MADE IN AFRICA SKINCARE
You may have discovered 54 Thrones at our Oakland shop or right here on our website. The brand may have also caught your eye as one of “Oprah’s Favorite Things” for 2020. The clean skincare brand is rooted in the cultural essence of Nigeria and celebrates timeless beauty rituals throughout Africa. Founded in 2016 after beauty maven Christina Tegbe fell out of love with her corporate job, the brand pulls from her many travels to the continent and infuses its offerings with nourishing ingredients. We caught up with Tegbe to find out how she started her brand, how she practices self-care and how she’s navigating the pandemic.
What inspired you to start your brand?
As a child, I grew up using shea butter, cocoa butter, black soap and many other raw ingredients that my aunt in Nigeria would send to my siblings and I. If you are a first or second-generation African in the United States, you know that when I say ‘she sent them to me,’ that I do not mean these arrived by mail. Rather, she went out of her way to find someone in her community who might be traveling to the U.S. from Nigeria and persuaded them to pack a few small tubs of shea butter to bring us. When those small tubs of raw shea butter would arrive to us back then, I didn’t realize the significance. I didn’t understand how much work it took to get those tubs of pure shea butter to me. I didn’t realize until now that the act of sharing these African beauty rituals with me was my aunt’s way of honoring our culture and ensuring we grew up with a piece of our Nigerian heritage.
When my mother was diagnosed with and beat breast cancer in 2015, that same aunt sent small tubs of shea butter to her to help soothe and heal her surgery scars. In 2015, I quit my corporate consulting job, cashed out my 401k and started traveling Africa. I was drawn to learning more about my heritage and gravitated towards the makers in Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, Egypt, and that’s when the idea hit me to launch 54 Thrones. I wanted to work directly with the women and men I had met over the years that inspired me, the people who have used these ingredients for generations.
What steps did you take get your business off the ground?
I quit my corporate consulting job in 2015 because something pulled me to get back to Africa and learn about my heritage. I spent a year traveling around Africa before I decided to launch in 2016. While traveling, I was immediately drawn to the women in the markets making oils and potions. I began watching and learning about these African beauty rituals from them. In 2016, I decided to launch and work with the people I had met over that last year.
Can you shed some insight into your creative process?
The creative process for me is quite organic. I try to be very present when traveling to take in all the colors, scents, textures, people’s facial expressions and gestures. And then, when I get back home or to my hotel room, I rewind my memory to try and express on paper what I felt and how I experienced things. It could be the smallest of things, like the fragrance of someone I hugged, or the color of fresh fruit on the side of the road, or even how hospitable someone was towards me. All these things play a part in my creative process.
While traveling, I was immediately drawn to the women in the markets making oils and potions. I began watching and learning about these African beauty rituals from them.
What keeps you inspired?
Being alive, being present. The idea of getting to create something that will live in people’s minds and on their bathroom counter. That’s important to me. It’s inspiring in itself that to take an idea, turn it into a product, give it a name and then hear a stranger call that name; it’s so invigorating to me.
Sweet July Oakland is located on The Block—an area known for its community of Black women-owned businesses. How does it feel to share space with this group of entrepreneurs?
It speaks to our resilience, determination and shrill passion for entrepreneurship and legacy.
How has the push to support Black-owned businesses fueled by the racial reckoning of 2020 impacted your business?
It has impacted our brand awareness. People are seeking out brands like mine, and it is a beautiful, bittersweet thing. Unfortunately, a man’s murder was the catalyst, but it shows and reinforces the fact that Black-owned brands are worthy and ready.
How are you navigating the struggles of running a business during a pandemic?
My team and I celebrate wins, acknowledging where we can do better. We intentionally do this in an attempt to normalize where we crush it and where we can improve. We also keep things in perspective; our physical and mental health is paramount during this time.
What is one thing that people would be surprised to know about your brand?
I have spent years traveling first-hand to many African countries to learn about these African beauty rituals.
How do you practice self-care while balancing the rigors of entrepreneurship?
I like to indulge in tiny rituals that make me feel grounded, like walking out in my yard barefoot when the weather’s nice, sit down on my front lawn and read a book. Get spontaneous massages whenever I feel the need—saying no to things that don’t serve my ultimate goals. Turn my phone off, run a hot bath, and cream and honey in lavender tea before bed.