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The search for a solution to her struggle with acne led Oyéta Kokoroko down the path of natural skin care.
“I was using a lot of conventional products. And I was just curious to better understand what ingredients worked for specific problems,” Kokoroko says. “I did a lot of research. And eventually my curiosity was piqued and I became interested to know how cosmetics are made.”
Kokoroko started taking classes at a local store near her then-home in Montreal that sold natural ingredients for personal products such as soaps and lotions.
Her initial curiosity transitioned into a full-on passion for making skin-care products of her own, so Kokoroko decided to further her training, seeking out professional formulation training as a cosmetic chemist in order to learn how to formulate “high-performance skin care.”
Armed with the know-how to properly create skin care, Kokoroko started creating a line of products in her kitchen at home.
“I just started sharing my creations with friends and family around me,” she recalls. “And people were just loving it.”
That encouragement prompted Kokoroko to start her own business, OKOKO Cosmétiques, in 2016.
Positioned as a “results-driven” skin care brand, the company uses natural ingredients such as Vitamin C, cinnamon liposomes and shea butter alongside dermatologist-recommended ingredients such as glycolic acid and bakuchiol, a natural retinol alternative, to target specific skin concerns, according to Kokoroko.
“I noticed there was not much innovation when it comes to natural skin care,” Kokoroko recalls of when she started the line. “And, being someone who was really passionate about R&D and learning about all the ingredients, I wanted to create and share cosmetics that would stand out.”
The start of Kokoroko’s business coincided with a move across the country from Montreal to Vancouver, following a visit to the city that found her falling in love with its connection to nature.
“I had this ‘wow’ effect when I came here on vacation,” Kokoroko says with a laugh. “I love being outdoors. So, for me, it was a lifestyle that I was seeking.”
The connection to nature that the city and its surroundings provide has also influenced Kokoroko’s product formulations and ingredients. OKOKO Cosmétiques uses glacial marine clay sourced in Nanaimo for one of its face masks.
Since the start of the brand, which Kokoroko called a “one-woman show” that saw the local entrepreneur doing everything from product formulation to packaging shipments, the business has grown to include a small team and a comprehensive product range targeting concerns ranging from acne to pollution protection.
In 2021, Kokoroko celebrated the opening of her first bricks-and-mortar shop, located in Gastown at 162 Powell St. OKOKO Cosmétiques are also sold globally through a distributor in Asia, along with retail partners such as Goop, Indigo and Allure Shop.
Kokoroko credits her early efforts partnering with influencers and connecting with media as two powerful forces that helped to build her company beyond just a word-of-mouth brand. The strength of customer recommendations was another key element to its growth.
“Customers just loving the products — buying our products and recommending them,” Kokoroko says. “That’s what has allowed us to grow as a small business.”
The learning curve of bringing her own beauty business from kitchen-table idea to growing company was steep. But the experience has inspired Kokoroko to want to help others who are interested in following a similar path.
“Other entrepreneurs were contacting me saying, ‘Oh, I’ve read about your brand here or there or from this person or from this press. Would you have a few minutes? I would love to ask you a few questions as I want to start a business as well,’ ” Kokoroko recalls.
The increasing interest prompted Kokoroko to start a mentorship offering of her own in order to help other entrepreneurs get their start in business.
“In a way, we’re paving the way by doing what we do,” Kokoroko says. “I have a lot of women-of-colour looking up to me, finding inspiration and instruction in this story. It just gives them the motivation and inspiration to launch businesses.”
Providing inspiration and insight for female entrepreneurs — especially women-of-colour — Kokoroko says, has given her business story an even greater “sense of purpose.”
“It’s very rewarding,” Kokoroko says of the impact. “I think it’s one of the best parts of my work. It’s paving the way for others and opening doors that has become a driving force for me.”
Her greatest piece of advice for prospective business owners is to find their purpose.
“I think you need to find the reason that you want to do this,” Kokoroko says. “And it shouldn’t be the money. It should be bigger and deeper than that. It has to be a reason that resonates with you, deeply.”
The idea of being a role model for others is a one Kokoroko doesn’t take lightly, as she recalls not having had that in the early days of OKOKO Cosmétiques.
“I thought to myself, ‘I don’t see anyone like me doing this. So, can I succeed?’ I didn’t know other businesses owned by a woman-of-colour that were really being successful,” Kokoroko says. “That’s why I was not sure I could do it. I didn’t have those role models to look up to. Or at least I didn’t know them then.”
When asked what the woman just starting out in 2012 would think of what the brand has become today — from a home kitchen hobby to an internationally sold beauty business — Kokoroko summarized the sentiment in one word: “Unbelievable.”
“I’ve done things that I would have never believed I could do,” she says.
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