Giving Life with LaVie by Lateefah

LaVie by Lateefah started as a way focus on well-being during the pandemic in 2020. Founder Lateefah first started making bath balms and expanded to make a full line of natural products. Check out our interview below to learn more.

How did LaVie by Lateefah come to be?

It's a result of the pandemic, to be honest. My full time job, my daytime job, was quite intense. And it became even more intense working from home. I just wanted to do something that was all about me and my wellbeing. Also, my daughter was having trouble sleeping because she was completely out of her routine. So I actually started off making bath bombs and then bath salts and started with a baby version of my anti-anxiety balm to help my daughter fall asleep. I used shea butter and coconut oil, and then added chamomile and lavender. She [my daughter] really liked it, she really took to it. And it started helping her to fall asleep.

I thought, you know what, I work in quite a stressful industry and so do my colleagues. So I started making a stronger version for adults and shared it amongst my colleagues. They love the smell and it helped with bedtimes and anxiety. I was doing it for fun at that point, not really thinking that I would ever turn it into a business. One of my friends said why don't you just do this? If you're ever going to start your own business now is the time because you're at home.

I started making the products and then realised how much it actually takes to run your own business, the ins and outs, the legal stuff. Along with finding the raw materials, the costing and pricing. I was like oh my gosh, this is a lot. I just wanted to make bath bombs! I also learned how to use Photoshop and editing software. I really do enjoy it. I love essential oils and finding natural alternatives.

When did you start creating your own natural products?

I started probably around late 2019. I started mixing my own butters but just for my hair and my daughter's hair. I became a lot more conscious in terms of the products that I was using after I had my daughter. With her, I have always just used shea butter. I noticed that her hair was changing, she needed a bit more than the shea butter. So I started looking at mixes and I saw people do the whole whipped shea butter stuff. That was probably where it started in terms of me being intrigued with natural stuff, as opposed to just going in and finding stuff in the shop. It wasn't until I tried my hand and I realized, oh, that's actually quite rewarding.

Even with the bath salts, I've always been a shower person. I've never really been into baths unless I could go away on a holiday vacation. I just wanted to do something that I thought would help de-stress me at that time. I think I was probably on Google just looking at recipes and the bath bombs came up.

Inspiration behind the name?

My younger brother was helping me before I actually started LaVie. He helped with deliveries to my friends, family and people from work. He was delivering the stuff in his car! One day he said, “If you're gonna do this properly, we need to think of a proper name.”

Our parents are St. Lucian and Dominican so we speak French Creole. We were trying to figure out a name for the business and wanted to think of something in Creole. We thought what do we do we want the business to do? The answer was to revive but we didn't want to use the word ‘reviv’. Then we thought to give life? And we said oh life in Creole is la vie! When I realised that there's other businesses that are called la vie, I added by Lateefah. That's how the name came about!

Walk us through your creative process! How do you create your sleep balms?

I use organic shea butter and it's sourced from Ghana. It’s pure, there's no chemicals, it hasn’t gone through any processes. That’s one of my things: all the ingredients I use, I don't want them to be processed in any way. I use coconut oil primarily from St. Lucia. It's cold pressed literally near the beach, and it gets shipped over here. And if in the worst case scenario if I run out or a shipment is delayed, then I will use organic extra virgin coconut oil from here. But it's my selling point that everything is sourced at the point.

I've got two balms, there's the vegan and the non vegan option. If people request non-vegan, I will use beeswax as the holding agent. For the vegan ones, I will use soy. I'm currently exploring some different waxes like Calendula wax and there's another one from Brazil that is a lot pricier. I have to look at what the market is saying and whether people will be willing to pay more.

I use a double boiler method to get the shea butter in the coconut oil beeswax, melt them all together and then let it cool for a little while like a minute or so. Then I start adding in the essential oils, using a mix of lavender, chamomile, bergamot and eucalyptus. Once that's all done it's all scooped into the tins and I fast freeze, so put them directly into the deep freezer for a little while. I take them out and once it's hardened. Then I add the labels on the tins and finish.

How long does it take?

Less than an hour, it's quite quick! Once the oils are melted together then I do the fast freeze. The fast freeze takes about 15-20 minutes for it to harden. Whilst it's freezing, I'm usually doing the labeling. I've got to multitask - I have to do things around this little one.

How do you source ingredients for the balms?

My family, both sides. My husband's family are Ghanaian so my mother in law is back and forth between here and Ghana. We do bulk buys and then freeze the shea butter when it's here because it's so much. There's also a company here that does it so if I ever ran out, I would use a company called Nurifi. They make tubs of raw shea butter. It's still Ghanaian shea butter but they package it here.

The coconut oil is the same thing. I grew up in St. Lucia so that's my connect. My parents are still over there. The good thing is with the balms, you're not using tons and tons of coconut oil. It lasts quite a bit. My mom was trying to teach me how to do it myself by buying the coconuts and making the oil. That sounds like a summer lesson to me when I'm at home. It's a handy trick to know!

With the essential oils, I use this company called Naissance. They're UK based. Their essential oil is a little bit pricier than other companies, but everything is raw, organic, cold pressed with no heat applied. You're getting your money's worth. When I first started, I ordered the Neroli oil which has quite a distinct smell. It’s that very musky aftershave smell. When I ordered from a different company, I realised that if you don't read the fine print on essential oils, sometimes they mix with a base oil. The cheaper oils are more than likely mixed with jojoba or almond oil.

What is your favourite product to make? Why?

My best is actually the balms, to be honest. After you've mastered the oil blend, which is my favorite part of the process, it's like you're enjoying the process while you're doing it. Whilst you're stirring it [the oils] in, you're de-stressing. When you pour the mixture into the little tin obviously you have to be careful because it could spill. But once you've put it into the freezer and then it does that fast freeze, it goes in yellow and it comes out white. It's all smooth on top and it looks like something you'd buy in the shop. And I quite like that. The first time I did it, I remember thinking oh my gosh, I did this!

Greatest accomplishments and challenges as a business so far?

Christmas [2020] was a big accomplishment. I didn't expect it. I wasn't ready. It was like a mad rush. It was a frenzy because obviously we were in lockdown and people wanted to send gifts to their families. I kind of prepared myself physically for orders. But mentally wow. I was still working my full time job, then coming home trying to get my daughter to sleep or giving her to her dad and at the same time trying to prep boxes and orders. It was a lot. It was good, but I can't lie, when it was over I was very happy to just pause and breathe! I don't think I could have done this one more week, with a full time job, which is really hard. Also to have all the customers happy with their purchases, especially the personalised boxes. On the boxes, they could have their name and glitter. That was a big hit.

Challenge wise, obviously those are all challenges. But I think it’s also about not giving up. It is hard doing it [a business] and having a full time job. But it's just remembering why I got started and to continue to enjoy it. Yeah, it is always challenging but I'm still going. I didn't think I would be here one year later, to be honest. But here I am!

What does it mean to you to be Black owned business?

I absolutely love everything it stands for, what it represents, being a Black owned business in Britain. When I started, the Black Lives Matter movement was just starting and there was immense support from the Black community but also other communities were made aware of the plight of Black businesses or Black people in general living in the UK. When Wakuda told me they were launching, I was already on Etsy. To upload onto another platform seemed long. But I thought Etsy is Etsy. They've made it, they're doing their thing. It's oversaturated and there's so many sellers. At the end of the day as a Black business, I can't stand aside and see Black people in my community, trying to start up their own thing and not support. I joined the platform quite early, like within the first week of its launch. I just felt privileged because on International Women's Day, I was in one of their blogs as their favorite black female entrepreneur.

Sometimes people make statements like it's not all about race, I just want to be an entrepreneur. But to understand what the Black community has gone through and to be in a place where as a Black entrepreneur I feel recognised and appreciated by my own people, it means more to me, than the general appreciation. This is a movement. I feel privileged to be part of it.

At the end of the day we're different. And when I say that, I mean, the things that I will use on my head, my white counterpart couldn't use on their head. I feel like we spend a lot of time pushing mainstream ideas, mainstream products. But we should be working a lot harder to support our own, to embrace our own. We use shea butter and coconut oil, this is what our skin needs! It would be so sad for us to lose our traditions and our natural way of doing things because we've moved locations. I think that if we lose it now, if we don't push our Black businesses now, the next generation is not going to stand a chance. We’re giving them something to be proud of, something to aspire to and it is so vital. It’s something that definitely needs to be at the top on our agenda of priorities as business owners.

Any advice for Black creatives or entrepreneurs?

It sounds simple, but just do it. Literally just do it. I think sometimes when something has been laid on your heart or you're passionate about something, we can spend a lot of time not giving ourselves 100 reasons why we shouldn't or a million reasons why things would go wrong. Yeah, it could go wrong. It could also go really well. You'll never know until you try it. And what's the worst that happens? You fail. That's the quickest way to success.

Life is too short, I think that's my theme tune coming out of COVID. Life is too short to be wondering what if, so just try. When I started, making the product was the easy part because I could figure that out. It was the HMRC, registering VAT that was difficult. As I took that first step to make this decision, I didn't even realise the people around me were so resourceful. Everything was at my feet, in terms of just expertise and knowledge. If you step out, things will just fall into place.

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