Abi Oyepitan and Liha Okunniwa met in 1998 while at Brunel University London, where they became fast friends. What we find particularly interesting about their story is that the two women were drawn to elements in one another that would become themes in the business they’d launch together more than 15 years later.
As Liha put it, “Abi was so cool, and a tiny bit intimidating: she was an athlete and had this amazing style since she’d grown up in London.” And Abi was immediately drawn to Liha’s natural hair: “I gravitated towards people who kind of looked like me — growing up, I didn’t really have that, even though I grew up in a city.”
During post-college years that included starting an art publishing business (Liha) and sprinting in two Olympic games (Abi), they’d frequently chat about making their own hair and skincare products. Abi was particularly into haircare; Liha, a skincare junkie, would ask Abi to bring some special gold shea butter back from Nigeria every time she visited her dad’s family there.
The longtime friends thought about going into business together for some time, but it wasn’t obvious to them what that business should be — although, in retrospect, it seems only natural that it should be LIHA. In 2014, Abi and Liha created this intriguing brand, which celebrates their unique combination of natural African roots and quintessentially British attitude. Their products, which blend West African botanicals with traditional English aromatherapy, took off more quickly than anticipated. (This is always an indicator of a good thing; so is a feature in British Vogue.)
After a few years, Abi and Liha were ready to expand distribution to the US, and we’re delighted to offer these products now at Ayla, where we fell in love with their highest-quality, thoughtfully sourced ingredients; their multipurpose usage possibilities; and their focus on sustainability from start to finish. We also fell in love with Liha and Abi’s inspiring story of starting a business with their bestie, of proudly celebrating their heritage, and of not only embracing their unique beauty, but also sharing it with others.
We’ve begun our LIHA journey with Abi’s favorite, the Gold Shea Butter, and Liha’s favorite, the Idan Oil. We’ve also added their Queen Idia candle to our shelves because of its heavenly scent and its inspiration — the Yoruba Queen Idia from fifteenth-century Benin (now Nigeria), an important figure in African history and a lasting symbol of female empowerment. As Liha and Abi put it, “You need the Queen Idia candle on the side of your bath at all times in case of emergency!” As bathing enthusiasts, we couldn’t agree more.
Check out Abi and Liha's story in their own words in this beautifully made video, which serves as an absolutely perfect introduction to everything LIHA is about. Then, shop their collection of products here. And stay tuned, because our love affair with LIHA is just starting.