A New Beauty Brand for All Women Calls on Ancient African Rituals 

Mia Chae Reddy discusses the lack of inclusivity in the beauty industry and the story of the brand’s namesake African queen.

By Anna Jornlid

Explain your company to me in one sentence.

Dehiya Beauty is a plant-based, vegan skincare line inspired by Moroccan folk beauty traditions and modern women.

What was the vision behind your company? When did you start it, and why?

I was traveling in Morocco when I met a 4th generation herbalist. He taught me about the power of plants indigenous to Northern Africa and 1,200-year-old beauty rituals.

I was in the thick of my wellness journey and saw very few women in the wellness space who looked like me; even fewer in the beauty segment. I knew I had to find a way to share these traditions and practices in a beautiful, meaningful way. Historically, luxury green beauty has been a predominantly white, privileged space, so when it came to creating an organic, clean skin and beauty line, it was equally important for me to take a critical look at diversity. I see myself not only as an entrepreneur but a storyteller, so I envisioned Dehiya as a fusion between high-end, clean beauty products, and the storytelling of ancient, cherished rituals. When we talk about natural and whole plant beauty, there is little credit given to enslaved African herbalists, healers, doulas, and witch-doctors who shared their knowledge throughout the African Diaspora, so I wanted to celebrate some of these ancient practices and include them in the narrative.

"When we talk about natural and whole plant beauty, there is little credit given to enslaved African herbalists, healers, doulas, and witch-doctors... so I wanted to celebrate some of these ancient practices and include them in the narrative."

In what ways has your education and career prepared you in founding Dehiya?

I spent years in the beauty industry–from my teens into my late 20s– working for Estée Lauder Company, Smashbox, and Chanel. I went on to open my own women’s clothing boutique in Chicago, so through that, I learned a ton about retail marketing, wholesale, and best practices from the retailer’s side.

Growing up as a black-and-Korean girl in the Midwest with white parents shaped my whole identity and life path. My upbringing and coming of age experience fueled my desire to acquire a Ph.D. in American Studies with expertise in race studies, women’s studies, and female representation in pop culture. For me, skincare products are catalysts for facilitating a more in-depth conversation around topics of female identity–intersectionality and inclusion, beauty myths and standards, and female sexuality and representation.

How did you decide on the name of your company? Who is Dehiya?

Dehiya was one of the most powerful warriors in Northern Africa. She ruled an Amazigh free state in the 8th century and led her people in the resistance against colonization. She remains historically relevant and serves as an inspiration to women throughout Northern Africa. While her actual appearance is unknown, the general sentiment is, she was a woman of incredible beauty—artists’ depictions of her range from olive-skinned and dark-haired to dark-skinned with dreadlocks. We think there is something compelling about the idea of Dehiya being described as universally beautiful and for that to look so different to different people. It aligns perfectly with our vision of global beauty.

Why is now the time for Dehiya to exist?

Women, women of color, inclusivity, and green beauty are all having a moment, and Dehiya encapsulates all of them. The long-standing definition of beauty we’ve been shown is too narrow; the story is incomplete, and our goal with Dehiya is to disrupt the current beauty narrative, explore alternative ways to see beauty, and ultimately create a fuller, more comprehensive story.

What would you say the biggest misconception is about you or your industry?

That being a woman of color and positioning Dehiya as an inclusive beauty brand means it’s only for women of color. I think because I am the face of Dehiya and the namesake is an African queen, that may make some people uncomfortable. It’s a slippery slope, but I’ve found that my client is educated and cultured enough to understand that when we discuss issues that affect black, brown or Asian women, that doesn’t mean we are excluding white women. We are just creating a more comprehensive beauty narrative. To be clear, I do make a concerted effort to represent the underrepresented, but it is also our mission to celebrate the things that both unite us and make us unique. I’m proud to say our client-base is extremely diverse.

"I’ve found that my client is educated and cultured enough to understand that when we discuss issues that affect black, brown or Asian women, that doesn’t mean we are excluding white women."

What has been the most memorable moment in building your brand? The most challenging?

The most memorable and challenging moment was when we had to go through a renaming this past winter from CHAE to Dehiya. It was February 22 (222!), and I got this cease and desist letter in the mail from the lawyer of another beauty company whose name was very similar to mine. I felt strongly that the Universe was telling me something, and so instead of resisting and questioning, I leaned into it.

It was a Friday, and my husband told me to take a moment to wallow in it and then get hot on finding a new name. I was a bit devastated because it was more than just a company name—CHAE is my Korean surname, so it felt like an homage to a piece of my history. The meaning of the name was important to me, and I think Dehiya turned out to be more perfect than I could have imagined. Over the next month, we redesigned and updated everything—packaging, our website, social media. It was a lot, but I never once thought of quitting. In the end, the new name aligned everything and solidified the brand identity and story.

What is a bad habit you’ve had to break on your entrepreneurial journey?

Shrinking away from opportunities because I’m scared. I know that everything I want is on the other side of fear, and if I can’t push through, I’ll never realize my full potential. I’ve been studying Law of Attraction and practicing meditation, and I’ve found that they’re both great tools for refocusing my perspective.

How do you invest in women around you?

I don’t have a specific cause I’m currently invested in, but I am a champion of women, and I want to see us win, so I will do my part to ensure that happens. It doesn’t have to be some large donation—for me, it’s doing a lot of little things consistently. I am intentional about working with and hiring women in every facet of the business. I purchase from women-owned co-ops and artisans, donate time, money, to organizations that support women’s causes.

How do you invest in yourself?

From attending retreats, to reading and listening to podcasts voraciously, I invest in my personal development and growth. I also make working out a priority—I’d like to say I’m consistent about it, but I’m not. I am, however, really in-tune with my body and aware of what it needs and act accordingly. Sometimes it is a run, and sometimes it is a nap or something as simple as a glass of prosecco and binge-watching Hulu.

What productivity tool would you be lost without?

My Google Calendar. Things literally do not happen if they aren’t on my calendar. And because I have so many balls in the air, I have my work, personal, kids’, and husband’s calendars all synced, so I don’t miss anything.

What’s next for you and the company?

I can’t wait to see how we grow over the next few years—just this last quarter, we exceeded all of last year’s revenue. Instead of adding more products, we plan to go more in-depth on education and content. Behind the scenes, we are preparing to raise capital so we can scale.

Name three women that you think are doing incredible things right now.

Ava DeVurnay—She is such a visionary and does a fantastic job of challenging the ways black people are represented in our country. She is so unapologetic about creating in her own way. She employs a staff of over 50 people, and they are all women and mostly of color. Additionally, she hired all women to direct the whole first season of Queen Sugar, and in the first two seasons, she employed 17 female directors.

Then there is Mindy Kaling, who became the first woman of color to create, write, and star in a primetime sitcom. I find that through the projects she pursues, she tells the stories that have historically gone untold. Though she didn’t set out to be a role model or make a statement, her impressive resume makes her just that. She is an inspiration to women of color and sees the importance of telling their stories.

Last, I would like to include a young woman, I believe, to be a leader of Gen Z: Yara Shahidi. Bi-racial herself, she seems to get the concept of “intentional intersectionality.” She is creating a platform for younger generations to embrace social justice and activism around issues that impact them like gender and racial identity, voting rights, gun control, and immigration rights. To be 19 and so tuned in is remarkable!

Best advice you’ve ever received?

Identify your strengths and weaknesses. Then, lean into the strengths and hire out the weaknesses as soon as possible.

Invest in a woman. Buy Dehiya Beauty here.

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