Nigerian-American, Christian, Skinpreneur, Women Empowerment Advocate, Fashion & Lifestyle Connoisseur
I always wanted to follow a 9-5 career trajectory. That was the norm. You go to college, you get a great job. You stay there, you save money, you start a family. Then the next generation does that all over again. I thought, oh, this is what people do. They get jobs and they make it work. But as of two or three years ago, I began to think of my future – is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life? There’s got to be more.
What do I have to offer the world? I have this natural talent and knack for skincare and fashion. It keeps me up at night. I’ve told myself, this is so vain: skincare, lifestyle, and fashion. Because I always feel like people look down on people who are in the skincare and beauty space and think “Who cares about that when scientists are out there working on curing cancer?”
But curing cancer is not my expertise. So, I really honed in on my different talents: I could start a blog; I could start a skincare business; I could merge those two together. And if that’s the talent I have within me, then I’m doing the world a disservice by not giving that back through my expertise and my passion for skincare.
I think a sign of success is being happy with what I am doing. Does it still keep me up at night? Do I still have new ideas? Does a lightbulb still go off every day? If it’s a yes to those three, then it’s a sign of success.
My parents are Yoruba, one of the largest ethnic groups in the southwestern part of Nigeria. We spoke Yoruba and English growing up because my father wanted us to be bilingual. My parents also thought it was important for us to grow up in Nigeria, so when I was two years old, they decided to take me and my three older sisters back to Lagos, Nigeria from Washington, DC where I was born. That way, we would be a part of the culture and grow up in that environment.
Nigerian people are very family centric. Growing up in a family where I had three other sisters, and my mom as an unofficial sister, I never felt like I had to go outside of my family to make friends. We have a very big family of cousins, aunts, and uncles. I spent a lot of time at my maternal and paternal grandparents’ houses bonding with my cousins, having sleepovers, going to each other’s birthday parties. I remember we always had big Christmas celebrations. It’s all about celebrating and coming together, learning from the elders, and getting great advice about life. I felt like I was born into a big community through my sisters, my dad’s side, and my mom’s side.
My mother was our primary caretaker. Some people are meant to be mothers and she’s one of those people. She took on the role and did a great job with it. When we were growing up, my mom made sure we were in the kitchen when she was cooking. She was passing down recipes. Showing us how to cook. How to look after ourselves when we become adults. How to manage a home. How to balance a checkbook. While she was taking care of us, sometimes she would win contracts with corporations for their Christmas catering or special event. She made sure that she was also tapping into her own source of joy through her cooking and her talents.
My dad was the Director and Head of the Marine Geology Department at the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research. When he retired six years ago, he became the Chairman of the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. In addition to his 9-5 career, he also invested in real estate. So, I come from an entrepreneurial background with my mom having her catering business on the side too.
Since I’m the last born and I have three sisters, I often look to them as my role models. So whatever they were doing is what I got into. Nigerian people are known for their great style; we have a knack for fashion, so when we were younger, we often liked to play dress up. My oldest sister would put together her little boutique where we would pretend to be her clients telling her what we wanted her to design.
After she finished designing each outfit, we would go into my mom’s room and pick out our favorite shoes and accessories, and then take turns walking down the hallway – our imaginary runway.
It took me a while to develop my own ideas and to have my own voice, but I eventually discovered my passion for makeup. As an adult, I enrolled in beauty school at the Aesthetics Institute of Cosmetology to learn the A to Z of the beauty industry and went on to use my skills as a freelance makeup artist. As I started to pay more attention to the long list of ingredients of each product, I became worried about the long-term effects of the toxic ingredients. I began to research the best ingredients to combat different skin concerns, which led me to a healthy obsession with skincare.
My research led me into the world of plant-based ingredients and aromatherapy. I fell in love with the range of essential and carrier oils, the earthy aromas, and therapeutic healing properties of each plant. I started getting creative with different recipes to address different skin concerns, and over a short period of time, my skin health drastically improved. It made me wonder, are there other women out there looking for the same solutions?
I left home when I went to live on campus at the University of Maryland, College Park – I think I was 19 or 20. In high school, I realized how much I loved décor. I got my hands on every magazine that had to do with architecture or design. I had a subscription to Architectural Digest and Dwell. So once I got into the University of Maryland, I said, you know what? I’m going to major in architecture. And boy was I in for a surprise. Oh my gosh, first of all, I needed to take all these math classes – calculus – and all these science classes – physics. Those are not my strong suit. Math and science; I just can’t.
My first semester in the School of Architecture was not successful, to say the least. I remember telling my sisters, I’m not really happy about this degree. I love architecture but it goes beyond the façade of the beauty of décor. So we looked at the list of areas of study. We looked at communications and I thought, that’s broad enough where I would be able to get a job in any organization. It’s something that’s needed in every area of work.
Once I changed over my major I did really well. Living on campus after my first year living at home also allowed me to form deeper relationships. To meet people, to network. Just have more of a social life where I could go to events and not have to worry about running back home. I was a member of the African Student Association, and twice a year they would have a fashion show. I got to make friends and have that college experience. I didn’t go insane. I made sure that I had fun, but I was safe and respectful to myself. I met great people that I’m still friends with now.
After college, I landed a job at the National Institute of Health as a Communications Assistant. I was there for about four years or so. Then I decided I wanted to move to Nigeria. I wanted to have a different experience, to go back as an adult and give back through my profession.
While in Nigeria, I worked for a public relations firm for about two years. I worked with Nestle, and with P&G on Pampers products, so I got to work on major international brands trying to market to a local audience. That expanded my insight into public relations and communications on the larger scale, giving me an international insight into marketing and public relations for global brands.
I stayed in Nigeria for three years. One of the reasons why I moved back was that I was looking for a partner. I thought that if I moved to Nigeria, I would have more options. But that did not go as planned. I was still as single as ever after the third year. I decided that, hey, I gave it a shot. I got a chance to reconnect with family, re-embrace my culture as an adult and offer my expertise in a PR agency. So after the third year I moved back to the States. I had to get settled again, get back in the job market. After a couple of months, I was able to land a role at biotechnology company as a Communications and Social Media Specialist. I did that for about two years. Unfortunately the company restructured, and my role was eliminated. That put me back in the job market for a year or so before I landed my role now at Leidos in June 2020.
I work at Leidos as a Communications and Project Manager for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. During the day I manage a team of ten people of writers and editors, marketing strategists, and creatives. I oversee internal and external communications and marketing plans. I also manage account budgets with a combined total annual budget of $2 million. That’s my day job and it is quite intense.
When I finally got this job, I was able to use the capital from my job to build my business. Without it, there’s no capital coming in. With the job that I have, I was able to launch my business; I now had the capital for the marketing, branding, inventory and so on. It’s been a blessing to be gainfully employed, building my career while building my business.
My business is called Sika House. The first part of the business name originated from my last name: Awosika. I wanted to incorporate my name, my legacy, and the word “Sika” means gold and money in the Ghanaian language. And then House covers everything that I want to sell going forward.
I’ve started out with four natural, plant-based skincare, and aromatherapy products: Jojoba Carrier Oil, Rose Hip Carrier Oil, Eucalyptus Essential Oil, and Lavender Essential Oil. I started with these four because they are my favorite, not to mention the benefits of each oil to your skin, hair, and overall well-being. I believe nature is our best medicine and provides all the resources to heal our mind, body, and spirit. I’m passionate about keeping it simple and natural through non-toxic ingredients in all my skincare products.
I believe we all have time for self-care, and we all need to make time for it. If you don’t, you’re not going to operate at your best. It’s also showing yourself that you appreciate yourself. That you’re worth that moment of self-care. That’s the messaging that I’m trying to promote through my storytelling, graphics, and social media content. That you matter. I matter. We all matter. And we need to take time out to care for ourselves. I always tell people, when you feel good, you look good. When you look good, you feel good. So it goes hand in hand.
I did a lot of research on other skincare companies for women of color, and women in general who are very successful. When they started their company, what they did, their successes and failures and how they learned from them, and what gives each of them their competitive advantage. Then I used that as a model to establish my own business. I spent countless hours doing research – I was up until 4am some nights just Googling away.
Before I launched my business, I took my time. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to dot every “I” and cross every “T.” A lot of entrepreneurs told me that I’m losing out on money. It’s not about perfecting it at the outset, it’s about perfecting it along the journey. Because if I didn’t get started, how would I know what I needed to improve on? This need for perfection: it’s a weakness. I am improving it now by just going with it and making changes as I go along the journey. I like for things to look professional and well put together. If it’s not well put together, then why do it?
I think my education in marketing, communications and PR, and my work background, has really given me an advantage in the aesthetics of my business. I have a MA in Management, with a Specialization in Public Relations from the University of Maryland Global Campus and BA in Communication from the University of Maryland, College Park. When I started my business I thought, this is so easy! Well, it’s easy and I enjoy it because that’s what I studied. I know those different elements from my jobs.
Those skills really allowed me to hone in on my design elements, really give it that look of quality, that look of a brand that’s solid. I’m very detail oriented. I have an eye for making things look good, making things look attractive. Making it spark joy in people. I always think about if you came home after a long day and you saw a package on the table with a ribbon on it, it’s going to spark some joy in you. And that’s what I want to continuously do through my products….to deliver products that not only are effective and work well, but also give you great results and spark joy in your life.
I think at times when you see a person of color who is selling skincare products, people assume that it’s only for people of color. Because if I’m selling it, the assumption is that it’s for people that look like me. But I promote diversity in my marketing showing that it’s for everyone. Sometimes I know that there are skincare products that are more targeted to certain groups because we have different skincare concerns. But my products are for everyone, so I’m constantly having to communicate that.
Right now my business is an e-commerce business. I have a website through Shopify where customers can place orders. I also attend pop-up shops and markets to promote and sell my products. Last year I participated in three or four pop up shops and one holiday market in December. Unfortunately, there really haven’t been a lot of events to promote and sell my brand and products lately due to COVID. If there were more events, then I could sell more of my products.
Before starting out my business, I would’ve said that I define success as visibility and appreciation of my products. The more people that know about my products, the more successful that my business will be going forward. Now that I’m a year into it, it all comes down to making a return on my investment. I know that in the first two to three years businesses don’t break even, which I totally understand, but that’s the first sign of success in business.
In the near future I’m hoping to partner with a couple of brick and mortars to stock my products. I want to improve the visibility and to get more people to become aware of my brand and my products. I have identified a brick and mortar…I’m having a conversation with them, so hopefully they can start to stock my products soon.
I’d also like to expand into home décor in terms of bedding, pillows, and comforters. Little nice accent pieces that people can put around their house. Down the line, I do want to have my own brick and mortar store where there’s a space for the skincare products, home décor products, and spa treatment rooms. I want to start in the States, then down the line, I would love to have a store site in Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria and expand to other parts of the world as well. I’m thinking about world domination.
My number one barrier to growing Sika House is capital. As I said, I am using the funds from my 9-5 to fund the business. And in addition to that, those funds are going to my living expenses – paying for my rent, food, and everything else.
I’m also sacrificing on the social activities that I can participate in. Life is expensive. Being social is very expensive. Choosing, maybe, once a month I can go out to dinner. Or if there’s a great concert I want to go to but having to decide, well, I need to pay my graphic designer. Also the time. Like, if I decide to go to a concert from 10pm-2am, that’s going to affect how I’m going to operate in the morning. And that’s hours I could have been using to enhance my business.
I’m only one person. There’s only so much I can do. So if I had more hands on deck…for example, if I had a social media manager, they could handle that aspect for me so that I could think about growing the business. I could really put on my business hat and be that businesswoman who drives sales forward so that we can grow in our profit. But I’m also doing social media, so I don’t have as much time to think about that. It can be very mentally draining. It can be a lonely journey. It’s just me, Sika House is my baby, and I’m just taking her along the journey to equip her with all she needs to grow up to be a successful brand.
I try to self soothe myself. From a young age I’ve always put myself first, so I think I’m the poster child for well-being and self-care. I try to juice every weekend. I joined Orangetheory to work out twice a week. This year, I really took it upon myself to unfollow media accounts that are not adding value to my life or that may trigger me in some way. I listen to music. Music is a big part of my culture. Even though I’m in America, I can still connect to my culture through music. I dance as well. It’s another great way to relieve stress.
I also try to eat very healthy. I cook a lot of my meals. I don’t eat out often because 1) I want to save money and 2) I want to be in control of my ingredients. I think I’m a good cook – not as great as my mom – but it’s another creative outlet for me. It really helps me to destress and take my mind off things, to be in the moment. I also make sure that my space is very clean. After cleaning and cooking, I feel great. My space is clean, I have food for the week. I’m ready to tackle whatever comes my way. So I have a holistic approach in how I take care of myself.
I have the support of my family – my parents, my sisters, my cousins are very helpful; they bought my products. My friends as well are very supportive. So my family is my tribe. But I’m a year into it now so the immediate support comes from my family. Because friends have done their part. It’s unfair to expect so much of anyone in general. It’s my business. So the responsibility, the weight falls on my shoulders. It can be a very lonely and draining journey. So, number one is having more capital. Number two is building a strong team.
Number three, it’s the network. You can have all the right ideas, you can have all the talent, but you really need to be in front of the right people. You really have to be in those rooms. You have to be a part of those conversations. And I feel like I’m not a part of those conversations. I’m not in those rooms. And I believe that is really limiting my access to growth. I know that I have all these great ideas. I know what I’m capable of, but I haven’t quite tapped into that network that can mentor me and that I could pitch my business to. And maybe also investors who could fund my business. I don’t have access to that network yet.
I think what I lack is that business acumen in terms of the finances. Math and science are not my strong suits. When it comes to Excel and the bookkeeping, I don’t enjoy those aspects of my business. But I’m working on it because at my day job, I manage a budget of $2 million. So, I must be well-versed in Excel and use different formulas and functions. That’s something I’m aware of and working on improving on as I go along.
There are a lot of businesses that are successful, but they’re lacking in their aesthetics. However, they’re still more successful than I am. So those are the areas where there’s a gap, and I need to close this gap. I don’t know how, but I’m working on it.
I get stuck a lot. I always think about what else could I be doing differently? I’m honestly at this place where I don’t know what else to do. I feel like, ok well I have the marketing and PR know-how. I’ve done what I need to do. I’m marketing it on social media. I’m going to these pop-up shops. I’m reaching out to stores to carry my products. I’m applying for loans and grants. And I feel like once I get stuck, I get stuck because I don’t know what else to do. But eventually I get back in the grind and keep the momentum going.
Nigeria is a country full of people that all look alike, in terms of skin color…we’re all black. African. So, when you come from that kind of environment where you’re not the minority, it gives you a sense of self-worth.
So coming to America, ok, now I’m in the minority. I had never experienced racism prior to coming to America because I lived in a place where everyone identified as African. A lot of Africans are usually in for a culture shock when they come to America. They’re like, oh, I didn’t even know that I was a minority. I didn’t even know that I’m a black person. People question you, how are you not aware of these cultural nuances?
So I had to readjust to that. Had to see where I fit in. Uphold my sense of self, my sense of respect when people make assumptions of me based on my race. I am worthy. I have respect for myself. I love to prove people wrong through my accomplishments and to continue to excel in everything that I put my hands to.
I aim to be a very genuine and transparent person. I’m just real. I like to be myself and I think people can see that. They can tell I’m being honest. They can tell I’m being genuine.
So, I think my advantage in this field is my approach to storytelling: about how I came into this business; about why I am passionate about it; and why that is going to positively impact my customers’ lives in the area of skincare and self-care.
I’m also really self-sufficient. I’ve really been through a lot, and I’ve always been able to just keep it moving. I may not always be in the best mood or been happy about how things transpired, but I’ve always been able to keep going. I look after myself. I make sure that I’m fine.
So, when I reflect about Sika House – even though I think that I’m making super slow progress – I think to myself, wow, you did that Elizabeth! You’ve really been doing exactly what you said you would do. I often have a moment of appreciation for my passion and my will to keep going and persevere. I feel like I’m this powerhouse of a lady that’s trying to take on the world. I am proud of myself.