Business Profiles

Nigerian Sisters Chinonye and Nneji Akunne Reveal Secrets to Natural Skin Care

December 28, 2018

ILERA Apothecary sat down with SEEN to talk growth, skin care and creating ‘Obodo’ (community).

By Amber Ogden

Featured photo by Kendra M Lee

ILERA Apothecary founders and Nigerian sisters Chinonye and Nneji Akunne are helping customers reset, revive and rejuvenate skin for the new year. The skin care line ranges from natural deodorant to a newly added line of baby skin care essentials. Barely able to keep shelves stocked due to high demand of their products, the sisters didn’t expect this type of attention when they founded the company in 2015.

ILERA ApothecaryCourtesy ILERA Apothecary

ILERA Apothecary founders and sisters Chinonye and Nneji Akunne.

“The brand has been growing through word-of-mouth,” says Chinonye, 30. “… People are showing us we are much bigger than we thought we were, which is great because me and my sister are very critical of ourselves.”

Born with an entrepreneurial spirit, the Nigerian sisters took the natural skin care business by storm. “Coming from an entrepreneurial family we were prepared, but then becoming a business owner is a little different as you watch how people interact with you,” Chinonye says. “You have to be slow and calm to get people to get comfortable with you first and then your product.”

Already running an online business, the sisters are now selling their products at the downtown Detroit markets through Jan. 13. ILERA products, primarily made with shea butter from Nigeria, are manufactured at the entrepreneurial incubator Ponyride in Detroit. When they launched, the sisters thought Michigan was a perfect place to plant business roots.

ILERA ApothecaryCourtesy ILERA Apothecary

Chinonye, who was born in Columbus, Ohio, came to Michigan four years ago, moving from Atlanta to work for General Motors as a global industrial hygienist, responsible for the health and safety of its employees. “As I was working for GM, my family was switching to a natural skin care regimen, starting with my brother as he made his own deodorant,” she says.

The sisters were onto something new but did not realize what they had been preparing for their whole lives. Their father is a pharmacist, Chinonye has a degree in chemistry and Nneji’s expertise is in marketing. They started researching skin care ingredients that were natural, vegan and healthy for all skin types. “It naturally came together,” Chinonye says.

The sisters come from a large supporting Obodo (which means “community” in Igbo, the Southeastern Nigerian language) and felt it was only appropriate to start a campaign around it.

ILERA ApothecaryCourtesy Kendra M Lee

Near their shop entrance, there is a halo-lighted picture of a group of people with all skin complexions, who look like family. “How we reach our customers is a part of our Obodo,” Chinonye explains. “Everyone in the picture is connected in some way.”

The sisters are looking forward to growth, partnerships, and more to come during 2019. “We have global goals,” Chinonye says. “You can only grow shea nuts in Africa. We are an African company and an American company, so keeping true to who we are is essential.”

Chinonye’s favorite ILERA product is the Bloom Body Butter, which helps treat dry skin. “Having those ingredients of shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, vitamin E and jojoba oil mixed with the scents of lavender musk, rose and jasmine, make for moisturized skin all winter long,” Chinonye says. “The deodorant is my second favorite product.”

Nadia Lynch, 24, of Southfield is an ILERA Apothecary fan and regularly uses the the body butters, spray deodorant, face oil and body washes. “I love this brand. They’ve become a staple in my self-care routine,” Lynch says. “I always get compliments on my skin, and honestly, ILERA is the only thing that has consistently made my skin glow no matter the weather.”

ILERA ApothecaryCourtesy ILERA Apothecary

With it being that time of year when everyone resets, revives and rejuvenates from the holidays, Chinonye says it’s important to take time for self-care: “I take an hour for myself and sit in silence at the start of every day. This keeps me grounded and helps me to accept whatever comes for today.”

She shares a few pieces of advice to others interested in following an entrepreneurial path — mainly, let customers to tell you what you can do better. “I think it’s important to get comfortable with being criticized. The best advice you can get is what a customer wants to see,” she says. “Also just start. You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, so just go for it.”

Winter Skin Care Tips

1. Your skin is your largest organ, and it’s important to keep it moisturized and hydrated. Hydrate internally and externally by drinking water throughout the day and using moisturizer.

2. Moisturize your entire body, not just the areas people see. It’s best to moisturize right after bathing.

3. If you have dry skin this time of year, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends keeping baths and showers short and to use warm — not hot — water.

SEEN Marketplace Editor’s Picks

ILERA Apothecary

SHOP: Organic shea butter, $15

ILERA Apothecary

SHOP: Beard oil, $24

ILERA Apothecary

SHOP: Deodorant, $12

Shop more ILERA Apothecary products on the SEEN Marketplace

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