We caught Christina Funke Tegbe in the midst of her busy day, energized, smiling, and wearing her 54Thrones t-shirt.
She named her luxe African skincare line after the 54 countries in Africa and source of her fresh, nourishing ingredients. One of the most exciting things about the brand is that Christina sources from cooperatives and makers that she has visited and worked with herself. All of her ingredients come with cultural significance and a process that she has witnessed and participated in, and all of her products have stories she knows by heart.
54Thrones is a celebration of African royalty, deities, rituals, and clean beauty. It is the product of a woman driven by the call of her heritage to produce something beautiful from the ground up. Here she offers us insight into her journey as a traveler and entrepreneur.
Where does the 54Thrones story begin?
Beauty has always been a part of my upbringing. Fifteen of my aunts and my mother were all hairstylists, so I grew up with glamorous visions of aunts and cousins. As a kid, my Aunty Fagbohun would send us little tins of shea butter from Nigeria. So as a kid in Austin, Texas, I grew up using the stuff, but I didn’t quite understand the significance behind it.
In 2015 I quit my corporate consulting job and followed an urge to learn about my African heritage. I traveled around for about a year before I started 54Thrones. I was there to have my feet on the ground and immerse myself. During that time, I visited Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, and Egypt most frequently.
I was drawn to women making things, especially in Morocco. At the markets, you’ll bump into people sitting down making argan oil or selling crafts, and I asked to know more. The stories behind these rituals were important to learn. It wouldn’t be right to start a beauty brand by just ordering ingredients off the internet. I wanted to work with the people I had met.
There were times when I would pack one suitcase and then two more. I would put suitcases inside of empty suitcases so that I could bring stuff back in my suitcases because I couldn’t afford to import ingredients. That’s what I did until I could actually ship the ingredients over to me.
What are the stories you are telling with 54Thrones?
Our symbol is a golden Cowrie shell, which was used as currency and a symbol of wealth, beauty, and good luck in so many different African countries centuries ago. Our bottles are black—well, they’re ultraviolet, but they appear black—and our imagery is very bright and colorful.. But our products are also pastel, showing that Africa can be delicate and soft.
Many of our products are named after African queens and goddesses, and all of them have a story. For example, Aja is named after a Yoruba goddess of the forest. Some have their traditional African names, like Alata Samina, which means “pepper trader’s soap.” Yoruba women created this black soap and sold it along with vegetables and peppers, which is how it got its name.
Clean beauty started in Africa, from Black and brown women multitasking, finding different roots and herbs for health or celebration. To a lot of people, it’s just shea butter, but many people don’t know that Shea butter comes from a fruit. And that fruit comes from a tree, and when the nuts fall, people eat them like a snack. They have kind of a sweet, tangy taste.
They then take the nuts to cooperatives who roast them and extract their oils. That oil is used to fry food, and the butter is used to massage babies and protect skin and hair from the sun and wind. Ingredients have so many uses, and nothing really needs to be wasted.
Shea butter goes through so many phases, and each one of those phases has significance in that culture. That community does not believe that shea is only for moisturizing skin. It’s also a source of sustenance in many places in Africa.
Do you work alongside anyone in your family?
Six of them are working right now! My Mom andor Aunt, cousins, and then I have two family friends at work for me. It works out perfectly because they’re very hands-on, they’re very creative, and they like being active. So when Black Lives Matter happened back in June, and people found out about us, they were like, “Christina. Let’s go.” It’s been non-stop since.
What was it like finding out your African Deluxe Beauty Butter Collection Tin would be featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things 2020 list?
Oprah’s team emailed us and told us they were interested, and then they had to evaluate the product so that took a little bit of time. When we found out, we were super excited. Then we went to get to work because, you know, it went by so fast and Oprah has really high standards.
What would you say is one of your destinies in this life?
Some people are entrepreneurs at heart, and entrepreneurship is not something that can really be taught. You can’t really teach someone what to do when a problem arises. You just do anything to make it work. Okay, yeah, it’s shiny, but it’s also a person—me—who’s not getting sleep.
I go to their farms, and sit down with them. Who does that? It may sound crazy, but I enjoy doing it. I’ve enjoyed this whole process.