What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Yoki K Hanley and I am from St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands. St. Croix is the largest of the four islands in the Caribbean. It is a beautiful little island so full of rich culture, wonderful food, plants and the inspiration for my skin care line.
Can you tell us a little about your company (name, what you offer, when established, etc)?
The company name is itiba, LLC. I got the name form the Taino Goddess, itiba cahubaba. In the Taino belief system, Itiba is called Mother Earth. It is from her that all life sprang from. I chose the Sankofa symbol to represent the fact that the products are natural and that we have gone back in time to what we used to know in natural, holistic living. So we have gone back to the Earth, to bring forth to the present to make these natural, holistic body care products.
Itiba utilizes the natural Caribbean flora for inspiration. All of itiba’s products are handmade on St. Croix in the United States Virgin Islands. The products are:
Body soap – this made using the cold process method. These soaps are made from coconut and palm oils, shea and mango butters and/or sunflower, olive and grapeseed oils. Depending on the type of soap, there are different additives used. Carib Lime is made with parsley powder and spearmint leaves as well as green clay. MidNite Rain is made with activated charcoal to give it a black color. Crucian Spice is made with Turmeric powder and a small amount of powdered myrrh. Sea Lavender contains lavender powder and alkanet root powder. Island Rose contains frankincense powder, beetroot powder and just a small amount of annatto seed powder. Papaya, the sweetest and succulent of them all contains no colorants or additives.
Lotion – these all contain aloe vera juice as the liquid of choice as opposed to water. When I first started this company, I harvested the aloe vera locally and prepared it for use in the body care products. Aloe is a very funny plant and in order to retain its high potency and nutrients, it needs to be used within 24 hours of being harvested.
Body Butters – these butters do not contain any liquid. They are made with 100% pure unrefined shea butter, mango butter and jojoba oil plus vitamin E and of course fragrance. A simple, decadently rich product that is super for overnight moisturizing or dealing with the heels, knees and elbows.
Body Spray – This is available in the Carib Lime scent only. Like the lotion, this product is made with 100% aloe vera also. It adds to the richness of the product and adds a nice feel to the product. This particular product is very popular because it (the Carib Lime 100% essential oil blend) has been formulated to act as a natural insect deterrent.
Body Polish – this truly is a creamy, exfoliating product. Think of your typical body scrub, but without the thick layer of oil sitting on top. This polish is corn meal based with salt for added exfoliation. With it containing more corn meal than salt, you are ensured of getting an even and longer exfoliation than with salt alone. And you feel the difference in your skin than using a plain salt or even sugar scrub. The best thing about this product is that it can be used inside or outside of the shower. It has great rinse-ability and it leaves your skin glowing when you are finished.
What was your inspiration behind starting the brand and for each design?
Sankofa in English means, “go back and take” (Sanko means go back, fa means take). The Asante (Ashanti) of Ghana utilize the Adinkra symbol to represent the idea of go back and fetch it. One of the symbols of Sankofa bears a strong resemblance to the eastern symbol of a heart. The more common symbolic representation of Sankofa is of a bird with its head turned backwards and taking an egg off its back. In Ghana, they use Adinkra symbols to express proverbs or other philosophical ideas. Sankofa symbolizes the Akan’s thirst for knowledge knowing that the quest is based on critical examination along with patient and intelligent investigation. The Akan believe that there must be forward movement with the times, but as we move forward the gems must be picked from behind and carried forward with the march.
For me, the principle of Sankofa is an important one. Whether it is with my business or in my personal life, it is so important to have those moments of reflection and introspection. You need that quite time to determine where you have been, what you have learned and what you will do in the future. I use this principle almost daily in my business life. Especially when it comes to new product development. If I have a recipe or formula that I had liked but it did not work, then I take the time to study it, see if I can figure out where I went wrong and take from it what worked and use that to make it even better for a future product.
We all get “stuck” in life and by using the principle of Sankofa, it can greatly help us to look at where we have been making the mistakes and correct it. But this is something that we each need to be sure we are able to do. Sometime with reflection and introspection we see things in ourselves that we do not like. We have to be able to take a good hard look at that and admit to our mistakes, love ourselves despite it and take only the gems of wisdom forward to help make each other and us a better person.
What distinguishes Itiba from other brands?
First of all itiba is 100% Caribbean made! All the products are created and developed by myself on the island of St. Croix (my home since birth). The products are cruelty free, meaning that none of the ingredients used in the making of the products have been tested on animals. That is very important to me. This is a labor of love. So if my own children cannot use any of the products, then they won’t be made or sold. Simple.
Secondly, I grew up where we went to the bush for a lot of our healing. In this day and age and with my own children and grandchildren, I still do the same thing to this day! That is very important to me, to live synergistically as much as possible with nature and what it can provide to use for healing and sustenance. I started making my products as a way to address simple skin issues, first with my own children, and then with others. Almost ALL of my inspiration in fragrances and product comes from living on this beautiful island.
What challenges have you faced with starting the line?
Managing itiba, LLC from America’s Paradise in the Caribbean comes with its own sets of rewards and challenges. First of all, I am surrounded by inspiration and the wonderful scents and flora of the luscious, green Caribbean island of St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. There are so many different scents and colors that can just help to inspire and create the next fragrance for itiba or the next product. I have access to a lot of wonderful medicinal plants here that come with years of use and history. I can experiment with these plants and get to see just how they would work in different applications. Right now I am working on incorporating the turmeric into other products other than just the Crucian Spice soap. But despite all the inspiration and access to natural healing plants, there are certain challenges. First of all it is a small island within the Caribbean. Everything has to
be flown in and sometimes that can get very expensive and tricky. It is not that easy to substitute something here if you run out, you can’t run down to your local WalMart’s or Costco and pick up your palm oil or something similar to that. So planning and making sure that you have what you need “just in case” comes in to play a lot. Being sea locked it can be very difficult getting the word out about your product. Not being able to know fully about other markets, it can sometimes hamper you when you are trying to make a name for yourself. I find I have to work harder in every aspect to make myself known, to validate my company and my products.
What personal goals would you like to accomplish with your business?
I met one of my goals when I traveled to Paris, France in 2012 to participate in one of Europe’s most prestigious competition, European Beauty Innovative Awards. It was a major step outside of my comfort zone and I was so very scared. But it was a GREAT opportunity for me to see how skin care companies are in Europe and I learned a LOT! My company did not place, but I will not regret that decision. It was a true eye-opening experience. I would love for one day I can return there, with the knowledge that I gained and walk away with one of the top prizes.
I would also love to see that my products are offered and available to anyone looking for quality, Caribbean made skin care throughout the US and Europe.
Do you have any advice that you would offer to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Never give up! Always push yourself. Step outside of your comfort zone once in a while. NEVER GIVE UP! Find a mentor. Be kind to yourself. And always make sure you take care of your credit. That is so very important. When you first start it will require money. There is no getting around that. And if you do not have deep pockets, then your next bet is to create credit.
And finally, how do we get our hands on Itiba: