Patchouli, frankincense and myrrh are some of the scents that might greet you at the doorway to Ancient African Formula on Halsey Street. That is unless the embroidered prints adorning the mannequins in the store’s display window don’t lure you in first.
Aminata Dukuray, a native of Gambia by way of Sierra Leone, runs the health and lifestyle store with the help of her four daughters. At around 1 p.m. on any given weekday, one can find Dukuray bottling samples of her sweet-smelling body oils, or explaining to her loyal customers how exactly her Super Hair Grow formula works.
Dukuray’s Ancient African Formula skincare and hair care products are all handmade by Dukuray herself in the back of the store. Customers who find themselves there will see blocks of her uncut Shea butter soap ready to be packaged and sold.
Dukuray opened the Halsey Street store in November of 2014, but she has been in business much longer than that, making her products for at-home use before becoming a wholesaler and stocking local beauty supply stores all over New Jersey with her products.
“I’ve been in business for a long, long time,” said Dukuray when asked about the origin of her line. “I started making my products at home because my daughter had ringworm, and nothing was working. So I decided to try and make something myself, and that’s how it started.”
Less than a year after Dukuray opened shop, she has built a legion of customers that keep coming back for her sweet-smelling products.
“I buy oils. I buy soap. I buy Shea butter. I even buy earrings. I love her products because they are natural. I use them for everything,” said Kecia Richardson-Gilbert, one of Dukuray’s customers.
Beyond skin and hair care, Ancient African Formula is also home to African-inspired jewelry, artwork and more recently, clothing. As Dukuray bagged up another one of her orders, a customer lamented the sign outside the store informing customers that Dukuray will not be able to take anymore clothing orders for another two weeks due to her busy schedule.
“I overbooked myself. People were making so many orders for the clothes that I barely had time to make my products,” Dukuray explained. “Customers came in and there was nothing on the shelves, nothing to sell.”
The new additions to Dukuray’s brand are bespoke, embroidered outfits made from African prints — prints that her daughter brings back to the U.S. from her trips to West Africa. From the midday rush in Dukuray’s store, it is clear that her store is thriving.
“Everyone comes here, it’s not just African women. Some people come because their friends tell them about it, and some just come because they see the sign,” Dukuray said.
Even though her store is doing well, Dukuray is not one to rest on her laurels. The businesswoman is already in the planning stages of developing an African-inspired restaurant right next door to her existing space.
“I see it [Ancient African Formula] growing. I see us opening more stores, and not just in New Jersey,” she said.