Editor's Spotlight

EPARA and the rise of luxury skin care for women of color

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

image courtesy of EPARA
image courtesy of EPARA
This week in New York City, indie founder Ozohu Aodh and Essence magazine beauty director Julee Wilson introduced the luxury natural skin care line EPARA to a room of industry editors and influencers ahead of the brand’s retail debut in the US. EPARA typifies a new kind of luxury natural beauty brand, developed by and for women of color and serving this overlooked market segment

As of Tuesday October 30, EPARA skin care will be available in the US, exclusively at Barneys New York and on barneys.com.

Ozohu Aodh began work on the brand in 2014 and launched the full collection at Harrods in the UK just last year. For Aodh, these distribution deals indicate that beauty retailers are acknowledging that there is a gap in the market and a demand for luxury beauty products for women of color.

Julee Wilson, Essence magazine beauty director, who helped host the press launch event, seems to agree: “It’s important for us to have luxury,” ​she says, adding, “we deserve it.”

And the brand isn’t just serving today’s affluent women of color, EPARA is an aspirational brand for teens of color too, says Aodh.

Consumer expectations

Aodh has a founder story like many indie brand leaders; she created products to address her own skin concerns, shared them with a friend, and the rest is history. Aodh worked for years in lucrative industries including finance, oil, and energy. And her experience with beauty was as a consumer of high-end skin care.

When she committed to building her formulas out into a brand, she insisted they be “benchmarked against the best in world.”

"At Barneys New York, our customers are always looking for the latest in exceptional skincare and cosmetics to suit their individual needs. We can't wait for them to try EPARA's hand-crafted, natural products derived from organic ingredients from Africa,"​ comments Jennifer Miles, senior vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Barneys New York, in a media release.

Science and tradition

The EPARA collection borrows its name from a Nigerian dialect, meaning to wrap around or cocoon, and comprises 10 products: a moisturizing face cream, a brightening night balm, an intense hydrating mask, a hydrating serum, an eye serum, a balancing facial oil, a cleansing lotion, a cleansing oil, a hydrating mist, and a comforting body cream.

The products are all formulated with plankton extract from green and brown algae, which, according to press materials shared with Cosmetics Design, “[reduce] the production of melanin on stimulated melanocytes while preserving the basal melanin levels” ​–evening out areas of hyperpigmentation without whitening the skin. (Read more about the algae ingredient trend here​ on Cosmetics Design.)

And an array of other naturals, many sourced from around the African continent, are key to the formulations as well.

Leading a luxury brand

For a new brand EPARA has been fairly aggressive with its geographic expansion, a move that like “everything” for a luxury brand “has to be well considered,” as Aodh explains.  

She’s built her brand with tremendous attention to detail, from ingredient sourcing to formulating and from packaging to marketing collateral and strategy.  

The brand does have a social media presence, but Aodh’s focus has been on brick-and-mortar retail. Beyond the brand’s debut at Harrod’s and this month’s launch at Barney’s, EPARA is also sold at ALARA, a luxury concept store in Lagos, Nigeria, and at comparable shops and department stores in countries including Belgium, Spain, and Kenya.  

Leadership, vision, and control of the brand she’s built to meet the needs and expectations of women of color are important to Aodh too. She has accepted investments from family and friends, but tells Cosmetics Design that she owns well over 50% of her company and intends to for the foreseeable future.



Deanna Utroske, CosmeticsDesign.com Editor, covers beauty business news in the Americas region and publishes the weekly Indie Beauty Profile column, showcasing the inspiring work of entrepreneurs and innovative brands.

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