Managing Your Business
Ayoka Apothecary Owner Sola Onitiri Talks Self Care & Black Business
Ayoka Apothecary is a Philadelphia-based, Black-owned brand for self-care practice and goods. Through a mix of online sales and in-person events, business owner Sola Onitiri runs the show and brings a little bit of self-care and joy into the lives of her happy customers.
Sola talks with Swyft Filings about Ayoka Apothecary, Black-owned businesses, and starting a business you believe in.
Tell us about your business. How did it start? What’s your mission?
Ayoka Apothecary is a Philly-based brand that pairs artisan products like loose tea, cocktail syrups, body care, and home decor with mindfulness practices to give people the opportunity to bring a little bit of joy and self-care into their daily life. We started in August of 2021, and it’s all just about taking care of yourself but in a way that’s already a part of your day-to-day life.
Why did you choose self-care and joy as a model for your business?
I came from working a very taxing job where I wasn’t doing a lot of self-care, and I wasn’t really taking care of myself as much as I should. A lot of millennial and Gen Z folks are experiencing burnout. I wanted to transition to the wellness industry, give myself the opportunity to live a quieter life, and hopefully reach out to people who want to do the same.
What motivated you to get started?
I come from a family of avid tea drinkers. Drinking tea all the time was something that I grew up with in my household in New Jersey. So, originally, the brand was just going to be based on loose tea, which is probably still our biggest seller.
The brand is named Akoya after my grandmother. She used to drink literal bowls of tea every day in Nigeria. Like, the hottest place imaginable, but she’d still have a scalding hot bowl of tea just about every day at tea time.
Ayoka is Yoruba, which is part of a Nigerian ethnic group. It means “one who brings joy.” So that’s how it all ties in together. I think there’s nothing more joyful than a cup of tea, or a really good body care product, or something like that.
What in your background prepared you to start your own business?
I have a communications degree from Drexel, and I’ve been helping other people with branding, social media, and photography since college. When I joined the restaurant industry, I helped people establish front-of-house operations in a number of different places. At the last place that I worked before starting my own business, I helped them start their taproom.
So I’ve been taking just a little bit of that whole very multi-passionate background to start my business — a little photography, a little social media, a little bit of restaurant operations.
What makes Ayoka Apothecary unique? What sets you apart from everyone else?
We pair our products with mindfulness practices. Every one of our products have a special thing that you’re supposed to do, like an interactive element. Some of the loose teas come with guided meditation practices. Some products come with journal prompts, others with guided breathwork. So you’re not just consuming the product — you’re also able to do something active or hands-on or thoughtful, even if it’s just for just five to ten minutes.
You offer services as well, correct? Can you talk about those?
Yeah, I’m a reiki practitioner. Reiki is a form of — we like to call it almost like energy channeling, and that helps people with any stress or pain they might be going through in a way that just helps to relax the body. I do guided breathwork classes and guided meditation.
I try to personalize it as much as possible — tailor each to what people are going through. If people are not super into the idea of energies and auras and chakras, I don’t push anybody to any sort of belief. I just like setting up a space where people feel comfortable relaxing and unwinding because that’s kind of hard to do in our day-to-day lives now.
Are there any other Black business owners who inspired you?
I think Philly is such an incredible space. Here in Philly, there are so many Black-owned businesses that are just doing such a fantastic job. I came from the beer world, and Two Locals is a local Black-owned brewing company — I think the first in Philadelphia. They really inspire me.
There’s a great artist and businessperson, Serena Saunders. She is so wonderful and talented, and she found an amazing way to do art and business. I think that’s just fantastic. She has merchandise and things like that.
I’m always inspired by people around me trying to make a difference. Grant Blvd is another one. They do up-cycled fashion out in West Philly and have a retail space. I think Kimberly is the owner of Grant Blvd. They’re just making a difference and doing a fantastic job doing it.
What has been Ayoka Apothecary’s greatest challenge? How have you worked to overcome it?
Oh, that’s such a great question. I think just finding the balance between in-person and online sales and making sure that both of those are firing off in a really great way.
And just thinking up new ways to do things. I am a little bit of a packaging nerd. All of our packaging is either reusable or recyclable, and I’m always looking for ways to make sure that we’re as sustainable as possible.
What have been some of your biggest wins?
I had a great holiday season. I had a chance to meet a lot of really fantastic people in December, and I was able to be part of the Sisterly Love Food Fair here in Philadelphia. They’re a collective of women entrepreneurs and business owners and restaurateurs. So being able to be part of a collective, part of a crew, it’s been a big win for me.
What’s some of the most important work your organization does?
As cliche as it sounds, being able to deliver a product that people love — that’s been great for me. Seeing people comment on Instagram like, “Oh, I love the lavender green tea, it’s so great, I have it every morning!”
Being part of everybody’s daily schedule or self-care schedule or routine has been really cool.
You started Ayoka Apothecary during the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you think that has impacted you?
I think about more ways to connect with people, and it’s made me a little more creative in finding new customers and doing new things. It also allowed me to get more comfortable with improvising and problem-solving because there’s always something different happening. And I think that makes me more prepared for down the line.
What is a common misconception about Black business?
Oh boy, that’s a big one. I think there’s a false idea that Black business owners are not as professional or polished as other business owners. I’ve found that to be untrue almost 100% of the time.
A lot of that is rooted in things that don’t actually exist. There’s this idea that the customer service is bad, and it’s just not as polished. That’s really not the case. More so for Black business owners than anybody else.
Black women are one of the fastest growing minority groups to own businesses. Why do you think so many Black people go into business?
Yeah, It’s so cool seeing that, and it’s so cool finally being a part of it. The working conditions and available positions for Black people can be difficult. We’re often overlooked. Our time and our energy are not properly valued or properly compensated.
So I think a big reason why Black people are deciding to get into business for themselves is so they can build companies that they’re proud of — businesses that value their time and their employees’ time more than others or more than they had previously experienced.
So what does the future hold for Ayoka Apothecary? Where do you hope to see your organization in five years? Where do you hope to be in the long term?
The biggest thing that I’m looking forward to in the next five years and beyond is collaborating with people more — using the brand and the site as a communal space for anybody starting a new business or creating products or services they really care about.
I love the idea of it being more of a community-based effort because self-care shouldn’t only be individualistic. It should heal entire communities.
I would love to use my platform to get other people in, other brands in, and support other people of color, women of color, and queer people of color, and just be able to help other businesses grow.
I love the idea of pop-ups — popping up in different places and different spaces and learning from different people. We’re going to be doing more events in this coming year, and I hope to expand on that in the future.
What advice do you have for other Black business owners getting started?
If I could summarize the last six months, I think it’s just to make sure that you’re passionate about your business, understand why you’re doing it, and genuinely follow your gut.
Reach out to other people for help. We Black business owners tend to want to do everything ourselves because we’re used to doing it that way. Or we’re conditioned to do it that way. But finding a community of people to help you and for you to help them, for that communal pouring into each other, I think that’s the best way to do it.
Do you have a message to share with readers?
I think my biggest message, the one that started this journey my business has taken me on, is that we need to take care of ourselves and take time to take care of ourselves.
That can feel like the hardest thing on the planet sometimes. It’s not easy to actually take time and think about our own wants and needs. But it makes us so much healthier and happier when we do so. And when we do that, we can also help other people be more comfortable and happy. Our activism and our lives should be in service of ensuring that we’re all happy, healthy, and cared for.
If you’re interested in supporting Ayoka Apothecary and purchasing any of Sola’s incredible products or services, head over to her website. You can also follow her on Instagram @nowletsgetgoing to see her journey and watch her brand grow.
Looking for other Black businesses to support? Head over to 10 Black-Owned Businesses You Can Support Today (By Buying Cool Stuff).