Oyéta Kokoroko, 29 years old, lives in Vancouver. In its three years of existence, her brand Okoko Cosmetics has established itself as an eco-luxury reference. In the last few months, her entrepreneurial adventure took a new dimension with the launch of two new projects: Okoko Academy and The Connector, two platforms dedicated to networking and sharing around natural skincare. For Petit Poudrier, she shares her vision of the green beauty sector and her advice to those who want to launch their brand.
How did you come to the idea of launching your beauty brand?
After having health problems related to North American food, I decided to study naturopathic medicine in Montreal. The curriculum included courses in holistic nutrition, botanical medicine, aromatherapy, and organic cosmetic science. Naturopathy helped me to improve my health by changing my diet, by eating healthy and organic, and also by healing myself naturally. The changes I experienced were fantastic, so at first, I was interested in natural medicine out of curiosity, but then also apply its principles in my daylife. As part of this program, we also learned how to make natural skincare such as lip balms or homemade oils. This training allowed me to discover the ingredients, but most of all, I realized that I loved it! After taking these courses, I bought ingredients and books and started making my skincare. As I did for food: I started reading labels. There were harmful and irritating ingredients for the skin, and others toxic for our environment. I realized that it would be better to make my skincare. At least I would know what it contains.
What were the beginnings of Okoko Cosmetics?
I started creating soaps and body lotions. I would offer them to my friends or family for Christmas. The feedbacks were excellent, and so I was encouraged to become a formulator. I took classes with Formula Botanica to learn how to formulate, but also preserve products and ensure the stability of formulas. The goal was to create responsible skincare while complying with the legislation. You can not just make products in your kitchen. You need to know the regulations and offer professional products to your customers. All formulators must have the appropriate training and know what to do to avoid allergies, for example. It was only after taking this training that I launched Okoko Cosmetics.
What is the particularity of Okoko products on the market?
There are two things. When I used conventional products, because of my acne problems, I realized, by learning to read labels, that many of these products contained filler ingredients, especially water. This ingredient is not harmful, but many serums on the market are costly and are mostly composed of water! It bothered me to see all these cheated consumers. We talk a lot about harmful ingredients, and that’s very important, but there is also this dimension. Okoko Cosmetics is a luxury brand, but it offers quality products without using fillers. The second thing that sets us apart from other brands is our work on formulas. Often in natural cosmetics, they are straightforward. You can make your products quickly at home. I thought there was a lack of innovation in natural cosmetics. That’s what I wanted to do with Okoko: encourage people to become professionals in natural cosmetics and not be afraid to innovate, with the products, ingredients, and formulas. Our brand offers innovative and high-end recipes with high-performance botanical ingredients that provide multiple benefits to the skin. Key elements include the dragon’s blood, bakuchiol (a natural alternative to retinol), tomato oil and AHAs that are known to enhance skin tone.
A few months ago, you launched The Connector, a platform dedicated to information and sharing around natural skincare. What was your motivation?
A lot of false information circulates on natural cosmetics. Untrained people often spread it. They give a bad image of our sector.
For example, the statement “all conservatives are bad. You must avoid them” is very popular. It’s wrong ! If there is water in a product, you need preservatives. Otherwise, imagine the condition of the product after a few days! These claims undermine natural cosmetics and allow the conventional cosmetics industry to attack us. I wanted to respond. Being trained and passionate, I want to educate people and share transparent information. I’m not here to sell. I also want to teach.
The Connector is a platform dedicated to the collaboration between formulators, chemists, photographers, consultants, where experts write articles and share advice on their favorite topics. They inform consumers as well as brands and distributors.
My goal is to create a green beauty community around people curious to learn how to read labels and who want to read articles written by experts. We will start writing in French in the coming months because it is essential for me to reach the francophone community as well.
We help demystify the world of green beauty with articles about preservatives, the ingredients to avoid, the best ingredients to use for each skin type.
This approach may surprise in the competitive beauty industry. Aren’t you afraid to give too much visibility to your competitors?
It’s a way to bring people together, but also to break the idea of competition. For me, it is always more in the head. We’re all different. Ingredients may be similar, but each brand is unique. I advocate collaboration, empowerment. The Connector gives voice to other brands and helps them grow their audience. It’s also a way for Okoko to stand out as a brand that promotes collaborating more than competing. Informing allows you to sell without putting pressure on the buyer. He can first get information, learn, then in a second time come back to buy if he wants to.
In the end, no products will suit all skin types. If a client tells me that she wants products without preservatives, I respect her choice. I can refer her to a facial oil or other water-free product that does not require it. I give her verified information without trying to manipulate it. I advocate knowledge and education to provide credibility to green beauty and change attitudes. The more informed the clients, the more confident they will be, and everyone will benefit.
You also launched Okoko Academy, a mentoring platform dedicated to organic skincare entrepreneurs. What is your goal?
There is a lack of mutual aid and cooperation in the green beauty industry. Often you feel very lonely as an entrepreneur. When you start, you have a lot of responsibility and do everything alone: it can be very complicated. This platform makes you feel less isolated and allows you to discuss your situation. The goal of Okoko Academy is to help entrepreneurs develop their potential and build self-confidence. For example, we offer podcasts with brand creators who share their experiences. Online courses will be available soon.
As a consultant, I also share my own experiences, my mistakes. I help beginners to find their brand DNA. For me, it’s the most important thing: the image, the products, who you are, whom you attract. This identity will define the path of your brand. Okoko‘s brand DNA is innovation. We use ingredients that are out of the ordinary (like Dragon’s Blood, for example). It is also cooperating. It is these values that make people want to follow us. Today using organic ingredients is no longer a point of differentiation; it has become common. You have to look for what makes your brand unique. That’s what helps to stand out, especially when you’re a young brand that’s starting, and you do not have millions of dollars to spend on marketing.
Oyéta Kokoroko’s five tips to entrepreneurs who want to launch their green beauty brand
Oyéta has an evident vision of the challenges encountered by creators of independent green beauty brands. “In the beginning, entrepreneurs who start have all the same problems: how to find your first customers and your first distributors? How to build your audience and create a relationship with your buyers? We start from scratch on social media where we do not have followers, we must show that we exist, but at the beginning, resources are limited”.
For Petit Poudrier, she gave five tips to follow :
1. Be honest
If your only purpose is to sell, it will not work. You have to tell your personal story, your career story, what led you to launch your brand. You have to be honest and communicate about your mission and your values. It is essential. You have to focus on your passion, your talent, and what you have to offer. Customers must be able to identify with your values so that they recognize themselves and build a special relationship with your brand. For example, a lot of brands highlight their country of origin: it is a value that will make sense for many consumers.
2. Have a real social media strategy
There is a lot to be done on social networks. Working with bloggers is a real advantage. But again, I noticed that bloggers are more likely to talk about brands they genuinely like. Thanks to this close relationship, people will start commenting, and a community will grow. Your social media strategy must be consistent. You have to post things related to your brand only. Every publication has to bring something. You must talk about the founders, the philosophy of the brand, the products, the ingredients, show behind the scenes. It is imperative for founders to be present. Caroline Valton, the founder of MonCornerB, told me that the best-selling brands on her site are those whose founders regularly communicate with their community. This work has a real impact. The founder must not be afraid to show up!
3. Work with a professional photographer
It is essential to be well prepared. You need beautiful visual elements because it makes you look professional and gives confidence. I recommend investing in professional photos. You have to show the products, textures, colors, ingredients. It works very well, as customers like to see the inside of the product. Of course, the packaging is also crucial. It must be beautiful, attract the eye, reflect the image of the brand: minimal, sustainable. Its visual appearance must well illustrate the personality of the brand.
4. Know how to talk about your products
You have to be able to talk about your products. Even if the founder is not the formulator, she must know the products from A to Z. When we know the products, we talk about it with confidence and inspire trust. You have to know how to talk about key ingredients, their benefits, combinations for different skin types, and beauty routine.
5. Stand out
There are always more natural skincare brands, new ones emerging every week. It is a competitive industry, even if it is less competitive than conventional cosmetics. Many brands have been established for years and have faithful customers. For new brands, it is imperative to stand out from the bigger ones. The most popular brands are the ones that stand out the most.