Name: Yoki K Hanley
Business: itiba, LLC, a maker of natural skin care products
Industry: Health & Beauty
Location: Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Reason for starting: My fifth child was born 14 years ago and she was very sensitive to all the soaps available at the time. At first I did not know it was the soaps that were making her sick and uncomfortable, I thought it was her milk. I spent hundreds of dollars on doctor visits and changing her milk until I realized that she cried the most was during her bath time. Her skin would turn bright red like a cooked lobster and her crying was just heartbreaking. I researched what was in the soaps and did not like what I found; animal fats, syndets, and other questionable items. Growing up in St. Croix, I had access to all of the healing medicinal plants and herbs that my parents had treated us with. So I went into my father’s yard and picked the herbs that I knew worked for skin conditions and created my own soap for her. After a few attempts, I finally created a recipe that was a success! She was no longer crying and turned into a happy child after that. It was not long afterwards that my business was born.
How do you define success? Success to me is not giving up. No matter how many times you hear no or fall down. Rather than accept defeat, you get back up and keep going until you have gotten the result you are looking for. Success is making that forward movement even when everything (and sometimes everyone) is against you.
Biggest Success: My biggest success to date is having the beauty editor for JET Magazine, Nicole Townsend, do an uncompensated review for the magazine. She loved the products and really understood what the products and the company are about.
My goal for itiba is to become the premiere, natural skin care brand of the Caribbean. I plan to have a manufacturing site on at least one other Caribbean island and to be able to export to all corners of the globe. I want people to know that skincare doesn’t have to be complicated nor does it have to have complicated ingredients.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? My top challenge is finances. It is difficult for me to properly fund my company for a number of reasons, the main one being that my credit suffered greatly while I was struggling to provide a home for my family.
In 2004 my husband was shot and killed while I was pregnant with our sixth child. He was instrumental in helping me with my frist business, which I had named after our fifth child, Selah. You always hear people tell you to never make any major decisions while dealing with trauma. But I had just lost half of my heart and my family was completely torn apart. I went into pre-term labor and was, just before his death, talking to potential business partners. By 2005, after giving away 50% of my business to my partners, I was out of my company and had absolutely nothing. They took my company from me, my recipes and formulas and even the image of my child that I had used as my logo for the first company. I learned a valuable lesson, that not everyone is your friend in business and that sometimes people come into a partnership not necessarily to help you, but to keep you down. They were looking for what they thought was an easy tax write off and instead found a business that actually had potential. So it was easier to force me out than to help build the company up. I am more discerning in my business dealings and always make sure that I read everything! If there is something major going on in my life, I will take the necessary time to deal with that before I make any irrational judgement calls. I am not afraid to say no or to hear no.
I am still working to get from under that burden. However, I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful person come in as a minority stakeholder in the new business, itiba, and that has helped greatly in moving forward.
Who is your most important role model? I can’t say that I have a role model per se. There are women that I admire greatly for what they have achieved; Lisa Price of Carol’s Daughter – a lot of people on island call me the Carol’s Daughter of the Caribbean. Oprah Winfrey – how she took herself from nothing to become the mogul that she is today. My greatest motivation, the reason I do what I do, is because of my children. I want them to see that no matter what anybody says, if you have belief in yourself, then you can move mountains. I do all of this for my five daughters (and my son) but especially for my daughters, because as females we have everything stacked against us from birth. They need to know that those boundaries and walls are not there to stop us, but to make us defeat them and to keep going and pushing forward.
Edited by The Story Exchange