Think women can’t work together? Think again. Welcome to She’s My Cofounder, a series all about powerhouse cofounders who also happen to be (you guessed it) female. We’re going to be diving in with women who support and nurture each other through all things business and beyond to find out just exactly what it’s like working alongside a gal pal.
Meet Liha Okunniwa & Abi Oyepitan, the pioneering women behind Liha Beauty, fusing natural ingredients with Yoruba tradition. As well as handcrafted African black soap and coconut oil, their line of artisanal products includes pure golden shea butter, a strain rich in vitamins A and E that’s particularly great for treating extra-dry skin types. Founded in 2014, all Liha products are handmade at their workshop in Cheltenham, England, however, they are heavily inspired by practices and ingredients from Africa. We chat with Liha & Abi on how they became co-founders and how they manage their partnership.
1. How did you become co-founders and how long have you known one another?
Liha: We met at University in 1998, so a pretty long time! Abi was always travelling as a professional athlete and I would always ask her to bring back ingredients and be messing around with recipes. When she retired we decided to take it seriously.
Abi: We met at University over 18 years ago. I was an athlete competing for Great Britain and Liha was a bit of a slacker but we clicked over our love of natural cosmetics and natural hair. We were always talking hair and skincare, over the years we started making our own products and sharing recipes and ideas. Launching LIHA Beauty was really an organic process. The products we were making in our kitchens became really popular among our friends and family, and when the whole natural cosmetics movement started to really gain traction we thought maybe we should give it a go
2. Trust is an important aspect in any relationship, how have you been able to build the trust between you?
Liha: I think we are lucky as we have been good friends for so long, we have also been through so many things together that the trust has always been there, so it really didn’t need building.
Abi: Yes, I would agree with Liha, we have been friends for so long and shared a lot together so trust was something we haven’t had any problems with or worried about. We have the same vision for the business so it is something that drives both of us.
3. Disagreements happen in every relationship, as co-founders how do you manage disagreements and making final decisions?
Liha: We figure it out. If need be, we get a second opinion if we are really banging heads! I used to think disagreements were bad, but different perspectives are good because it means we are triple-checking every point, rather than yessing each other.
Abi: We definitely never yes each other and I think that’s important. We have had huge disagreements but I think it’s important to pick your battles – there has never been anything that either of us has thought was insurmountable that we couldn’t come to a compromise about. I think compromising is key and for me, I like to gain alternative perspectives on issues and I am known to ask for opinions of other people I respect and then come to my own conclusion.
4. What are your working styles and if different from one another, how do you bring them together?
Liha: Abi is a work maniac and obsesses on practical details and I am your typical annoying creative, always going on about how I need time and space to think and coming up with big fluffy ideas! We are like Ying and Yang, we just have to keep it balanced and it all flows perfectly.
Abi: Being a former athlete competing in two Olympic Games, being organised and having a plan is key for me and sets up my day – I know exactly what I need to be working on. I would not say I’m a work maniac, I would say I love what we do so it’s easy for me to give 110%. Liha is less regimented in her working style, which in the past has been frustrating but we now come to a compromise.
5. There’s a myth that “women can’t work together because we tend to be quite emotional etc ” and some other lies, what are your thoughts on this and what message do you have for people that hold this opinion?
Liha: That’s a very misogynistic viewpoint and its bullshit. As women, our intuition and emotions are the source of our creative power. Abi is not emotional at all and I am often in my feelings for no reason. Again, we have a good balance. The days of having to act like a man to get ahead are over, but equally the portrayal in the media of women warring and being petty is so insulting. We fight of course, but so do men. Luckily with us, it always resets and ends up working even better than before.
Abi: I agree with everything Liha says. I’ve worked with incredible women throughout my life and on the whole, I have found nothing but support and encouragement. The above sentiments that are levelled against women has been a historic way to divide and conquer women, a tactic that men have been using forever! Until we as women band together and understand our social and economic power, this World will be even more messed up than it is already.I would not say I'm a work maniac, I would say I love what we do so it’s easy for me to give 110%. Click To Tweet
6. What are some important attributes one should look for in a co-founder?
Liha: Have some differences to keep the ideas flowing and keep things in check.
Abi: I think it important that co-founders bring different skill sets to the business. Also, I do think having the same or similar social and moral outlook is important and having a similar drive for the business will sustain you as there will be a lot of highs and lows.
7. What makes you feel empowered?
Liha: Seeing dreams become reality, raising strong daughters and Serena Williams.
Abi: I feel empowered by milestones that LIHA makes whether small or big, for me, they just remind me why we are doing this.
8. Podcast or book? And which one would you recommend?
Liha: Books always, although podcasts are great for business ideas and staying on top of industry topics. Another Country by James Baldwin– always relevant and I love how unapologetic he was about being Queer and Black and intellectual in a time when none of those things was OK.
Abi: I love me a podcast – My faves are: How I built this, Start-Up Podcast, The Pitch, I loved the ‘Mogul: the life and death of Chris Lightly’, Ctrl Alt Delete and The Receipts Podcast – these girls are hilarious dropping some real talk!
Liha gave me my Another Country to read last year, it’s hands down a literary masterpiece – best book I’ve ever read! James Baldwin blows my mind, his writing is ferocious – you wouldn’t know it was written over 50 years ago, it’s so apt to what’s going on today.
Maru by Bessie Head – one of my favourite books and also Their Eyes were watching God by Zora Neal Hearst.
9. Could you share something about your co-founder that you would like to appreciate?
Liha: I love Abi’s passion.
Abi: It definitely has to be Liha’s enthusiasm.
10. Any last advice for those seeking a co-founder?
Liha: Don’t ignore the people already in your life – It just might be your best friend!
Abi: I would say the exact opposite to Liha, I would say an acquaintance or even a stranger is probably better. Seeking a co-founder is like a job interview where you are trying to find the best candidate for the role, so pick wisely!!! Also trying to find someone that you would actually like to hang out with and have a drink with is important, as you will be spending more time with them than your family and friends.