For the past ten years, Rahua by Amazon Beauty has been at the forefront of sustainable hair care, harnessing the beautifying power of Rahua oil in its products while helping protect the rainforest through sustainable sourcing and awareness. The company was founded by New York-based fashion designer / trend forecaster Anna Ayers and hair stylist Fabian Lliguin after they came upon their hero ingredient while visiting the Amazon. They saw the transformative powers the oil had on hair, making it more lustrous and healthier in appearance, and they decided to harness that into beauty products that are beloved by consumers and professionals alike. I spoke to Anna Ayers about how their discovery and subsequent business has helped native communities in the Amazon and how their sustainable luxury brand is expanding into wellness and body products.
Rahua’s story is rooted in saving the rainforest. Can you tell me more about that?
We created Amazon Beauty to save the rainforest—it’s an ambitious goal but that was the work we set out to do. My husband Fabian and I had an environmental nonprofit that we started before we started our beauty company. It was set up to support indigenous people to help them protect their land since they are the guardians of the rainforest. That’s our way of preserving the forest—the people living in their traditional ways will keep the forest existing. We were taking trips to the Amazon and were introduced to a very special oil that the women there make called Rahua. Fabian’s background is in hairdressing, hairstyling, and coloring. He found this oil through the women and they told him lots of stories about how miraculous the oil is, so he brought it back and tried it at the hair salon. It had really transformative results and really improved the quality of the hair.
Eventually, this turned into an idea for a business that could also be something that could protect the forest. It’s built into the DNA of the brand and the company to protect the forest. That is the approach, doing things in a sustainable and protective way with the people we work with. Their knowledge is appreciated and honored in this process.
After you discovered how amazing Rahua oil is, what were the next steps to develop it into products and brands?
It took a couple of years before we decided to create a business because we were doing the environmental work and wanted to be sure that this was not an extractive process—that we would be nurturing, not harming, the source. We found out early in the creation that to produce the oil and for the seeds to grow and flourish it has to be in virgin jungle. If you build in an eroded region the trees don’t thrive and it only grows in wild, large, open areas in the forest. The trees don’t grow up next to each other because they fight for the same nutrients in the soil. It’s kind of like nature protecting itself. Once we knew that these are the elements that need to be present for Rahua to exist we could get educated about nature and protecting the source of the oil. We decided that we could create a business in which philanthropy would be embedded into the work, and here we are 12 years later.
How does Rahua operate in terms of supply chain?
Our main ingredients are Rahua and Morete oil, which are sourced in the Amazon. We have worked directly with the makers for many years. Making Rahua oil is an ancestral process. When we first started it was only the elders, the women in the communities that were making the oil. It was a fading tradition because it’s a tedious process and it’s only done a couple of times a year. The harvest is very special and ceremonial—not everyone knew about it. Since we started, the younger generations are now curious and involved since it helped build an economy. Now the next generation is learning from the elders. Ten years ago, it was hard for us to buy oil, but now we have over 500 families participating.
How is Rahua oil uniquely beneficial to hair?
It’s a ceremonial, artisanal, and handmade process making the oil. There are a lot of elements involved, it’s kind of like biodynamic wine production. The women actually fast before and don’t eat salt during the process. The oil is made up of very fine molecules that are actually able to penetrate into the hair and fill in the porosity—it restructures, fills in, and bulks up hair. We see that with fine hair, it fills it in, makes it feel thicker and stronger to the touch. And then with more coarse, curly hair, it fills in the same way, but it almost relaxes the hair. It adapts to the hair’s needs. It’s very rich in Omega 9, and it’s also very high in protein.
You produce natural yet efficacious products. What are some of your bestsellers and their ingredients?
Everything is very high-performance because we’re a professional as well as a consumer line. Our shampoos and conditioners sell very well because you’ve got to shampoo your hair regularly. Our shampoo is made with Rahua oil and also has Palo Santo, which is having a moment. We were probably the first brand to use Palo Santo—we used it because our natural products needed preservation to extend the shelf life of our products. It also has this amazing aroma, very unique, shamans use it in a lot of medicinal ceremonies. The Classic Conditioner also does really well. Our new Hydration Shampoo and conditioner as well. We also just launched our new smoothing hair balm which is great—I don’t think there’s really anything else like it on the market. Balms are kind of all the rage for skin right now, and this one is for hair and it’s very compact so that you can take it with you and touch up your hair. You can use it on flyaways and frizz, give a little polish on the go. It’s really lovely because you could have some extra and you put on your cuticles and on your skin as it’s very versatile. It just kind of melts so you can use it on your fingertips and then on your hair.
You also have a new exciting product coming out in a few months, correct?
Yes, we have a Palo Santo oil perfume with a roller ball application, I call it like a wellness perfume. It has a healing approach and is very uplifting, promoting your positive thinking and meditation. It gives you a nice lift throughout the day. It’s natural, made with essential oils like real Palo Santo oil, gardenia, Sacha Inchi and Rahua oil. There are a lot of beautiful ingredients. One of the ideas with the creation of our products is to connect our customers with nature so there’s a greater appreciation of where things are coming from and taking care of the source. That’s my personal goal.
How do you embody nature in your visual identity?
I’m very minimalist and I think when we buy things that are high quality we buy fewer things. I like to have one bottle of shampoo and conditioner in the shower—that’s beautiful and functional. We also really like nature to influence the coloring of our products. In the classic shampoo, we use molasses to create the color; in our voluminous shampoo we use chlorophyll to make the color. We also have a lilac clay from the Amazon that we use. I think of these things as art, nature’s beauty that we’re lucky enough to show in our packaging and our bottles.
Rahua is a part of Amazon Beauty—what is the structure of the company?
Thank you for letting me clarify that. Amazon Beauty is our company and it has no affiliation with Amazon.com, Amazon Beauty is a trademarked company and we were able to do that because we truly work in the Amazon rainforest. That’s our company, and then Rahua is a brand within the company.
You’re both a professional and consumer brand—how do you approach both aspects?
We sell the same products in both the professional and retail environment. All of our products are very concentrated so they’re going to work well in all settings. I find that more professionals are now interested in our brand because they’re looking for cleaner solutions. As you know, in salons people develop allergies to color or they’re using a lot of strong chemicals. Clients now expect something more clean and healthy when they go to the salon.
Why and how have consumers become more conscientious about ingredients?
I think it’s mainly about survival. With food, for example, people are choosing healthier foods and plant-based diets to ingest. Now people are looking at their beauty as something that’s also absorbed into their bodies. I say survival because when we’re healthier, we live longer. When we use good products it keeps us healthy. Vanity aside, using these ingredients could save the rainforest. That ties into our tagline that beauty is power and not a bad thing.
What are your plans for expansion and growth this year?
We’re growing into the body and wellness category. We’re also continuing to grow our environmental projects in the Amazon and also in the Galapagos Islands. In Galapagos, we’re cleaning the flamingo habitats. As most people are aware, Galapagos is a protected area already, but what’s happening is a lot of the debris from everywhere else in the world is washing ashore to these areas that really are untouched and full of debris if people don’t go to clean it up. We’re working with some locals to go to these areas and clean up what’s being washed ashore. The wildlife there is just so amazing, the flamingos, penguins, and other beautiful creatures that you want to protect. We launched our Enchanted Island Salt spray about two years ago. All proceeds from this go directly to the Pink Flamingo Project in the Galapagos.
Photo: via Rahua