After graduating from high school, Katini Yamaoka considered her next steps. “My dad was a diplomat and a human rights leader and was such an inspiration to me,” she says. “He had such a big heart to really help change Africa. I thought maybe I’d become the next female president of Ghana or something like that, so I enrolled in political science.”
Ultimately, Yamaoka pursued a successful singing career, performing around the world and eventually opening for artists like Normani and 21 Savage. But in 2020, when the pandemic hit and shuttered parts of the music industry, she decided to follow yet another passion: skincare and beauty.
Yamaoka’s interest in beauty started when she was a teen, when adolescence led to acne, which left her with discoloration and scarring. “Especially having melanin in my skin,” she says, “you’re left with a scar for what feels like six months.”
Raised in Australia and born to a Japanese mother and an African father, Yamaoka wanted to build a skincare company celebrating the places she knows. She’s combined her interests and experiences to create a company with impact. “People often talk about diversity of thought and representation without understanding what it really means,” she says, “but when you’re exposed to other cultures and languages and ways of thinking, it just expands your mind.”
Through Katini Skin, her line of organic facial oils, Yamaoka hopes to do just that for her consumers, incorporating ingredients that might be unfamiliar to Western shoppers, like baobab and kakadu plum. Yamaoka worked with Black Progress Matters to bring her vision to the mainstream market as soon as possible; within weeks of her February 2022 launch, her products became available at Saks Fifth Avenue.
“We have two pillars: giving back to the community and building a sustainable business that is friendly to the Earth. People want to know where their products came from. They want to know what kind of impact they’re making through the products they purchase. So, everything that we have is wild-harvested, and natural and organic where possible.”
“Growing up, I would travel to Australia and they’d be like, ‘Where are you from? Where are your parents from?’ People always want to be able to put you in a clean-cut box, whether it’s as fully Japanese or as Australian, when I have these beautiful other cultures. So, I struggled trying to describe who I was and what that meant. A few years ago, I realized the power of me and the uniqueness of me is what makes me me. “I want others to be able to be exactly who they are and know there are ways to flawlessly incorporate that into your job, your brand, or whatever you’re working on.”
“Authenticity is a huge part of who I’ve been as an artist and a business owner, and I want to be able to speak truth to what I’m selling, so a lot of our ingredients come from indigenous places where I’m from.
“With global supply chain issues during the pandemic, it was difficult to get certain ingredients from these places, and there were moments when people on my team were like, ‘Are you sure you want to go and get this fruit from Australia?’ Take quandong, for example, which is a superfruit that comes from an indigenous tribe in Australia. It was difficult to get a hold of, and my team was like, ‘We could just change it to something that’s easier to source from America,’ but it was important to push for that because this particular ingredient meant a lot to me and it was something I used growing up.
“So, while it was definitely a challenge getting certain ingredients together, patience was key.” mc