Taking time to smell the peonies
Asili Botanics founder and president Natasha Wright grew up in one of Toronto’s most violent, impoverished neighbourhoods. While teaching at a school that specializes in working with minorities, one of Wright’s students inspired her to launch a unique skincare line derived from, and inspired by, high-quality natural ingredients – ranging from botanical face oil to hydrating moisturizers, body butters, scrubs and hair balms. Her African black soap is handmade in Ghana from plant-based ingredients that aid with acne and hyperpigmentation. Last year, she also launched Wright Frame of Mind, a non-profit that she says “gives children access to experiential learning programs, where they can actually learn how to become entrepreneurs with anything that they do best or that they love.”
What was the journey that brought you to launching Asili Botanics?
As a child, I had really bad eczema and when I hit 12, I was hit with severe acne. Corticosteroid cream helped with the flare-ups, but it was just the worst time of my life. First of all, the eczema ages you because it roughens your skin, and at the time, we couldn’t afford to get good treatment. By the time I got to college, I was fed up. I applied the research skills I gained during my master’s degree to experiment with different ingredients and discovered that some natural products were effective over time. That’s when the spirit of entrepreneurialism hit me.
As I began developing my products, there was a little girl in my class and we were talking about shade and skin tones. She asked, “Miss Wright, do you think I’m beautiful?” I said, “Of course you are.” She had severe eczema, similar to mine as a child, and was scared that the coconut oil her mother was applying wouldn’t heal it, and that no one would like her. That’s when I realized creating my product line was something that I could do to help people.
What inspired the name of your brand?
I’ve always been drawn to plants and to history. My grandpa was an herbalist in Jamaica and people would come to him for help with different health problems. He used natural resources to cure them. Every time I utter the word asili [the Swahili word for nature], I think of Africa. I think of what my people have been through and how magnificent they are in surviving the worst parts of history. I also wanted to pay tribute to Indigenous people known for their use of plants and herbs. I wanted my brand to highlight and show respect to the ancestors and to underscore the ancient wisdoms that healed and helped our people.
What were some challenges you faced?
I was planning to launch earlier this year at different events, but with COVID-19, everything went virtual, so I launched on Instagram in May, just in time for Mother’s Day, and that’s when things took off. Most of the start-up funds came from my savings. I’ve seen good results, but taking it to the next level is all about connecting and networking. Marketing is another element that I have to look into. Truthfully, I need a mentor, someone that can guide and help me grow this brand.
Is highly pigmented skin safe from sunburn?
It’s a myth that skin with darker pigmentation is less prone to burning. Even Black skin needs a good sunscreen. When I was searching for a dermatologist, it was challenging to find someone who knows what works best for dark skin. I still think it’s important that whoever is treating you or giving you advice brings experience with people with a similar skin tone. You have to be very careful. What works for one may not work for another.
What are some of the opportunities for marketing to Black women?
I think product lines are missing a whole market segment by keeping their price points high and often beyond the reach of many people, prohibiting their access to these high-quality natural products. I try to break that barrier with my products by using really good ingredients while doing my best to keep the price point affordable for people of different socioeconomic backgrounds.
Why is self-care important?
Being pampered helps you as a person. Looking back at the neighbourhood I grew up in, I look at their inability for self-care and how it affects their drive and their confidence, and I realize that self-care is one of the most important things that we need in our life. Even myself, there have been times where I’ve been working so hard trying to just escape my reality, trying to do better. When you work so hard, neglect can easily happen, and so I think that this whole industry is very important for Black women. They need that tender love and care. While there are some who are affluent, far too many are working hard, but just not able to afford spa treatments. Besides getting access to service specific to their skin type, just being in a spa for a Black woman, like for all women, is wonderful.