Oré Mi is a brand we are fond of due to the amazing scents which marry well with each other and the story behind each and every scent. We first got in touch with this brand as we wanted to support more local female founders so we had produced limited edition Licorice enriched candles with Oré Mi for our Licorice month. In celebration of International Women's Month, we sat down with Karen Olla, the founder of Oré Mi, to find out more about the brand and how it came to be.
A.R.: Hello Karen, Skin Library can officially say we are friends of Oré Mi! We loved collaborating with you and wanted to highlight you and your business as a part of international women’s month. Please tell us about yourself and your business?
K.O.: My name is Karen Olla, I am the owner and founder of Oré Mi. I started the company in 2019 as I was looking for a way to relieve stress outside of work. At that time I worked in the beauty industry, It was really rewarding, but it was very stressful so I felt like I always needed something on the weekends to alleviate that stress.
I have always really loved candles and wanted to learn more about them as I recognised that they had positive effects on my mental health. I also felt that no brands on the high street were talking honestly and openly about mental health, and also struggled to connect with high street brands being a black British African woman. So, I thought if it didn’t exist I might as well do it yourself.
This was when I started doing my research and experimenting with loads of different fragrances and prototyping candles. In 2019 I decided to start an Instagram and sell to friends and family. Then in 2020, I was furloughed which gave me the time to think about what I wanted to say to the world with Oré Mi. After nailing down a plan it was full steam ahead setting up the business online and the rest is history.
“After nailing down a plan it was full steam ahead setting up the business online and the rest is history”
A.R.: What does Oré Mi mean? And why that name?
K.O.: I think I came up with the name on the train in to work. I always wanted anything I produce to be routed in my heritage which is why I chose a Yoruba word. Oré Mi means “my friend” in Yoruba and for me candles have always been like a friend. I know it sounds a bit weird but when you have a stressful day, cleaning up your space and lighting that candle - It’s just like offloading and venting to a friend. Also, I thought about what this word encompasses and wanted to ensure every single thing we produce should be like a best friend to you. Whether it’s your mini candle you take on holiday or your lip balm you chuck in your bag or the body butter that makes you feel amazing and comforts you.
“Oré Mi means “my friend” in Yoruba and for me candles have always been like a friend”
A.R.: Do you have a scent from your childhood that evokes good memories? Maybe your mothers cooking or the smell of cut grass on a summers day?
K.O.: Definitely two, the first is white musk because my mum always used to buy that fragrance and spray it a lot. Something I’m looking to use in our future products.
The other one which we actually have as a candle is cocoa butter and amber. Cocoa butter was such a staple in my life when I was growing up. It just reminds me of such good times, being so carefree with my cousins. My mum [pictured, on the right] giving us all a rub down in cocoa butter and it was just that smell - a smell of pure joy, no worries, just pure adolescents, and fun.
A.R.: When did you start using candles and incense personally? What do they mean to you?
K.O.: I would say I started getting into buying them at university. It was a stressful time in my life and so I really got into lighting candles and meditating with them just to remind myself that everything is going to be fine. Candles were just so therapeutic, and I really feel that during that time as I was living with my parents, my room was not exceptionally decorated so candles were a way to personalize my room and make it a space to be zen, think, and be creative. This goes deeper with what I am trying to achieve with Oré Mi. I definitely made this brand with black people in mind – I wanted to give the black community something that went beyond just a functional product. Something that was aesthetically pleasing and aspirational but also had scent stories and narratives that are familiar and relatable. Products that can transform your space and positively influence your mindset.
A.R.: What role has wellness played in your life growing up?
K.O.: Candles definitely played a part in my wellness growing up. It felt amazing being able to change my environment just by putting on a fragrance, you could feel like you were somewhere tropical or escaping the situation you’re currently in when holidays weren’t an everyday occurrence. My mum is definitely a fragrance addict, she has this ritual of going to the airport buying and spraying herself with everything that she loves before getting on a flight. She had a big impact on me, and this is why she features so heavily in our storytelling.
A.R.: What did you think was missing from the industry that you wanted to add to it with Oré Mi studios?
K.O.: Gosh, that is a good question, I really feel like there needs to be space for marginalised people to tell their stories. Currently the industry is very euro-centric and feature unrelatable stories for some communities. There should be space for everyone to say, ‘this is my life story, and these are the fragrances that encompasses that’. Especially from a black perspective I really feel like we have so much to say and show. I would love for Oré Mi one day to include African superfoods in its skin care products, there’s just so many ingredients there that we have not been able to use.
A.R.: The scents are really unique and marry well. The choices feel very familiar to the fragrances of back home in Nigeria, was this purposeful?
“With everything that we’re doing it always has been built off a memory of mine because I just think that it is so important to get your story out there since people are going to resonate with your story. “
K.O.: With everything that we’re doing it always has been built off a memory of mine because I just think that it is so important to get your story out there since people are going to resonate with your story.
I have always been obsessed with TomTom’s (a soothing menthol known as the number one Nigerian candy), I don’t think any Nigerian is not. Especially being a Nigerian person that has grown up in England most of their life I was really addicted to sweets - every time my mum would come back from Nigeria and bring me back a huge bag. For me I really wanted to create a fragrance that would remind people of that ‘woosah’ (a state of clarity and calmness) feeling because it is kind of nasally, refreshing but sweet at the same time scent when you bite into a TomTom. To do this, I’ve been working on a new fragrance called Eucalyptus and Neroli that still has the sweetness from Neroli but then has the freshness of Eucalyptus.
Another scent is honey and tobacco. I have this distinct memory of my dad coming back from Nigeria with a bottle of really dark, pure honey and as children you would always be so intrigued as it was not something that we would buy from the shop. I remember being so intrigued because I actually couldn’t get it out of the bottle because it was THAT thick so I just remember spending loads of time trying to get this thing out of the bottle really wanting to taste it and so I really wanted to create a fragrance centred around that memory. I finally did get it out of the bottle, and it tasted incredible.
Then we have grapefruit and sugarcane, I will never forget being in Nigeria when I was actually in year 6 I think, I was given raw sugar cane just to chew and suck on as a kid when you’re given anything sweet it is amazing. The grapefruit is quite citrusy but then you have the sweetness of the sugar cane when you burn it over the time.
We have vanilla and sandalwood which reminds me of when we went to Nigeria for my uncle’s wedding and he was getting married in Ibadan and we were staying at my parents house and they were cooking outside.. seeing them cooking the chin chin and puff puff and all the pastries outside from my uncles wedding it was just really mesmerising to see and also the smell the sweetness of the chin chin, the vanilla in it and the smell of the sandalwood from the burning fire it definitely inspired me to make vanilla and sandalwood.
Lastly, mandarin and spice which was just a fragrance I really wanted to make because when I was younger I was obsessed with orange juice and loved the smell. There’s also this distinct memory that makes me smile when I think about it. My mum used to have this party trick - she would carve the orange in hexagons and we would be like ‘woahhh’ as kids and you would get excited when giving your mum the orange to cut it up for you. For some reason, I don’t know why, it made me feel so special. And then adding saffron and different spices to it just added warmth and made it a bit Christmas-y so it all went well together.
A.R.: What was your journey like becoming the founder of Oré Mi? Did you face any unique challenges specifically as a female founder? How did you overcome there?
K.O.: It has felt extremely hard at times when I look back on our journey. Particularly when I think about our packaging as I’ve been trying to inject Yoruba into our branding. A lot of the time brands inject French for example into their packaging as a secondary language, as its seen to be ‘cool’ or associated with luxury. So I’ve been scared of putting Yoruba on the package as I didn’t know how it would be received. However to create change we want, someone is going to have to do it and I want Oré Mi to be the one normalising it.
Also as a female founder we are often shown male businessmen or success stories which force this idea of a profit orientated/aggressive business style onto you. I’d like to think that you can get where you need to go without having to be like this. As I’ve said before, I’m a believer in organic growth and stories over profits.
A.R.: What is the 5 year goal with Oré Mi?
K.O.: Launching more core products is our first goal. I’ve recently joined a formulation course so I would love to learn how to incorporate African superfoods into our products and not just making do with what is currently on the market.
Secondly, I want to get more of our stories out there and have more serious & honest conversations about growing up Black British and struggling with mental health at times. It would be nice to tell more positive black stories and the benefits around fragrances.
I would also absolutely love my own dedicated workspace. Somewhere I can come to make the products, have a tea and also host workshops. Essentially, to be able to have a big enough space to do collaborations with African taste makers and game changers that keep people really interested in the brand.
Lastly, I’d like to find a mental health charity that we can partner with to give back to. A charity that focusses on letting black people know that it’s okay to go to therapy, it’s okay to prioritise your mental health, and acknowledge that you don’t have to be strong all the time.
FIRE ROUND QUESTIONS
A.R.: What is your favourite Oré Mi scent and why?
K.O.: At the moment it is the vanilla and sandalwood. I especially love it in our incense because it is really sweet and chocolatey and it makes me smile.
A.R.: What is the one beauty tip you adopted growing up that you always stick by?
K.O.: I would say just always wash your face before you go to sleep. I feel like it’s really basic but people actually go to sleep with their make up on. My mum never ever does that and her skin is absolutely amazing and always wash your makeup brushes!
A.R.: What is your one go-to beauty product that you keep in your bag when you’re on the go?
K.O.: It is definitely lip balm. I have quite big lips and I’ve really struggled with them in terms of keeping them moisturised and not cracked so it always must be lip balm because if I don’t have lip balm in my bag it’s going to be a deadly day.
A.R.: How do you prioritise your mental health as a founder?
K.O.: I keep a diary so when I’m having down days I can go in there and read about my wins. Sometimes memories can fade or be forgotten so writing them down makes them so vivid. Always capture the moment, even via a picture or video because one thing about us humans is that we forget so fast.
A.R.: What would be the one advice to anyone starting a business?
K.O.: I've had acquaintances who wanted to start a business that have said I’m going to do all the research then launch…however they’ve never taken that starting leap. Sometimes trying to know everything before you start is impossible and often overwhelming. Don’t sit on things for too long, be confident and you will figure things out as your journey develops.
Writer: Zainab Abdulraheem
Interviewer: Abiola Renee
Subject: Karen Olla
Photographer: Amber Rose Smith
Photo credits: @oremistudios and @greatobjectsstore