When Itunuoluwa Ebijimi traveled to Lagos, Nigeria in 2016, she encountered women working in markets across the city selling locally made cosmetics — and especially shea butter, which she brought back to Chicago, where she's based today, and began researching closely. From doing deep dives into the history of the shea nut to understanding global traditions of handcrafted beauty products, Ebijimi saw a void in the market and eventually laid the foundation for Petty Butter: her all-natural, bespoke skincare line created to empower the QTPOC community through moisturizing shea butter mixes and Blacksoaps.
During her initial investigation into the beauty industry, Ebijimi — also known as "Petty" or by her DJ alias "The Wife of Wrath" — discovered that products marketed toward Black women were more likely to contain toxic ingredients than those marketed toward white women. This, combined with research showing that Black women were two-three times more likely to develop fibroids than their white peers, increased the young entrepreneur's sense of urgency to develop Petty Butter.
She spent nearly two years perfecting the Petty Butter formula, made from a mix of carrier and essential oils with different consistencies for hair, body and face. Shea Butter is at the base of all Ebijimi's products, paying tribute to (and modernizing) a natural resource that's been produced for centuries — most significantly in West, Central, and East Africa since as early as 100 AD. It's rich in vitamin A, oleic acid, and more, making Petty Butter ideal for healing acne, scars, rashes, eczema, and chronic skin issues.
Beyond skincare, Petty Butter speaks directly — and intently — to Chicago's LGBTQ community, further amplified through their new Petty Face Forward Campaign, which stars local artists like Blu Bone and Futurehood's Mister Wallace. Outside the Second City, the burgeoning brand has been cultivating a devoted national following, with underground icons such as Ms. Boogie regularly purchasing products.
Below, PAPER premieres Petty Butter's brand new campaign, and an exclusive mix by the founder. For more information, visit www.pettybutter.com.
What void in the skincare market do you think Petty Butter is filling?
I enjoy being a part of the long tradition of Black people hustling homemade shea butter cosmetics directly to their communities. I think it is first important to acknowledge there are over 7 billion people on this planet and I cannot keep them all moisturized. I feel no sense of competition with other independent small brands because there truly is more than enough room for all of us. I am more interested in providing a counter to large companies that create mass-produced, watered-down and often toxic products.
With that said, the first qualities that set Petty Butter products apart are its ingredients and consistency. I spent over a year researching different oils and experimenting with texture in order to create the right moisture-retaining mixtures that didn't leave skin feeling greasy or sticky. Petty Butter patrons with acne, dry skin, eczema, scarring, and other skin ailments have seen significant improvement with my products.
Additionally, Petty Butter is set apart by its intimate, Afro-centered imagery and marketing. Skincare marketing is extremely gendered and heteronormative, often marketed specifically toward cis women. Petty Butter marketing showcases people of all genders because I believe that all people should embrace the healing of skincare. While Petty Butter has patrons of all races, I am upfront about centering Black people and darkskinned people in its creation. Especially when celebrities like Blac Chyna are marketing skinbleaching creams in Lagos, Nigeria, I think it is more important than ever to uplift and connect all the people of the African diaspora through the beauty of our natural skin.
You recently sold your products at Red Bull Music Festival's Futurehood & Friends showcase. In what ways is your brand directly supporting and speaking to Chicago's queer community?
I put Chicago and my community first in all things that I do. In many ways, this product is inspired by my community. I see a lot of artists working very hard and giving a lot of themselves without receiving the same in return, especially financially. Everybody is hustling their hardest and many aren't making the time for self-care. I am so proud to be able to create a product that gives my people time for healing and and space to take care of themselves daily.
You made a mix to accompany the campaign, called "Why You Hustling So Hard?" How does this reflect your brand, and the world of Petty Butter that you're building?
Petty Butter is all about feeling one's best and self-empowerment. I was inspired by these artists, some of which use Petty Butter themselves, who tell the stories of their lives in order to uplift others. The mix is intended to make the listener feel confident and dance.
How long did it take you develop and perfect the formulas you use?
It took me almost two years to perfect the different formulas that I use for the Body, Hair, and Face Mix as well as the Relaxing and Citrus essential oil blends. I have many books on the components, benefits, and uses of different carrier oils and essential oils. After deciding the ingredients for each mix, I experimented with the ratio of each ingredient over time to ensure the product was still solid at room temperature over the different seasons. I also experimented with packaging and made sure to get lots of patron feedback with each change. I actually have three or four unrealized products, like a beeswax-based lip balm, I've already created and tested in small batches that I will add to my website in the future.
What about your background do you think has made you equipped to take on this kind of entrepreneurial project?
At times it definitely feels like destiny that I started Petty Butter. My name Itunuoluwa means "comfort of the Lord" in Yoruba and I truly believe my healing products are a comfort to my patrons. I struggled with sensitive skin and dry patches for most of my life. I also struggled with accepting my darkskin through my adolescence. Petty Butter has not only physically healed my skin but been a vehicle for me to further embrace the beauty that my body has to offer.
Since starting Petty Butter, I have been on a journey to equip myself with the entrepreneurial knowledge to run this business. In addition to my own research, I took a community business course targeted toward artists. I was surprised to see how far along I was on this business journey and how much I was able to contribute to the class. If knowledge was more accessible, I believe anybody could be an entrepreneur. To start, I think we have to make our business endeavors accessible to our lives now.
Why is it important to support queer independent brands like Petty Butter?
Money is a tool and a vehicle. Everybody's dollar has power and I think we should all do more to keep money in communal hands and give to small businesses. When supporting my business, patrons don't have to worry about contributing to political campaigns or toward ballooning CEO or corporate board salaries. Every dollar spent with Petty Butter directly contributes to my rent, my bills, my monthly expenses, and to ensuring that more people get to experience Petty Butter products.
Brand & Creative Director: Petty Butter
Photographer: Isis Jenkins
Petty Butter Typography: Rafia S
Assistant Set Design & Assistant Wardrobe: Compton Quashie
Assistant Makeup: Loren J
Photo Assistant: Abhijeet Rane
Petty Butter Logo & Assets: Arjay Gallo
Labels: Dan Polyak
Location: VAM Studio
Models: Blu Bone, Freddie Old Soul, Jared Brown, J Bambii, Jesus Hilario, Justin Ignatius Mitchell, Mo G, Mister Wallace