the Marula Oil Leave-in Conditioner for their beards and hair!

It’s all very well using natural ingredients but if they are not well formulated, they will just sit on top of your hair and not penetrate so you find a lot of people complaining about low porosity. One of the main issues is the formulation – we ensure our products have tiny molecules that will go right into the hair shaft for supple, shiny healthy hair, inside out. We stay away from synthetic ingredients that work in the short term but harm the scalp and ends in the long run, because those ingredients make their way into our bloodstream.

In addition to all that, we are also vegan, cruelty-free, pH-balanced and our manufacturing facility is Soil Association and Ecocert approved. Lastly, our chemists have previous clients that include Boots.

What’s your USP?
Our unique selling point is that when we say we use Marula Oil in our leave-in conditioner or Murmuru Butter in our deep mask, we make sure it is highly concentrated, not just a minor percentage so that the product is at its most efficacious standard. We also use herbal actives, not just the light extracts so customers report hair growth quite quickly. As such our products cost more to produce but they work  quickly in return. Our philosophy is to abstain from potentially harmful ingredients that are linked to endocrine disruption, allergens and pose a potential risk to our internal health. Unlike other brands when you look at our ingredient list, you’ll spot that the key ingredients are at the top of the list, never at the bottom.

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We love your packaging, talk us through it…

I worked with an amazingly creative and professional team. We looked at who our ideal client was – a woman who was excellent or aspired to excel in everything. She’s demanding of life and loves nice things. She is discerning so would be quick to avoid cheap and harmful ingredients. She is someone who reads her ingredients list and understands that the first five to six ingredients are the truth. We wanted the packaging to stand tall in her bathroom cabinet and complement her aesthetics. We also wanted the packaging to somehow depict all the hard work that had gone into the products. So the red carton is for the bold woman who loves arresting elegance and the white tube is for the minimalist. The black and gold is synonymous with royalty, opulence and luxury.[/two_third][one_third_last padding=”0 0px 0 0″][/one_third_last]

How is your business funded?
My family and friends graciously invested as well as my own personal savings have all contributed to where we are today.

Did you face any setbacks starting up your own company?
Indeed, I did. At the initial stages, I had a lack of self-belief which almost paralysed me from moving forwards. And then there were hurdles to understand how regulated the industry was from sourcing high-performing ingredients from reputable suppliers, the EU regulatory tests – that was all jargon and very confusing to me at the time. Also, finding good partners to work with – a prominent male chemist once told me that nothing works for black women and their hair, so there was no point in developing these products because he had already tried. He said that if I wanted to waste my money with him, I would be welcome. Needless to say, I didn’t work with him. About a year into starting, I learned that setbacks are part of the journey, so much so that I now expect them. When my first batch of conditioner had to be poured away due to a power cut at the factory, I was very calm about it and looked ahead to our next steps.

You say the Marula Oil Leave-in Conditioner grew and softened your daughter’s 4C hair, tell us more…
My older daughter was another major reason I started looking for a solution to our haircare. Her hair is 4C and when I didn’t know what I was doing, was very hard to plait and moisturise. A lot of products basically sat on her hair and wouldn’t detangle it. During our haircare time, she would be in tears because the plaiting and detangling process hurt her and I would be pained because I was inadvertently causing her discomfort. I was just so confused and overwhelmed. The first few times I learned to mix in more oils into a store-bought conditioner, we found the process a little easier but not perfect. It made me question how these products were made and maybe if I learned to do it myself from scratch, I may be able to make more of a difference.

So I started the research into hair structure, ingredients’ potency, protein and moisture balance as well as the formulation process. After much trial and error I stumbled onto several potent mixes, we began to notice a lot of growth in a short space of time. And more importantly, our hair was so easy to manage and we experienced a lot less breakage as a result. Now my two daughters’ hair is at waist-length and I cut about 4inches off my hair and it’s still mid-back length. Our customers always give 5 star reviews for super detangling and amazing growth.

Ekwy, (back row second left). Her daughter’s 4C hair (back row: second right) is now back length

How do you research the ingredients that go into your products?
We always start with the problem we want to solve such as dryness, breakage, itchy scalp and lack of growth. We think about the consistency our ideal client will want to experience – not greasy, easily absorbed and fresh feeling. We look at plant life and match our goals with ingredients. Sometimes, we’ll stumble onto an amazing ingredient but the formulation process will throw up an issue. For our soon to launch styling range, we look for ingredients with a high viscosity that can be formulated and whipped to different consistencies. And lastly but almost most importantly, we ensure our ingredients are from sustainable sources.

What’s your all-time favourite ingredient?
It’s hard to choose, really. One ingredient springs to mind. My hair didn’t need protein as much but I didn’t realise it and discovered that using protein conditioners caused damage and breakage. To discover African baobab, a light but jam-packed ingredient with amino acids to repair damaged strands was a god-send. We use baobab tree protein in the Marula Oil Leave-in Conditioner and our Babassu Deep Treatment Mask.

Baobab fruit and seeds

What advice would you give to budding beauty entrepreneurs?
Hope is not a strategy. Write down your goals and keep yourself accountable. Find like-minded people who have gone ahead of you and follow them. Be part of communities of people like that. Know that it is not easy but that to get what you want, you need to become the kind of person who deserves those things. So put in the work and don’t get distracted. Don’t listen to people who put labels on you and tell you that you can’t achieve this because they’ve known you all your life. Make your own mantra and repeat that to yourself every day. Start to believe it. Most importantly, have a bias towards action. Don’t overthink things – just do, make mistakes and learn from it.

What are your top three tips for good haircare?
Trim away split ends as they will travel up the hair shaft and ruin the whole strand. Deep condition regularly – that improves hair health tremendously. Condition daily – think of it like breathing and eating. Use the Marula Oil Leave-in Conditioner, a 20p size will do for all over the ends and the scalp massages.

What can we expect for 2018?
More product releases, more educational videos like the recent one we did, more workshops to reach more people and making the products available in stores.

Where can we find you? 
Our website is www.equibotanics.com, on Instagram we share on @i_am_equi and @equibotanics, the same also for Facebook, Equi Botanics. 

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