Leveling Up Collaboration: Conversations with Ezra Lloyd Jackson of Olfiction and Olunife Ofomata of Sweeter Juice Skin
Olunife Ofomata founder and CEO of Sweeter Juice Skin (US) and Ezra Lloyd Jackson of Olfiction fragrance lab (UK) share a passion about the current state of Africa’s cosmetic and fragrant supply chain.
Combining years of industry expertise from their respective backgrounds, Olunife and Ezra’s collaboration through Black Beauty Conduit, a network and initiative that connects Black owned beauty brands directly with ingredient suppliers from Africa and the Diaspora--- brings a complex industry challenge to the surface.
To kickstart the launch of Black Beauty Conduit, Ezra of Olfiction and Olunife of Sweeter Juice Skin have united their skills and resources to introduce a special giveaway…for a Black owned beauty brand to develop a signature fragrance!
Fragrance consultations for brands typically range in the thousands, but through this unique exchange the selected brand will work with Ezra and Olfiction in the creative development of a fragrance. The brand remains responsible for purchasing the final fragrance concentrate and fulfillment. Fragrance briefs are the first step in creating a formula. Next, the brand---along with Ezra and Olfiction---will revise the formula, which the brand can use either to make a fine fragrance or include in their skincare products.
Ezra and Olunife saw an important opportunity to connect their interests involving Africa’s supply chain after an introduction through a Botswana woman named Beryl. Olunife, who is leading a virtual network of Black owned beauty brands where members can directly engage with Black suppliers on the continent, wanted a signature fragrance for her brand and realized many of the members wanted to know how they could also develop a fragrance for their brand or products.
Through Ezra and Olfiction, Olunife has been creating a signature fragrance for Sweeter Juice Skin. Olfiction is granting a second recipient fragrance consultation.
BP: Olunife, what inspired you to create the Black Beauty Conduit?
Olunife: Well, as a Black beauty founder myself, I was currently facing some challenges in sourcing some ingredients I wanted for my own skincare product line and I noticed when I talked to other brand owners, they had similar problems.
I have been in the beauty industry for quite some time---as an aesthetician and a marketing expert for other brands, so I have a little bit of insight and knowledge about what it takes to be able to source your ingredients directly. For example, shipping costs---and it’s just something that can cause new, smaller brands to be a little bit hesitant---because of the financial responsibility, what you need financially.
It’s just much easier for a bigger brand that’s more financially stable to be able to do that.
So, during some conversations on Clubhouse--- we wanted to start a group that would bring together other brands---Black founders and owners of beauty brands, that had similar needs. To start talking, collaborating, encouraging each other, and also working towards ordering supplies together.
It’s now a vast group of brand owners--not just near me-- we’ve got people in the United States, on the Continent, some in the UK, and we also have a survey where people who come and join the group can tell us what their needs are. We’ve been finding that it’s not just for supplies. But there’s a lot of packaging needs, help with marketing, even websites. With that being my background too, I wanted to add a universal education aspect to it so that we can support each other from launch to success, like I always say, and ongoing.
BP: When you say you’re creating education, what does that look like for the Black Beauty Conduit?
Olunife: The education part of it is actually going to be called Black Beauty University. I was just so excited, first of all, that the name was available---and I really feel like it’s going to be a great pioneer in the beauty industry.
What we want to be able to do is collaborate with some of the top people in industry. From beauty founders, beauty leaders, people in retail, people in the education spaces, and people directly in our club---to give their advice and their perspective.
So, we’ll have guests, we’ll have people that are going to curate content consistently. I will be one of the people providing content also in my expertise areas of branding, digital marketing, brand launching.
I hope it will be a space where when people have questions about their business--- and we specifically want to give this to Black founders---that they will be able to come in and say---'hey, I have a space where these questions that have never been able to be asked, can be asked’.
For example, if you’re launching, if you’re in a space where you want to get into big box retail, if you’re looking to scale, if you’re saying should I get investment dollars, or I don’t even know where to start with my website, or where do I source my ingredients? We want to be there as a resource.
BP: Since the summer of 2020---there’s definitely been a rise in a lot of Black beauty brands, a lot of Black beauty databases. A huge rise in what’s available. It seems also that brands have upped their game as far as the marketing and the look and feel of the websites and labeling. I can see how your Black Beauty University is going to be a great addition to this new trend that we’re seeing in the cosmetics realm.
Olunife: Absolutely, totally agree.
Ezra: Yeah, I can’t wait for it either. I’m going to design the varsity jacket. The BBU varsity jacket. [all laughing]
Olunife: Yes, as soon as I told him, he was like BBU, love it! [laughing]
BP: Ezra, can you speak to the current relationship the perfume industry supply chain has with Africa and the Diaspora? What would you say are the biggest areas in need of improvement and why?
Ezra: There’s a lot I’m still learning. When it comes to raw materials and where they come from, things that I’m most knowledgeable on are frankincense and myrrh. There’s an organization called the Global Frankincense Alliance and they had their first public conference this year.
There were a lot of people in attendance. A lot of consumers, botanists, ethnobotanists, general scientists, and people who love frankincense, but generally conversation and connection from people who are actually on the ground in places such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Somaliland---and a lot of people listening.
That became a really important platform, in the end, actually. For the Diaspora, incidentally, to reconnect. Especially with people who are buying frankincense, or who have some kind of relationship with the trade.
The conference was a space to connect, which I think was really great. But what was a big insight for me personally, was the fact that with a lot of these supply chain issues, there’s faults in every kind of part. For example, the farming. The fact that the frankincense plants and trees, they’re getting over-tapped. They’re killing off the species.
There’s certain species of frankincense tree that are on the red list. Meaning they’re close to becoming endangered. And, a step up from the people who are collecting it---they were telling us there’s groups of women who have to walk eight hours to tap the trees and get the frankincense tears where then they’re processed in rooms with low ventilation and the women are developing lung conditions.
Then there’s a step above that in the supply chain. Where you have the middle men who sell to the exporters who come and take kilos of frankincense, sell it, make profits, and the profits aren’t benefiting the communities where it comes from. Why don’t we stop and listen to the people on the ground first to see what they want and need? Then from there, we can talk about where we can move forward. That’s what I think coalition building looks like. We need to get to a place where we can build a strong connection and communication with people on the ground.
Let’s understand their trade, understand what their day to day looks like, and what it means to cultivate these plants, and then we can ask—how do we get around some of these big, big issues when it comes to exploitation?
Before the conference, which was super eye-opening for me this year, I’d done prior research on vetiver in Haiti. Again, similar kind of things. Where the farmers are paid by how much they can produce or pick and very, very labor-intensive work where the whole wage system is connected to how much you can produce.
So, for example if you’re sick or injured, that’s potentially a week or two weeks off. If that’s your livelihood, say you have a family to look after---it’s not sustainable for anybody. I think it speaks to a bigger issue where we’re seeing a clear imbalance of power regarding where the fragrant ingredient comes from and the treatment of people who source it. There’s no sustainability in Haiti for them. Again, there’s still so much more for me to learn on that front, but I think I’m starting to look at things, bigger picture, seeing more layers.
Hopefully, in time, some appropriate pressure can be put on some of the bigger conglomerates in the industry to make a significant difference. Shares is what’s sustainable. Shares is the way that’s actually going to be better for people consistently. Not just a one-off thing.
BP: You’re talking about cooperatives?
Ezra: Yeah, that’s what some of the conversations were around with the frankincense situation. That seems to be a way to start to remedy this---or at least to get kind of a collective voice together from people on the ground. Which I think can be achievable when we’ve made that contact. But, it’s incredibly early days.
I think there is a space, of people out there who care about this, and we can mobilize together. I think that is slowly coming.
BP: Olunife, in five years what do you see for the Black Beauty Conduit?
Olunife: I hope and pray it will be something that Black beauty founders, suppliers, educators, have in the back of their mind that they must be a part of. Like just being a staple within the community. That it can be something bigger than anybody. Any one person. Any one brand. And for it to truly be a collaborative of people that can come together and help each other in the industry. Being able to truly be a conduit between the farmer, the middle men, and the brands.
To be able to get those supplies going. As well as be a wonderful education portal that people can come in, sign up, learn, and contribute to. These are definitely the main perspectives. Black Beauty Conduit was started really to meet the needs of Black beauty brand founders. There are a lot of needs that aren’t being met, right? We just don’t have access to resources, finances, and so we want it to grow with our members.
We want Black Beauty Conduit to be a solution solver. We may see it one way, but then in two years see that there’s actually a greater need. I want it to be able to grow and be duplicated outside, as a pioneering blueprint for other industries, for Black people. When we are developing this to grow into other trades, we want to continue to do so between Africa and the Diaspora. We want this to be inclusive, while also knowing that we do need to reverse all of the anti-Blackness that we face. All of the lack of resources, the discrimination, the colonization. All of that. It’s a lot of work that we’re doing and that’s going to need to happen. But when we put these issues to the forefront, then we can lead the way and be something that chips away at certain things.
For example, the equity that is needed for farmers. Increasing revenue, and having fully-produced products on the continent that can be sold and exported out, vs. just raw materials. There are so many different layers that we can see that would benefit a global Black trade network. This is a smaller piece of a bigger, global vision.
BP: What about you Ezra? How do you hope the perfume industry evolves in relation to Africa and the Diaspora in the next five years?
Ezra: I want to see physical conversations being had between European based companies and American based companies--- some of the big names in the game. I want to see them having difficult conversations and address real, long term sustainable ways to do something about the exploitative, often neo-colonial trading methods.
But when it comes to the Continent, one day I’m going to see a compounding house there. Maybe that’s five years, maybe it’s fifteen---but when that day comes, I hope I can work closely with them. I would love to see that exist. And for people of the Diaspora in general to feel engaged in fragrance. As I always remind everybody and myself, perfume comes from Africa. In its inception. Yeah, I hope to see it in time. Where these fragile systems can actually become genuinely sustaining and have self-input in the continent, led by people in the continent, led by people of the diaspora.
To see continent-wide engagement with fragrance again. Whether that’s through practitioners, or hopefully, through a compounding house that gives back to the African economy. Where fragrance is being produced within the continent and refined and redistilled, where everything is happening within the continent. Because these technologies, the equipment and systems exist, but outside of Africa. To see that whole process--- unfold and manifest and thrive within the continent--- is what I would love to see. And hopefully, that can happen by the time I turn 30.
But you know---we’ll see. I just want to be a part of that.
BP: This is so exciting and inspiring. On that note, can you both talk about the fragrance giveaway between Olfiction and Black Beauty Conduit? What can the winner expect as far as your consultation Ezra, with their fragrance development?
Ezra: Essentially Olfiction was given the chance to collaborate with Black beauty brands to make a fragrance which can go into a base of their choice. So that might look like a fine fragrance. It might be put into a soap, a shampoo, a body lotion, or whatever. We will be providing, through a collaborative nature of back and forth, the fragrance odor profile based on the winning brief. We’re giving out a template for everyone who wants to be involved, which is a template of how to write a strong fragrance brief.
Also, for those who don’t win this time it carries forward so they know this is what is expected when you’re trying to create a fragrance. Hopefully, whether it’s through Olfiction, aside from this giveaway or anyone else, they’ll kind of have the vocabulary tools to be able to work in that way. I think we’re trying to make it as clear as possible that the fragrance development and consultancy is one small step of the bigger process.
So that’s why we’re aiming it mostly at brands that are established or semi-established, who at least have the vision and a clear knowledge of where their product is manufactured, they have their bottles sourced, their labels ready. We’re not offering a one-stop shop at this point. The consultancy side will be led by Nick [co-founder of Olfiction] and myself, but that will be us helping you tell the story, kind of clearing up any kind of loopholes or gaps in the narrative or marketing side of things when it comes to describing the fragrance, when it comes to the notes you want to talk about. We’ll provide a Google form that people will fill out some basic information. But attached to that as well will be the template for the brief.
It’s a very comprehensive breakdown of what is your brand name, do you have a logo, who is your target market, where do you currently sell, and trying to give you a kind of break-by-break, how many units have you made for this. We’ll go into where is that going to be sold, etc. Then there’s a section that focuses more on the fragrance. For example, is there a story behind this, do you want us to highlight any specific materials? I made a mock-up brief as well that we’re going to send out so people can kind of see an example. The one I did was on lavender. I’d prefer to see what imagery you think about when you think of this smell, what music do you have in your head, what kind of textures, fabrics?
All of this can influence the creation/collaboration side of it. Then, they’ll make their own briefs, and then they’ll submit them back to us. We’ll go through them and we’ll pick one that I think works best, deal with the formalities, then move forward.
BP: This is so groundbreaking, what you’re both doing. Wishing you well with your collaboration. Thanks to both of you for your time!
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