I was at Regalo, a luxury store located at the Centro Mall, Lekki when the shop owner, Funmi Onajide, introduced me to the Aweni Organic skincare range. The mode of presentation of ori, (Shea butter) cream, ose dudu (liquefied black soap scented with cinnamon) got me interested in Aweni products. To top it all, they are made in Nigeria.
And so my search for Tomi Pearce, the brain behind Aweni Organics began. She is the founder and CEO, Aweni Organics. After a few calls, we finally agreed to meet at Sweet Sensation, Ikeja GRA, Lagos, Nigeria. She looks radiant in her dark green top, her dark skin glittering like that of a baby under the yellow light above. She would later tell me she has been using Shea butter on her skin since she was a child.
Pearce began her journey into organic skincare about four years ago when she resigned from a poorly paid journalism job. She wasn’t happy with her job. In that state, she remembered her favourite, Shea butter.
“I just thought to myself: ‘What can I do?’” she tells me. “The thought came; and I remembered this Shea butter that I loved so much. I thought: ‘what I can do with it’. I have always used Shea butter, when I was about sixteen, I would always mix it with all sorts of creams because of its powerful smell. However, the smell never affected me like many people would when they smell Shea butter. I loved the smell.”
And so, Pearse thought she could do something with the Shea butter she loved so much. She began to research what she could do with it. In the course of her investigation, she found there are people who make soap, creams and other things. She started experimenting with making things like that. She got a scientific weighing machine for measuring the ingredients.
“You have to be careful with all those ingredients because of people’s skin. I had to buy a very high tech machine. I started making soap to give to my family to use. I just started with the little I could do. After that, I still stayed on my job and things got better, but I continued making the soap.”
After her discovery, the next step was to protect and showcase her Nigerian heritage. Her surname, Pearce, which sounds foreign, gave her a better reason to tell her proudly Nigeria story through her emerging luxury skincare line. She decides to name her line, Aweni, a praise name common in South Western Nigeria meaning, purity.
“I fiercely protect the fact that I am a Nigerian, I defend it passionately,” she explains. “I don’t care what other people do or how other people behave in other country or how they present themselves, but when I tell people I am a Nigerian I want them to know that this is a Nigerian with a difference.”
Pearce has an array of unique products. Her Aweni Organic range consists of liquefied black soap scented with Cinnamon or lemon grass and at times a combination of both. The range also includes coconut oil, shea butter cream, almond soap among others. She says the idea with choosing her fragrance is to choose a fragrance that has an African note. “Fragrances that can only be found in Africa and oils that can only be found in Africa are what I use. I have the calyptras, the lemon grass that’s the lemon grass is a brand that you have in any place in Nigeria. The calyptras we have the trees all over the place, then honey and almond; we have our own almond tree, we have a lot of honey. Lavender is not Nigerian, but we have a lot of South African lavender.”
According to her, she travels out of the country to source for the fragrance. “In Madagascar for example, you have best quality vanilla most expensive but the best. It is the cream of the crop. It is the best quality and most expensive. We also have in Nigeria a scent called King of the Day, the Madagascar’s have found a way of extracting that scent too. It is a beautiful scent. We also have jasmine in Africa; it grows in our bushes. Which we don’t take note off. It has a beautiful scent; it is also one of the essential oils that I use.”
Pearce says the products go through a rigorous process of production. According to her, the liquid black soap is made of black soap base as she does most of everything herself.
“The only thing I don’t do is making the Shea butter myself,” she explains. “What I do is I source it from a village where they heat it so it is full grade. My Shea butter [are edible] you can take a spoon and put it on your food to enrich your rice. It is natural because the seeds have been salted properly and are poured into clean containers that I buy myself. The liquid black soap is first made in a base an additional method of making it. A lady from my maternal mother’s village, she comes to the house and we make it together but I know the process and I can make it on my own. We make it together and in a large quantity as I need.”
She explains further: “then I take the Shea butter mix it in water and then leave it for about two days to completely dissolve it. I sieve out all the ash; because there is a lot of ash, contain skin ash because of coconut husks as well, they go into the potash that turn the oil into soap. Then we melt all that, sieve it to get all brief out, a very fine cloth, I have quite a few in my workshop and I strain that and absolutely no stones or sand, and I now re-boil it to make it milder so that even if a brand new baby can use it.
“I make it super mild and to also relieve it of organisms and things like that and so it is boiled for almost an hour, just left on to boil. Then after that I let it cool for a bit add the scent enrich it with cognac a lot of cognac, one of my customers said this honey of a label and she stuck her fingers in and said to taste it and said it is ridiculously sweet. Sorry oh I had to taste it but it is sweet, I know it is shameful as an adult, but you know. It touched in the sense that when you say that there is honey in something it actually is in it, so that is one key thing that I chase. That is with the little black soap a little bit and I put in the scent and the oil, desserts daisy oil, mix it in and fill the bottles, with the Shea body butter I mix it, with the coconut I don’t make it myself. The coconut oil, it is made on extremely low heat. We use enriched coconut oil and it is processed in such a way that it is packaged immediately. If you want to eat the coconut oil or put it in your soup. You can safely eat it because it is done in a very hygienic condition. Then my body butter of Shea butter and a few exotic oils like the bar oil, the dessert day oil coconut oil, I blend the two together, that is the Shea butter and these oils and they are whipped till they are very light and fluffy.”
At the moment, the Aweni organic range includes four different type of soaps, although Pearce hopes to add more soon. “I have [a soap called] triple G, which is made from Shea butter, a little bit of olive oil which my sister got for me when she travelled to Egypt, that is still in Africa. We are really desperate to stick to the African bit, olive oil, Shea butter, coconut and that is for my triple G. Then I have the Aloe Vera soap, which is a little bit of coconut oil, lots of shear butter, lots of aloe vera used from my mum’s gardens.”
Pearce says the next step for her is to consolidate for all the products that she has now. “There is still a few more on the pipeline once I have done all those one’s. There is this scrub that I am working on, but I am trying to do the scrubs in such a way that the sugar of the body scrub is from Nigeria, the salt in my body scrub is from Epe, the women get this salt out through the traditional methods.”