From Black Voices — The smell of cocoa butter fills the air as bubbling oils are poured into white drums, whisked into a foaming mass and left to cool.
Another part of the factory — which takes up room on three floors of a Baltimore storefront — fills with fruity smells as owner Jamyla Bennu, 35, and husband Pierre, 37, test scented oils as their youngest son coos from a stroller parked protectively in an office.
Since starting up in 2005, Oyin Handmade has commanded a loyal following for their quirky hair and body products and right-on sensibilities. Along with pomades, lotions, soaps and conditioners obsessively formulated with natural ingredients, Oyin offer t-shirts with slogans like “Black Nerds Unite,” as well as illustrated books.
What started as a hobby for Jamyla turned into a business when the couple realized they wanted to work together, and start a family. Jamyla was doing a PhD at New York University and Pierre was working on Wall Street, and under so much stress his hair was falling out in patches, he said. They saw a nine-to-five future looming and decided to go their own way. “We were trying to build a life together that was self-supporting,” Jamyla explains.
Both artists, they tried everything that looked like it could turn into a solid business. They made a film together, and published a book of advice Pierre regularly gave to struggling artist friends. Jamyla was building websites, and Pierre would DJ at parties around New York, where they were based at the time. If the hustle didn’t work out, they’d move on to the next thing, following the motto: “We’re only funding what funds itself,” said Jamyla.