Nigerian sisters Chinonye and Nneji Akunne founded ILERA Apothecary in Detroit. Chinonye tells SEEN how they got started in the beauty industry and what inspired them to start their company. Check out the shop on the new SEEN Marketplace!
By Rachel Schostak
1. When and what inspired you to get into this business? As first-generation Nigerians, our parents would take us to our hometown of Imo, Nigeria on holidays, and we’d be inspired by the vibrant culture and traditional approach to personal care needs. We launched ILERA Apothecary in 2015 after our youngest brother made a commitment to limit the use of non-organic personal care products. We started with okwuma, the Igbo term for shea butter, as the primary ingredient in the majority of our products as it is directly sourced from southeastern Nigeria. The shea tree can only be found in Africa.
2. What does a typical day look like for you? Any day at ILERA Apothecary is unlike the other. Because my sister and business partner Nneji and I are no longer based in the same city, our days vary.
5:40 a.m. I wake up, read a few daily devotionals and do a few sun salutations.
6 a.m. I go for a walk or run around the neighborhood, taking mental notes of what’s new and what’s changed. When I get back I read a few emails, make a smoothie, then read a few chapters of the book I’m reading. At the moment, it’s “The Complete Guide to Memory Mastery” by Harry Lorayne. It’s all about training your brain to remember more information. From there, I’ll check my inbox and respond to any urgent emails that came in overnight.
8:30 a.m. I head out to work. I have been living in the downtown Detroit area for the last three years. I bike to our manufacturing facility, Ponyride in Corktown Detroit. I work from there about 80 percent of the time. It serves as a great source of inspiration working alongside other Detroit entrepreneurs.
11 a.m. Lunch. One thing I have gotten good at doing during lunch is not being distracted and enjoying my meal. Lunch is a time when I disconnect, leave the work alone and stay off my phone or computer. It is important to give my brain a break, enjoy the moment and be thankful for the day.
11:30 a.m. Conference calls and meetings. I spend afternoons in strategy and vision meetings. One day it’s with my accountant, another day is can be with my coach, other days it’ll be with my accountability partners. The people change. However, the outcome is always an improvement from where we are today.
4 p.m. I like to stop in our local stockist locations to see how things are going, listen to customer feedback and see how we can improve. Being an active member of the community has helped a lot with the growth of our company, and I think it helps when customers can put a face behind the brand.
5 p.m. I’ll start to wrap up work for ILERA Apothecary and start prepping for what I have planned for the rest of the day. My evenings range from a meeting for my other company The Lab Drawer to a board meeting or a local event happening in the city. I’ll have dinner while I’m out by either packing my dinner or grabbing whatever vegetarian option is available.
10:30 p.m. It’s lights out! I try to get at least seven hours of sleep a night so that I can properly function the next morning.
3. Who inspires you in the wellness/apothecary world? A lot of our inspirations come from Africa, as we focus our manufacturing process on the traditional methods practiced around the continent. The women who are employed by the cooperatives that we work with like the Global Shea Alliance and our aunts who help to source ingredients from Nigeria continue to inspire the work that we do. We are also inspired by women like Trinity Mouzon, founder of Golde, a wellness brand that sells turmeric blends for teas, and Deun Ivory, a multidisciplinary artist and podcast co-host of Black Girl in Om, which is a destination for women of color on their wellness journey.
4. What do you love most about your role in managing the store? I love being able to tell our story! From customers to collaborators, I find joy in providing useful information to them on skin care, the ingredients in each product and the reason behind them, as well as sharing wellness tips, current reads or favorite podcasts.
5. What is your store’s mission, and how do you want customers to feel when they enter your space? We want our customers to understand the heritage behind ILERA Apothecary and know that the products we carry are both effective and protect the environment. Our goal is to take our customers on a journey through Africa, even if they never experience actually stepping foot on the continent.
6. What are your favorite items at the moment?
- I love the iShallBe mobile app. It was created by a local Detroiter and on a daily basis sends out positive affirmations directly to your phone.
- Maven by General Motors has been a lifesaver. It’s a service that allows you to rent a vehicle on an hourly basis. Living and working in the downtown area, I’ve opted out of having a vehicle. For the times I need to go out to the suburbs or have a large order that needs to be delivered, I’ll rent a Maven car for a few hours.
- I travel a lot and my choice of luggage has become one of the most important aspects of my comfortability. The Carry-On by Away has everything I need as it comes with a phone charger and convenient compartments to separate your shoes and clothes. It’s also super lightweight and has a ton of usable space.
- My Panda Planner allows me to be intentional when planning for my daily life. It allows me to easily track my goals on a weekly basis, record daily affirmations and review my daily wins.
7. What makes your brand special? At ILERA Apothecary, we believe it is important to take our customers on the journey with us as we create each product offered. From where and how we source our ingredients to the reason behind each one, we like to be as transparent as possible. We have also incorporated a recycling program into our business model where we educate customers on how to repurpose their empty ILERA bottles.
8. Are there any new exciting products or lines you will be carrying soon? Most definitely! We are excited about our holiday collection. We are having fun selecting the packaging and curating an experience of excitement.
9. For your personal routine, which products do you use daily? I like to keep my skin care routine simple. I use a bar soap by a Detroit-based organic soap company, Motor City Soap. This soap is amazing and leaves my skin feeling fresh and hydrated. Right before I dry off I use the ILERA Apothecary baby oil to lock in the moisture. I love the way our baby oil makes my skin feel. I then use the ILERA Apothecary Awaken body butter all over my body. I love using Awaken in the morning because it has a sweet citrus fragrance that reminds me of sunshine. On my face, I use Lira clinical BIO enzyme cleanser that I get from Detroit-based BareSkin Facial and Waxing Studio. While my face is still dewy, I use a rose toner then immediately follow up with a Lira Hydra infusion face moisturizer and ILERA Apothecary face oil. I then apply an SPF 50+ tinted physical sunscreen by Carter Snell Skin Center. Lastly, I apply ILERA Apothecary deodorant. I switch between the stick and spray as it gives me a chance to check the effectiveness of each product.
10. Favorite wellness, health or beauty blog?
- I love Goop because it’s an all-in-one health beauty and wellness platform founded by Gwyneth Paltrow.
- My sister and I are always sending each other articles from Into The Gloss, where we get the latest insight and inspiration on what men and women are experiencing in terms of skin care.
- MyBrownBox is also a favorite. It’s a platform that provides a safe space for black women to cultivate their magic. From self-care tips to positive affirmations, this platform is real and inspires me to always live my best life.
11. Favorite quote or words to live by? “At the end of the day, life always works itself out.” — This quote keeps me going during the highs and the lows. It allows me to remain faithful and trusting of life’s journey.
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