Interview With ITIBA Skincare Founder - Yoki Hanley

CEM has had the pleasure of interviewing one of the Caribbean’s movers & shakers in the organic skincare world, Itiba founder Yoki Hanley. Here she tells us why she developed this line, what ingredients she is focused on, and what her goals are for future product developments.

"I make it for my grandchildren and if they can’t use it then I scrap it"

When did you first become interested in skincare?

We all have had some interest in skincare, but mine really was started out of necessity rather than anything else. In 2000, I gave birth to my 5th child. I am mother to 6 children and now have 5 grandchildren. When my daughter Selah was born, she was very sensitive to even the gentlest of baby care products. They say necessity is the mother of all inventions. Well, I had to go back to my roots and re-learn about the local herbs, plants and fragrances to create something that would be gentle for her and offer her a pleasant and comfortable bathing experience.

How long have you been making skincare products?

I have been making skincare products for the past 15 years (since 2000).

What problems did you have to overcome in creating your natural products? My first problem I had to overcome was how do I use the aloe vera and use it in such a way that it was consistent in the products. I had to teach myself how to process the Aloe Vera that I used so heavily in a lot of the products. Where water would have been the common ingredient, I wanted to use Aloe Vera and getting the Aloe in a way that was useable was a challenge. But I figured it out. And after that, everything else was actually pretty easy.

The name ‘Itiba’ is beautiful. What’s behind the name?

The name is in homage to my children and late husband. He was from the island of Vieques which is part of the US Territory of Puerto Rico. He was also part Taino. The Taino are one of the native peoples of the Caribbean, also called Amerindians. They lived in the Greater Antilles. Itiba, in their religion, is Mother Earth. It is believed that from her, her four sons, two twins, came forward and populated the world. I combined this with the Sankofa symbol to also represent their African heritage that they have through me.

Is the product unisex or geared towards women?

The product is used by both men and women. But in its inception, it was created for anyone who is looking for a natural, skincare product, one that will clean without stripping the skin and moisturize without feeling heavy and greasy. And this product leaves behind a beautiful, original and unique fragrance that you will not find from any other natural skincare product on the market today.

You use a variety of interesting ingredients, how did you go about selecting them?

A lot of the ingredients are ones that I am familiar with here on the island. I grew up using them either for food or for medicine. Knowing how we traditionally used the plants helped greatly in my decision on whether to incorporate the plant and how best to do so as well.

What factors go into your decision to create a new product?

Usually, there is a problem I am trying to correct. Initially, it was to create a product that my infant daughter could use with no harsh chemicals. I did that with the soaps. Then, the next step was looking at the abundance of plant life and fruits and seeing how best I can use that plant, to highlight an herb or fragrance, and use it in the products. Sometimes, people will stop and say they need a product to take care of a certain problem and I will try to figure out the best way to make a product that solves their particular situation. There are many factors, but overall, it is usually a problem that I am trying to correct for myself, a family member or friend.

What are your favorite ingredients to use?

I LOVE to use Mango Butter. Shea butter, Jojoba oil, Avocado oil, Rosewood oil, Lemongrass oil…ALL of them! It is hard to choose a favorite. It just depends on what I am making at the time I guess..

For those who haven’t tried organic or natural products before, which Itiba skincare product is a good starting point?

Our lotions would be a good product to start with in my opinion. Many people remark how our lotions are fast absorbing and surprisingly light. You would not think so to look at them, but just a little bit of lotion lasts the whole day without having you feeling greasy or heavy afterwards.

What’s your best seller?

My Mango Hair & Body Butter is by far my biggest seller. It is almost literally impossible for me to keep this product in stock.

How would you recommend using your products for women with natural hair?

Adding the serum to our natural, hair care regimen is a very easy thing to do.

The best way to use it would be right after you have washed and conditioned your hair. You want to be able to seal in moisture and the serum is a great way to do just that. Or, if your hair feels like it needs a little pick me up, then spraying the serum into your hair is great as is. You want to make sure you start from the roots, or as close as possible when doing this. Our Mango Hair & Body Butter is EXCELLENT for both natural, relaxed, permed hair!

Where can we purchase your line?

If you are in the US Virgin Islands, you can purchase directly from us on the island of St. Croix, where we are located. You can also find the products on St. Thomas as well as St. Kitts. You can purchase directly from the website at www.itibabeauty.com or find us on Amazon.com just use keyword “itiba” when searching as well as the Vitamin Group (www.vitamingroup.com) and use keyword “itiba”. We are always adding new locations so make sure you like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/itibabeauty and follow us on InstaGram @itibabeauty to see where our newest location is.

What are your future goals for Itiba Natural Skincare?

One of our goals, which we are working on now, is to create a line dedicated to hair care using the natural herbs, plants and oils found and known in the Caribbean. I also LOVE to work with fragrances and essential oils, so I am sure a perfume line will not be too far away either! But overall, to have the itiba brand become a world recognized brand.