Nyakio Grieco’s beauty journey began when she visited her grandmother in Kenya and learned her first beauty secret from her. Nyakio is the founder of Nyakio Beauty, a clean skin-care brand first launched in 2002. In our conversation, we discuss her journey as an entrepreneur made of ups and downs, and her recent launch on target.com, a dream come true! Nyakio shares her purpose to share more beauty secrets from other ethnicities and use her success and experience to help young black girls from challenged communities to be bold, successful, and confident as well.
Nyakio: I was born in the United States to Kenyan parents, I am a first-generation American. I was born in New York and raised in Oklahoma where I also attended the University of Oklahoma. I have lived in L.A. for almost twenty-four years. Before launching my brand, I worked in the entertainment industry. I found the fashion and beauty aspects of Hollywood to be the most inspiring.
While working in Hollywood in the early 2000’s I realized that the continent of Africa was very underrepresented in beauty, so I decided to leave my job and create my brand inspired by my Kenyan family beauty secrets celebrating the sophistication and beauty rituals of Africa.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou
The brand is actually named after my grandmother who was also named Nyakio. She was a coffee farmer in Kenya and I learned my first beauty secret from her. I’d say that my beauty journey began when I was 8 while visiting her in Kenya. At the end of the day, she would take Kenyan coffee beans and she would crush them. Then she would add oils and use sugar cane that she grew on her farm to exfoliate her skin.
When I was a little girl I found that fascinating and I would do these sorts of beauty rituals at home too. My grandfather was a medicine man, and he had the ability to go out in nature and extract oils to treat the skin. My grandparents were the inspiration for creating my line and I now incorporate not only my family beauty secrets, but I also celebrate the beauty secrets of my friends and those that I’ve learned in my travels around the globe.
In 2002, I launched as an independent brand at Ron Robinson inside Fred Segal Store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Soon after I launched at Jefferey in New York. In order to launch the brand, I raised money through angel investors. I worked very hard to learn my business inside and out by operating as the founder, shipping and receiving, marketing, sales … a very common entrepreneurial story.
I focused my efforts by building the brand in independent boutiques across the U.S. I was very lucky that I was able to launch my product line with Ron Robinson who was a pioneer in the industry and admired for his talent to discover and nurture successful brands. Also, I was very fortunate to launch with Jeffrey NY on the east coast.
During the first two years of my business, I was able to launch it to one hundred and eighty boutiques around the country. In 2008, I had gotten to a place where the brand had grown more than I could keep up with. So I decided to take a step back and shift my business goals. I wanted to expand the business to focus on efficacious face care. This allowed me to restructure my business plan, and widen my reach to find partners who had the expertise and resources to help me scale the business.
Pausing to assess the best way to pivot the business is one of my greatest entrepreneurial lessons. It was an incredible learning experience for me, and I also got to learn how to distribute in new channels. During this phase of my business, I was able to launch Nyakio on HSN where I sold until 2014.
In 2015 I was ready for another shift and new challenges. I made the move to partner with Sundial Brands. Sundial Brands has long been known for its incredible Community Commerce business model, which provides economic empowerment and impact across the globe. I was ready for myself and the Nyakio Brand to focus on ethical, sustainable, and clean ingredients, as well as our social impact.
Through my partnership with Sundial Brands, I have been able to partner with Girls Inc., an organization that inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold through direct service and advocacy. The Nyakio Brand is a clean and green skincare line that celebrates the beauty rituals of women who have been underrepresented in beauty. I now source from 13 different countries around the globe.
You can’t be great at everything and in order to scale your business, you should surround yourself with people who know parts of the business better than you.
As far as balance, I try my best! During the last three months, I was able to prioritize what is most important. Our health. My number one priority was making sure that my kids and I stayed healthy and that my husband was able to safely recover. Our kids and I all tested negative, and my husband has fully recovered…. for that, I am extremely grateful.
Launching on Target.com and being part of the Target family is a dream come true for me. I am truly passionate and committed to bringing clean beauty to all. Target allows for the accessibility that I have long desired for the brand. As a Black woman, I know the beauty industry can do a better job of speaking to women of color about the importance of clean beauty. As a Black beauty founder at Target.com, I can reach women of all ethnicities with our products. Target is a place where people shop for essentials, but it has quickly become a destination where beauty lovers can discover incredible brands.
The last couple of weeks have been heartbreaking for all of us. It’s a lot to process. It’s a really interesting time to be a Black person. Growing up in this country, my parents stayed here to give my brother and I more opportunities. They chose not to go back to Kenya and to raise us here. To be honest there have been days of such sadness and grief seeing the magnitude of systemic racism. I spent many of my school days learning about the incredible human beings who had fought the good fight for all of us so that we could have the civil rights and equalities that we deserve. I also was raised by a professor of African studies and black American studies. Black history is truly part of my DNA.
So yes, it’s been tough to see those liberties taken from victims of brutalities. But I’ve also observed a coming together of humanity like never before. We have mobilized as a society to combat this 400-year-old virus. Never in my life have I had so many of my non-brown and Black friends reaching out to me to ask, how can I help? How can I make the world a better place? Seeing globally how the world is coming together to fight and stand up for what’s right now. I feel blessed to be here as a part of this movement.
It can’t be a moment. It has to be a movement! I feel encouraged that we will move in the right direction if we continue to give this systemic racism issue the focus that we are giving now.
First, we can’t stop having these conversations even when they stop talking about it in the news. We need to be having these important conversations as families, with our kids. Someone recently said to me, “we need to teach our children about racism, just like we teach them to cross the street.” I agree with that statement. No longer can anyone take for granted that people know “they are not a racist”. That no longer works. People must stand up and be vocal about being anti-racist. I believe the more vocal we all are about being “anti-racist”, the less that racists, the hate-filled, insecure, fearful people, will have a voice.
The other important piece is to VOTE. This is an election year in the US and there’s going to be so much focus on the races. I’m hoping that it will motivate people to vote. I cannot say enough how crucial it is to focus our votes not just at the federal level but at the local level. Our local elections are where we choose our district attorneys, our judges, the people who represent us in our own backyards. Showing up at the polls, and using our voices for change is where we can have the most impact and potentially save lives. Research your candidates, and ask the questions. Find out where your candidates stand on their agendas to protect humanity.
The number one thing is to allow it to become so normal as a part of a conversation. Any brand black owned, white owned, whatever, that you’re speaking to diversity and inclusion and connecting with the black consumer at every level.”
I’m proud to be a black woman. My husband is white. Our children are multiracial. They’re Irish, Italian, French, and Kenyan. And it’s been a painful disconnect because I look at my children who are proud to be black, who the world sees as black, but they are also a multitude of ethnicities. And to think that some people who even share some of their ethnicities would look at them in hatred because of the tone of their skin is nonsense. I do believe that my children’s children will live in a different world because of the work we do now.
I would say keep your chin up, go easy on yourself, and speak your truth. Ask for help as well, in times of trouble lean on your loved ones, your community.
My definition of success is the true fulfillment of your purpose. For me, it’s bigger than work. I love working and discovering ingredients and telling beauty secrets. That is very important to me. But I also feel that my purpose is to inspire others, especially young girls to follow their dreams as well.
Sex and the City! I can watch that movie over and over again because I love New York and I love my girlfriends so much. I also love Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow. In the movie, the character has two different versions of her life based on catching a certain train.
It’s a lot like being an entrepreneur. People always ask me what is one of my greatest pieces of advice for being an entrepreneur. And I always say to just go for it. Don’t wait for a certain time. Yes, you need a plan and to put the plan in motion. If you wait for the perfect moment, quite often that moment will pass you by.
Growing up as a first-generation American, I had such a beautiful childhood here in the U.S. However, seeing my friends go to their grandparents every weekend or having these big family dinners all the time with all of their family, that’s something that you really miss as a first-generation American. Going to Kenya was an opportunity to connect with my family on a deeper level. My family has inspired the woman I am today.
I love Mexican and Italian food. That’s what I constantly find myself cooking.
I do something with my group of girlfriends called Circling. We gather in a circle and set an intention for the practice. It’s a safe space to share, support one another, and actively listen to whoever is sharing. I also love to meditate. As far as exercise, I do a lot of dance cardio, yoga, hiking. I enjoy cooking and hanging out with my friends and family. I also unwind with my skincare regimen. Self-care is paramount for me.
One of the best lessons I learned is to always know and value your worth. It’s ok to say no and to pass on an offer if you feel that it doesn’t match your worth or suits you.
Nyakio means “a woman who works hard in the sunshine”. So, I think this would be the title of my autobiography.
I think you should interview Andrea Bendewald from The Art of Circling. She’s amazing and it would be incredible because right now we all need some healing.
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Really impressed on how Nyakio managed to make the best of her African and US cultures, truly inspiring!