Meet Jamyla Bennu, the Beauty Founder Prioritizing Natural Hair Health for 19 Years

She launched Oyin Handmade in 2003.

jamyla bennu

Stephanie Scott-Bradshaw

Oyin Handmade has been a natural hair staple since 2003, with moisture-rich products designed for curls and dry skin. Jamyla Bennu started the brand when natural hair products were scarce due to chemical and heat straighteners dominating the market. Bennu began selling products online in 2005 and quickly gained an audience. 

Bennu built the brand around "nutritional density," a term she coined because her products contain ingredients that give back to curls instead of stripping them away. Oyin is the Yoruba word for honey, and many of the brand's signature products contain honey and other moisture-rich ingredients like beeswax, silk protein, and milk powder.

Ahead, we spoke to Bennu about her popular natural hair brand's evolution, her entrepreneurial journey, and what's on the horizon for Oyin Handmade.

How would you describe your relationship with your natural hair growing up?

I grew up in a family that always considered natural hair textures beautiful and part of our culture. However, I grew up in the 80s, and messaging outside our home was very different. Applying chemical relaxers, at the time, was like a right of passage; having natural hair outside of childhood styles was rare.

By junior high, my sister and I were experimenting with straightening, but I always loved my natural texture. I didn't have tools, knowledge, or any examples of how to care for it in its natural state. When I started college and saw more sophisticated, healthy examples of natural hair, I grew out my relaxer, big chopped, and never looked back.   

Where did the inspiration for Oyin come from? 

In 2001, I detangled a set of locs and was experimenting again with my loose natural hair. There were few natural products for highly textured hair made with natural ingredients. I began making my own using healthy, nourishing ingredients from my kitchen, like olive and coconut oils, shea and cocoa butter, and honey, which the line is named after.

Oyin is the Yoruba word for honey, and I learned it as a child and always loved it. Today, our products contain food-grade ingredients and are proudly made in our production kitchen in Baltimore.

What are the benefits of using food-grade ingredients in your products?

Our skin and scalp absorb what we apply to them, so it's always a good idea to use natural, safe formulas whenever possible. Additionally, food-grade ingredients are more nourishing to the hair. For example, petroleum and mineral oil lubricate the hair and seal the cuticle. But they do not penetrate and don't provide nutritional fatty acids to help strengthen. At Oyin we like to work with ingredients that have multiple benefits and improve hair health.

When you created the brand in 2001, you developed your own products and website. What were those early entrepreneurial days like?

It's been amazing growing a business right alongside the growth of the e-commerce industry. I was a freelance web designer for a few years, so building the website was easy. But it's wild how many of our early manual processes are now handled by purpose-built software services. 

Aside from the technologies involved, my husband and I also had many late nights and long days working every aspect of the business, from spraying our labels with clear acrylic to dropping packages off at the post office. It was so much fun developing products, responding to community requests, and hearing from customers that our products made a difference in how they felt about their hair. It was an exciting time. 

What has been the most significant change in how consumers use natural hair products?

In today's natural hair environment, there's a solid bank of information with many amazing products to choose from. With so many choices, people are more open to experimenting and trying out different brands and techniques. There's also more of a focus on styling and curl definition, a change from when the natural hair movement was all about self-acceptance and going chemical-free. Additionally, the emphasis on video on social media makes it so easy to be inspired by all the styles and knowledge out there.

With the winter season approaching, what are some must-have items hair items you recommend?

As the weather gets cooler and humidity lowers, we want to focus on moisture even more. Protective styles may also come into play. Our What The Hemp Moisture Mask ($14) is an incredible choice for a deep treatment. For moist and supple twists and braids, nothing beats Whipped Pudding ($14). If you're taking down protective styles or vacation braids, Oh My Glide Detangling Milk ($13) will become your new favorite. 

What's on the horizon for Oyin Handmade?

We have a few new products and surprises planned, as well as the grand opening of our new shop coming soon. We have some new styling products in the pipeline, some eco-friendly options, and limited seasonal fragrances for old favorites. 

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