Black Girl Long Hair is a natural hair turned beauty and culture website created by and for Black women. Started in April 2008 by Leila Noelliste, the community has grown into a platform for celebrating the unique beauty and culture of black women. A veteran beauty blogger and mother, Leila discovered the amazing health and beauty properties of shea, mango and cocoa butters, and decided to launch an ‘ice cream shop for the body.’ Her whipped butters come in dozens of fragrances, including grapefruit, vanilla, ginger and my favorite scent, lavender. I recently sat down with Leila to discuss her life as a Black woman maker.
1. Leila! Even though I rock a buzz cut, I’ve been a fan of Black Girl Long Hair for years. It’s so much more than hair – it’s a community. So of course I was excited when you launched the BGLH Marketplace. Please share more about when and how your love for creating a natural care line began.
It was really on accident. Over the course of my beauty blogging career I noticed two things: 1. raw shea, cocoa and mango butter are miracle ingredients with incredible properties for hair, face and skin and b. my readers lacked consistent access to these ingredients. So I located a quality raw shea butter supplier, and started selling it off my website, mainly to help my readers out. I was planning to also sell products from both major and indie natural hair care companies, but that didn’t work out. After a few months the raw shea butter was the only listing on the shop site and looked so lonely sitting there that I decided to start whipping it to create more options. This sent me down a rabbit hole. I did months worth of research on how to whip shea butter and made dozens of batches that were too greasy or too hard or not scented enough. A few months in, I got a good process down and noticed customers saying that my whipped butters were the best they ever tried. My sales shot up and that’s when I knew I was on to something. But honestly, even with that success I didn’t understand *why* people loved my stuff so much. As I’ve educated myself more on the American skincare industry I realize that many skin care products are not as impactful as they could and should be, because they contain so much filler as means to cut costs. My butters contain 4 main ingredients that are all food-grade — shea, cocoa and/or mango butter, coconut oil, almond oil, and essential oil for fragrance. That’s it! Every ingredient plays a part and has a powerful impact on hair, face and skin. We have so many customers who say our butters have relieved their eczema or psoriasis, or that they can apply it once and the moisture lasts for a day and a half. And the bonus is that it’s a full body product! We also have customers who use it to lock moisture into their hair after washes, and soften their hair before styling. Shea, cocoa and mango butter are just really incredible! I’m like a butter evangelist, lol!
2. A Butter Evangelist – I love it! And I love the ‘ice cream shop’ concept of the BGLH Marketplace. It’s so unique! There’s nothing like connecting with your favorite scents. Where does your inspiration come from?
Scent has always really moved me. I love burning sage and incense, I love scented candles. I could spend hours in the Whole Foods fragranced soap aisle. So being able to create a line of naturally fragranced products is like a dream come true. I get inspiration from every day life. I love chocolate in coffee — so when I found out that coffee essential oil is a thing, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m definitely using that!’ and that’s how our Mocha Latte Blended Butter was born. Customers and friends will make suggestions too, and I’ll take that and put my own spin on it. For example, a friend of mine really wanted a sandalwood butter. I got some sandalwood essential oil and started experimenting. I loved how the woodiness of the sandalwood mixed with the citrus of bergamot, and our Sandalwood & Bergamot Blended Butter was born and now it’s a top seller. I really just have fun with it. It always amazes me how incredible nature smells.
3. You recently expanded your online shop to include a brick and mortar location. (358 Kosciuszko St, Brooklyn NY) Congratulations! Certainly not an easy feat for creatives. Please tell us more about the BGLH Marketplace Storefront. And how does it feel walking into YOUR store?
It was really out of necessity! I moved to Brooklyn from Chicago in 2016. Back in Chicago I lived in a house and that’s where BGLH Marketplace started. It eventually outgrew my kitchen so I moved it to an empty apartment in a multi-unit building I owned. When I moved from Chicago to Brooklyn in 2016 the shop was back in my home — operating out of a spare bedroom in our not-very-big Fort Greene apartment. I have 3 kids so obviously things got crazy cramped. When my lease was up, I knew that I had to give BGLH Marketplace a true home of its own — a place to thrive and grow and where I could expand production. I started looking for spaces and was pleasantly surprised to find that, despite gentrification, there are still many retail spaces throughout Crown Heights, Flatbush and Bed Stuy that are very affordable. I found a cute spot in Bed Stuy with floor to ceiling windows on the corner of Marcus Garvey and Kosciuszko and fell in love. Walking into my store is both a visual and olfactory delight. We whip the butters right in the window, so the smells of whatever essential oil we’re using that day — lavender, ginger, coffee, vanilla — fill the shop. Whipped cocoa days are the best because the chocolate smell of the cocoa butter is really strong and delicious. My assistant, Raechelle, always says she wants to go for ice cream or cake after doing a whipped cocoa bowl, lol! Visually, I’ve had this lifelong obsession with rainbow colors, so I organized our shelves so the labels make a rainbow. My storefront is my home away from home, so I try to keep the vibe as comfortable and beautiful as possible.
4. I have found the creative mind often needs a bit of minimalism to thrive. How does it help your creative process?
Yes! This is something I am really learning. I have a lot on my plate. I run BGLH Marketplace, as well as BlackGirlLongHair.com. Plus I am mom to 3 kids, including an infant. My days are so heavy and require so much of me creatively that I need down time to think and just be. I usually don’t go into the shop until around 11 am although we open at 9 am. I use those two hours to really decompress. I am also not a fan of things. I regularly purge my apartment because I don’t want to spend excess time or energy managing things unless I need them. I also teach my kids to clean up after themselves and not be wasteful. And lately I’ve begun to understand the value of simple pleasures. I think when you move to NYC there’s this pressure that if you’re not at a club or a lounge every night then you’re not really maximizing the experience. But I love walking in Fort Greene park. I love sitting in the steam room at the Bed Stuy YMCA. I love taking ballet and soca classes at Mark Morris dance studio. I love biking through Brooklyn. These things are simple and equally valid ways of engaging my senses and enjoying life.
Thank you so much, Leila!
Click here to visit the BGHL Marketplace and enjoy Leila’s whipped butters which are made and packaged by hand and with love!