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Behind the Brush: Oyin Handmade’s Jamyla Bennu

If you haven’t started on your New Year’s resolutions yet to live a healthier 2013, Jamyla Bennu might be able to help. We caught up with the mixtress and creator of the Maryland-based Oyin Handmade, a delicious line of unisex personal care products for adults and children. Not only do the products harness the healing properties of honey and other natural/organic ingredients, but they’re also bottled right in Baltimore. Read on to learn about how Bennu (who was featured in our first “Coolest Black Family” profile) turned her hobby into a major deal with Whole Foods Market.

EBONY: What inspired you to create this line?

Jamyla Bennu: It was inspired by need! It was a hobby at first, and the process was purely kitchen experimentation. I worked with readily accessible food-grade ingredients like olive oil, coconut oil and honey looking for formulations for my own hair and skin. When I discovered a formula or two that really seemed to make my hair its best, I got so excited and had to share it!

EBONY: Why is it important to use natural hair and skin products?

JB: When ingredients are natural and close to their original source, they retain more of their nutritive properties. Think about the principle that makes brown rice healthier than white rice. When we bring ingredients into the picture that contain no nutrition (like mineral oil or petroleum), we can see how easy it can be to squander an opportunity to feed our hair and skin.

EBONY: What are your favorite products in your line?

JB: That’s a difficult question! My desert island pick would go to our multifunctional workhorse: Oyin Handmade Honey Hemp Conditioner (starting at $12). But for my favorite, I think our Shine & Define (starting at $6), gentle styling serum for soft hold. It’s the most complex and tricky product we make, so I feel a protective tenderness towards it.

EBONY: Oyin Handmade mostly caters to natural hair. Why do you think it’s become such a movement for women to go back to their roots?

JB: There are a number of reasons in my opinion. I sense there is a definite self-love component to it, an emotional and psychological freedom that comes with embracing our hair as it grows from our scalps. Technology also plays a part in the current swell—through instructional videos, blogs, message boards, etc., women are able to share an unprecedented amount of information with each other. People finally feel like they have more options due to the scale of knowledge that exists.

EBONY: What’s the best hair tip that you have learned?

JB: Sleep on satin pillowcases. [Editor’s Note: We love Neero & Ana’s satin pillowcases (starting at $30.99).] It helps your hair retain moisture and curl/coil definition from day to day. I chopped my hair very short earlier this year, and I’m enjoying the freedom of wake-and-shake hair. I thank my satin pillowcases for this.

EBONY: Honestly, what is it like working in a family business?

JB: It’s a great fit, but the work can be grueling at times. I recently tweeted that one entrepreneur equals a CEO who’s also on the bathroom cleaning rotation. But there is also a certain flexibility and definitely lots of satisfaction. We also seek to maintain a family-style culture throughout the company with the wonderful employees who come to work for us. How else are we going to get the “love” into the goodies we make?!

Janell Hickman is the Associate Beauty & Grooming Editor for EBONY magazine. Follow her on Twitter @jmargaretbeauty.

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