CHICAGO — For South Loop resident Abena Boamah-Acheampong, nkuto (aka raw, organic shea butter) had been a staple in her home growing up in Ohio. Nkuto was an ingredient her mother, Juliana, would add to her own body butter concoctions for family usage.
“Dry skin? My mom would say spread nkuto on you. Body pains, use nkuto. It was our go-to,” Boamah-Acheampong said.
Now, as CEO and founder of skin care brand Hanahana Beauty, Boamah-Acheampong wants to make shea butter products everyone’s go-to. That’s not surprising to her mom, who said, “I have never run out of shea butter in the house.”
On March 5, Hanahana products went on shelves at 400 Ulta Beauty stores across the nation, including Ulta’s landmark Mag Mile site at 430 N. Michigan Ave.
Hanahana Beauty products are made with ethically and sustainably sourced Ghanaian-harvested shea butter. The bestselling items are the amber vanilla and bamboo coconut shea body butters and Hanahana’s two-in-one after-shower moisturizing and exfoliating body bar.
The Ulta launch, part of its Sparked initiative that makes emerging brands accessible, came on Boamah-Acheampong’s 32nd birthday and Hanahana’s sixth anniversary. When talking about her brand’s trajectory since its creation in 2017, one can hear the smile and enthusiasm in her voice.
What started as gifts for friends and a tangible form of self-care that she made in her former three-bedroom Logan Square apartment has turned into a South Loop-headquartered operation with at least a dozen workers. She also has a partnership with the Katargia Cooperative in Tamale, Ghana, a cooperative of about 60 women who produce the shea butter Hanahana uses. Boamah-Acheampong’s parents are from Ghana.
With grants from groups such as beauty company Glossier and the cocokind impact foundation, Hanahana Beauty products are sold not just on the firm’s site and Ulta, but on Revolve.com, JCPenney and Chicago-based Asrai Garden.
“Abena’s passion and approach to developing consciously clean skin care products sourced directly from women in Ghana deeply inspired us, and we knew the brand would be equally as exciting for our Ulta Beauty guests to discover,” said Muffy Clince, director of emerging brands at Ulta Beauty.
“I want us to be a household name,” Boamah-Acheampong said. “A lot of the people that grew with us now have children, and their children are even using the product. That’s something that I want to continue as we continue to branch out. But I also want to be real intentional around how we grow.”
The brand grew thanks to shout-outs from celebrities and influencers, press about the consciously clean brand, and an influx of people caring more about skin care while they were at home during the early days of the pandemic, Boamah-Acheampong said.
Growth, for Boamah-Acheampong, means producing shea butter products in Africa and increasing sales in the U.S. and U.K. retail and e-commerce spaces. Growth also means transparency and sustainability — all things the direct-to-consumer brand prioritizes.
“Hanahana” in the Twi dialect of the Akan language spoken in Ghana means malleable, smooth and flowing, Boamah-Acheampong said. She hopes it translates to customers feeling smooth and confident in their own skin.
“I have always been driven around how do you help people,” Boamah-Acheampong said. She reflects on how the brand brings humanity into the beauty space, she said.
“We do that through creating self-sustainable paths, from the producer we source from — we pay two times the asking price for raw materials — as well as creating access for health care for the producers and their neighbors,” Boamah-Acheampong said.
Hanahana provides health education to shea butter producers and farmers in rural communities across northern Ghana, as well as equipment improvements for production, and advocacy for shea tree protections. Hanahana Beauty’s Circle of Care social impact initiative works to improve economic conditions and environmental sustainability for women in the shea trade.
“It’s about how you treat your community,” Boamah-Acheampong said. “How do we treat our community that’s sustaining us through our products? How do I grow and scale this to be a successful and impactful brand that is not intentionally harmful, because the beauty space can be very harmful, especially to Black and brown bodies.”
“I’ve tried a lot of skin care products over the years, but Hanahana Beauty’s shea body butter is hands down my favorite,” said Madea Neyor, a customer since 2019. “I love that it’s a simple, effective and clean option for everyday use. … It’s a brand I feel good about supporting and championing.”
Formerly on a path to becoming a clinical psychologist, Boamah-Acheampong now uses her therapy background to help Hanahana’s beauty team and partners. Whether it’s a yoga session for staff or organizing Mother’s Day activities in New York, Chicago and Ghana, Boamah-Acheampong said she tries to use all she’s learned to aid Hanahana’s organic growth.
“Black women globally affect everyone and that’s how we think of our product philosophy and how we create daily-use, results-driven products,” she said. “The coldness and dryness of Chicago definitely inspired me to start making my own body butters in 2014 for fun. I was curious around ingredients and boosting my own self-confidence by knowing what I was putting on my body. I did that for many years. And since 2017, and now launching in Ulta, it’s been a journey for sure.”