Bahia Overton fills many roles: she’s a therapist, a mom, a business owner, and a Baha’i, to name a few.
I got the chance to ask her some questions about her company, called Bahia Honey, which she started as the result of a search for a natural salve that would soothe her newborn daughter’s eczema.
Today, the Bahia Honey instagram shares testimonials from fellow moms of color who have seen extremely successful results using Bahia’s products on their own children. Bahia’s products now span a spectrum from herbal leave-in conditioner to sulfate-free baby wash, along with her original body cream. Keep reading to learn Bahia’s story and inspiration for creating an inclusive skin and hair care brand.
Q: Can you tell me the story of how you started your business?
A: I had my daughter on October 1st, 2005. I realized less than a few weeks after she was born that there were dry, rough patches of skin that didn’t seem to get moisturized or softened no matter how much lotion I applied. I wasn’t certain if this was because she had some skin problem or food allergy, so I took her to her pediatrician who immediately recognized the skin condition as eczema. Until then, I wasn’t aware of anyone in our family (both sides) who had eczema so I started doing my research on what might help soothe her dry skin which I was certain was irritating her when she slept at night. Every product I found contained alcohol, parabens and preservatives, and the recommendation from the doctor was to apply an expensive steroid cream to her dry spots.
I wasn’t happy with any of these, so I consulted a friend who is a naturopathic physician about my concerns and frustrations with the available products to address eczema, and she suggested that I try to make my own. At first I laughed at the idea, I thought, “Who makes their own lotion?” but I started using recommended natural and safe ingredients like colloidal oats and vegetable glycerin to try to create something that might work. I am no chemist, but I began to improve my methods and after close to a year of trials and failures, I came up with a formula and process that worked wonders for my daughter. I began to send small jars to family friends with kids who had eczema or just extremely dry skin. One day, a good friend said to me, Bahia, Honey, you have to share this with the world. That is how Bahia Honey came into being. I registered the name with the state, bought product liability insurance and I was in business!
Q: How has the Baha’i Faith guided your objectives as an entrepreneur?
A: As a Baha’i I have always considered the quote from Baha’u’llah that says:
I served as a social worker, corrections counselor and child and family therapist for more than 16 years, dedicating myself more and more to uplifting humanity and seeking justice for historically marginalized people and communities, and often specifically working to support and encourage adults and children of color. I believe still that my calling is encouraging and affirming individuals, families and communities so that they feel confident and comfortable in their own skin. My lotion business became another avenue for helping people feel more comfortable in their own skin, literally!
Q: How has being a Baha’i given you a unique perspective in your field?
A: As a social worker, therapist, community advocate and lotion maker, I’ve always built on my foundation as a Baha’i. I know that the greatest truth is that we are all intrinsically connected—mankind is one. I know that this is our human and spiritual reality.
Unfortunately this concept has not yet taken root in our global society. We still see disparities in health, wealth, opportunity and justice universally for all people. Injustices with regard to access and opportunity, racism and oppression are like fire in my heart. I take every opportunity to advocate, organize and work toward justice because I know that is the only path to true unity. Baha’u’llah said:
The light of men is Justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny. The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 66-67.
I think a lot of people want to start with unity, but there cannot and will not be unity without justice. This brings me back to the initial question and Bahia Honey Beauty and Wellbeing, LLC; my tagline is “Sweet nourishment for the spirit and body” I use this tagline because you cannot feel good and do good in the world if you are constantly uncomfortable. My daughter was scratching her skin off. If that continued into her school years, how focused would she or could she be? The products out there with promise were astronomically costly and who are the people likely to have to go without? The obvious answer is those who don’t have the means or access. The cultural relevance to this is even deeper. The vast majority of my customers are African, African American and Asian. I am not sure if these cultural groups have a greater propensity for skin issues or if the existing products were not made with them in mind, but it seems that the disparity in financial means and access should not be a barrier for feeling good in your own skin. This is how my business, my training and my calling align.
Q: How does your Baha’i identity manifest itself in your product, and in the culture of your company?
A: My business is a family business, not only because it is made by family members, packaged and shipped by family members, but also because we are believers that this work is worship because it is offered in service to humanity:
It is incumbent upon each one of you to engage in some occupation—such as a craft, a trade or the like. We have exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship of the one true God. Reflect, O people, on the grace and blessings of your Lord, and yield Him thanks at eventide and dawn. Waste not your hours in idleness and sloth, but occupy yourselves with what will profit you and others. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 30.
I try to use this quote to inspire my kids and my coworkers. I think that any work done in the spirit of service to humanity is the most meaningful work and also the most joy filled work.
Q: What are some challenges you’ve faced in your business, and how have you overcome them?
A: I had to overcome self-doubt because I am not a cosmetologist, dermatologist or chemist! I had lots of great friends and family, and my faith and belief in divine inspiration helped me move forward! Also, we got an influx of 1600 orders in one day after a customer posted pictures of her daughter’s skin after using Bahia Honey.
Q: Does religion have a positive, negative, or neutral connotation in your field? How do you navigate people stigmatizing you or your brand because it is affiliated with a religious group?
A: Skin care is not something that finds itself at the center of religious discourse all that often, however whenever I am asked about the “well-being” part of Bahia Honey and my work as a social worker or researcher or therapist, I always tell people about my Baha’i identity as the motivating force for my commitment to social justice, equity and inclusion. I discuss empathy and how empathy is what birthed my business, and I use the quote from Baha’u’llah related to work being offered in the spirit of service.
Q: What is the best part about operating a Baha’i-inspired company?
A: I have always loved being a Baha’i, but as a youth I sometimes found it difficult to openly express my love for this Faith. I remember recognizing how easily my Christian friends spoke about Jesus and I decided to be bold and just act like mentioning Baha’u’llah’s name was just as natural and normal for me. It worked! I no longer walked around with any Baha’i insecurity. That unapologetic ‘Baha’i-ness’ made me feel more confidence than I had before, and I felt that God was standing with me and encouraging me. That feeling is what fills me with ideas for helping young kids in foster care, challenging bias and institutional racism and even in making lotion to soothe the skin of folks struggling to find comfort. That is the very best thing about having a Baha’i-inspired business!