They bought a home in Lake Walker that backs up to Chinquapin Run Park. Initially, the first two floors of their home were a workshop for Oyin, but as demand grew — and the first of the couple's sons arrived — they realized they needed a dedicated workspace.

The couple moved to their current production space about three years ago. They also have a storefront in the 2100 block of N. Charles St. that is open on Saturdays.

After years of selling their products exclusively online, the Bennus struck deals with some Whole Foods stores and small boutiques over the past couple of years. But until recently, more than 90 percent of their business was online, they said.

Among their dedicated online customers is Tamika Wilkerson, 26, a homemaker from northern Utah. She first heard about the products online, and uses items such as Hair Dew, a leave-in conditioner, and Frank Juice, a hair tonic, to protect her hair from the dry desert air.

"They're all organic, there are no ingredients that make me question whether it's good for me," she said.

Target first approached the Bennus about selling the products in 2009, but the couple said they needed more time to ramp up production. They sought the kind of employees Pierre Bennu calls "spiritually ambidextrous," people who could adhere to their recipes and follow each step in the production process.

"It was very important to us to continue to make the products by hand," he said.

The couple finalized the deal with Target last year and six of their products appeared on shelves at 140 of the chain's locations last month.

Stephan Kanlian, chair of the cosmetics and fragrance marketing and management program at New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology, said it was "very strategic" of the Bennus to move cautiously as they expanded.

The greatest risk as small businesses ramp up "is supply chain fulfillment," he said. "It's hard to get enough product there at key retail times."

Target has aggressively sought to include more independent cosmetics brands on its shelves, Kanlian said, striking deals with companies such as Sonia Kashuk, Burt's Bees and Carol's Daughter.

"Target has an eye for indy brands," he said. "They know their customers, know their clients in the store, know their trends."

Patrice Grell Yursik, who writes about African-American beauty at her website, Afrobella, said Oyin products have long had a reputation for being high-quality. But part of Oyin's draw is the story behind the product, she said. A small cameo of the Bennus with their two young sons adorns each item.

"They're such a cool family," she said. "There's a great deal of knowledge and love and devotion to family."

Yursik is a member of Target's "Inner Circle," a group of bloggers and social media users who get early information on new product lines. She included Oyin on a list of brands to watch that she shared with Target executives last year, she said.

Yursik said she believes that Oyin's story will inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs, much as the success of Carol's Daughter, a line of natural hair care products introduced in the 1980s, has influenced today's cosmetics creators.

Longtime customers say that they're delighted that Oyin will be easier to buy.

Althea Kitchens, a 33-year-old events marketer from the Bronx, first heard about Oyin by watching natural hair care product reviews on YouTube. While she loves the experience of getting a box of Oyin products in the mail — candies and little bottles of bubble solution are tucked in the boxes — she's excited to be able to be able to find them at Target.

The Bennus say they hope to continue to slowly develop their business, moving into more Whole Foods stores and small retailers, without sacrificing the quality of their products or their time with their family.

The couple said their sons, 5 and 3, are nonplussed about the Target deal.

Jamyla Bennu said on a recent trip to Target she proposed stopping by the cosmetic aisle to see how Oyin products looked on the shelf.

"But Mommy," said the 5-year-old, "we already have them at home."

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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