You’ll recall that I was sorta intimidated when I interviewed South African natural hair scientist Nonhlanhla Khumalo. (And she gave me NO reason to feel this way… She was super sweet!) Well, I resolved to push my personal inhibitions to the side, and ask Jamyla all the things I was dying to know. I was pleasantly surprised when she answered ALL my questions AND was SUPER SWEET on top of it!!!
BGLH: Why did you decide to start creating natural hair products? And on what scale did you start? Was it initially just for family and friends?
JAMYLA: initially, i was just playing with my hair, learning my fro again after four years of locs, and looking for *that* product. plus, i was broke. ok, to borrow a phrase from my husband’s self-help/affirmation book, (BS or Fertilizer) ‘my money was tied up in other investments’ at the time. ;o) so like many natural honeys, i tinkered around in my own kitchen with healthy ingredients, trying out recipes, trying through trial and error to find out what my hair needed. when i found stuff that worked, i was so excited i wanted to share! first with friends and family, then at local craft fairs, and then we built the website to share with the world.
BGLH: How did you learn to do this? Do either one of you have a background in science? Or are your products based on your experiences caring for natural hair?
JAMYLA: my hair has been natural for almost all of my life, and i’ve had lots of time to try out different things. i have a background in general craftiness — i’ve made my own clothing, designed and built my own websites since the dial-up era; pierre is an indie filmmaker and all-around artist — we are very DIY (do-it-yourself). the products were developed little by little, through research, study, and trial and error.
BGLH: Don’t want you to give away the secrets in the Oyin vault, lol, but how do you pick your ingredients? (You use some really creative ones…)
JAMYLA: it’s a very intuitive and nonscientific process. i’ve learned a lot about ingredients over the past six or seven years — the properties of oils, emulsifiers, herbs, etc, are all rattling around in my head. so, sometimes when ordering ingredients something new will catch my eye and i’ll pick it up, thinking ‘ooh, THIS might blend well with THAT…” and start mixing around with it to see if i can make something new. i should probably stop doing that; i have boxes and boxes of ingredients that i’m collecting for potential future products.
BGLH: What is the greatest mistake black women make when looking for hair products?
JAMYLA: hmm. the greatest thing i did that helped me find products that worked for me, was to educate myself about ingredients. there’s so much info out there now! take the time to learn about ‘cones, about the nutritive benefits of different oils… when something works for you, read the ingredients, try and figure out WHY it works for you. then you’ll be better positioned to find something else that works, too!
BGLH: Have you been surprised at the success of your company?
JAMYLA: i have. probably since i began it as a personal use/hobby situation, it continually surprises me how much it’s grown. pierre is not surprised. between the two of us, i am the lalala, stumble along through life one, and he is the visionary and the planner. he has seen the potential of oyin for years, and worked tirelessly to help it achieve its potential. without him, i can’t say the company would exist anymore, let alone be as successful as it is.
BGLH: What bumps in the road have you faced in getting your company off the ground?
JAMYLA: it’s been a challenge at times to keep up with the pace of the growth, and the demand for the products. we’re thankful — what a wonderful problem to have! — and we are constantly working to figure out ways to not only keep up, but anticipate and lead the company to its next stage of growth.
BGLH: What are your plans for expansion? (I hear you guys are setting up a shop in Baltimore…) Do you ship overseas (A lot of BGLH blog followers are from other countries…)
JAMYLA: yes, we do ship overseas, and we opened up a shop in baltimore in feb 09. we’ve also just hired two new Oyin HoneyBees to help us mix and bottle, and our plans are to open up a few more relationships with retailers in different parts of the country, so that more people can shop locally for their Oyin goodies.
BGLH: Have you gotten the kind of exposure you want? Have your products broken into other ethnic markets?
JAMYLA: yes, and yes. we have been very lucky to have had great word of mouth for years, and have gotten press as varied as naturally you magazine and vegetarian times. we were featured in an AP article last year which was huge national exposure for us. and we have found a huge response among health-conscious folks across ethnicities to the Funk Butter in particular, an aluminum free deodorant. even if new customers come to us for the FB and don’t think the hair products will
be a good fit, we find they stay for the soaps or other body care products.
BGLH: On a personal level, where are you guys from?
JAMYLA: we’re new yorkers; we met and married in brooklyn.
BGLH: Your website has a cool, laid back vibe, who are your favorite musical artists/public figures?
JAMYLA: pierre is a DJ, and probably has nine million favorite musical artists, LOL. you can hear some of his mixes at http://exittheapple.com/notradio. i listen to what he plays, like an eclectic radio station, LOL — but when left to my own devices i listen to folks like raphael saadiq, koop, mr scruff, bobby mcferrin, keziah jones. i grew up on a great children’s album called ‘free to be, you and me!” which is a really fun antisexism project by marlo thomas & friends. i plan to similarly indoctrinate our child, mwa haha.
public figures? ossie davis and ruby dee. barack & michelle obama. bert & ernie.
BGLH: Jamyla, what is your favorite way to wear your hair?
JAMYLA: favorite: out and big and wild. most often? low afro puff or fuzzy bun with a center part. it’s so simple! and it’s out of the way when i’m mixing.
BGLH: Both of you: how do you manage a new baby (congrats!), a booming business, and your relationship? (I think it’s beautiful that you work together…)
JAMYLA: thank you so much! ;o) to tell the truth, it’s hard sometimes. we miss each other, sometimes even when we’ve spent the day together, because we’ve been so busy. but we are SO glad that we get to run together. working together has always been one of our goals; before oyin became our 24/7 job, we worked together making films, publishing books, teaching media or writing workshops, etc. it’s been wonderful and we are thankful both that we want to, and to have been able to. after ten years, we have worked out a great working rhythm.
the new baby is an upstart, LOL — but he fits in wonderfully. we are a family-run business and since we are the bosses, we have been able to craft things to fit our life — in each of our production spaces we have made sure there is an in-house kitted out nursery/childcare space, and HoneyBaby comes to work with us.
BGLH: What do you hope to see in American and global culture in regards to natural hair?
JAMYLA: i would love to see natural hair so accepted and normal that it’s no longer a political statement or a big deal. what if it really WAS, “just hair?” what kind of cultural, social, emotional factors would have to change for that to be the case… what kind of freedom would we exercise if it was?
i would love to see the whole good hair/bad hair matrix die a short and painful death. it is so tired. while we’re at it, the light skin / dark skin stuff can go jump off a cliff as well.
i would love to see generations of black girls (and boys) grow up with a confidence in and appreciation for natural hair, the knowledge of how to care for it, and the feeling that their hair is a natural facet of their beauty.
This is the TRUTH! Jamyla THANK YOU SO MUCH!!
The new Oyin shop is located at 2103 N. Charles St, Baltimore, MD 21218, and it is open every saturday from noon to 7pm.The shop also features independently produced and alternative books, music, film, and art, so if you’re in the MD be sure to check it out!
Also check out the Oyin website here, and the Oyin blog/podcasts here.