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A Black Mom Created An Innovative Natural-Ingredient Laundry Detergent — And It's Just What Our Clothes And Skin Needed

Created by Sylvia Emuwa, Dinobi Detergent is made with 4 simple plant-based ingredients.

Let’s face it: laundry is an incredibly personal part of people’s lives. The majority of us spend 95% or more of your day in contact with the fragrance and chemicals that have gone through our laundry. This includes the clothes that have been through the wash, the sheets that are being slept on, and the towels that are used to wipe our bodies. But with so much skin contact, have you ever considered the actual ingredients (and oftentimes, toxins) that go into these products?

Enter Dinobi.

Created by Sylvia Emuwa, Dinobi Detergent is made with 4 simple plant-based ingredients — water, plant-based surfactants, vegetable-derived fatty alcohol and essential oils. Emuwa is a wife, mom of four and mompreneur who saw a need for a unique product that would be gentle enough, yet effective on her babies’ and husband’s precious skins while doing laundry. On this journey, she found that the products she was using were either too harsh, or not effective enough to remove odor and stains. This sparked her mission to provide a natural, one-stop-shop detergent that stands true to its name. Dinobi, which means “precious” in Igbo, a language spoken in Nigeria, has as its tagline: “Precious Ingredients for Precious Skin.” The 100% plant-based detergent is exactly that — safe for everybody.

Her husband, a school principal who has severe eczema, served as the human guinea pig to test her concoctions, and later, her co-founder to join her on this mission. For ESSENCE, Emuwa shares the ecological advantages of an all-natural detergent and how seeing the needs of her family inspired her to disrupt the billion dollar laundry market.

What was the motivation behind starting Dinobi?  

Itchy skin, cloth diapers and a big family.  As a mother of four, my motivation has always been to take care of my family.  My husband/ co-founder actually refers to me as his protector given my incessant focus on making sure that everyone is taken care of. Cloth diapering became another means for me to make sure that my kids had the best chance at being rash free after our discovery with this early on. The only downfall was that all of the “plant based” alternatives we tried required too much work, too much product yet not enough consistently clean results.  This lingering poopiness really was a setback for us. This issue got me thinking about something different for our babies and it also led me to turn my attention to my husband’s silent suffering. Maybe it was a blindspot, but as I got further into my curiosity I started to notice that my husband and one of our older kids taking turns scratching their backs on corner walls around the house. This was odd, as we knew we had eczema appropriate products, but something wasn’t measuring up.  At that point, I began to look at the ingredients of all the different detergents in our laundry closet as there were five different brands, all for different users. Low and behold, I got an idea. “What if I could create something both safe and effective for every BODY?” My dad’s lectures came flying at me at that point. He’d taught me to find a need and fill it so that’s what I sought to do. Dinobi, which means precious in Igbo — a tribe in Nigeria that my husband belongs to — is a brand centered around the belief that all skin is precious and that’s where our custom formulations begin, with skin in mind!  

Among all consumer products that use insane amounts of toxic/non-plant based ingredients, what made you think of transforming laundry detergent?  

Simply put, the needs of my family made me think of transforming laundry detergent. Seeing both my husband and children suffer from the effects of traditional detergents fueled my passion to create an option that people could trust. Every morning we wake up, we believe in our mission to serve people with the most premium and precious (Dinobi) product that we can find.  Being a skin focused detergent brand requires integrity, continuous improvement, and a commitment to what’s best for people, regardless of how popular that may be. 

Apart from its ecological advantages, what else makes Dinobi unique? 

We have a motto, “Less is… pour!”  This is our ode to simpler times when grandmas were in their glory years and made use of simple ingredients to manage the difficult task of cleaning.  Now, we live in a fast-paced world and time isn’t in much abundance.  We decided to mix old world simplicity with new world innovation. We maximize cleanliness while still focusing on non-irritants.  We are in a way, pioneering the detergent and cleaning industry with this idea of being 100% plant based with minimal yet effective ingredients. FYI – our formula is an actual trade secret! It doubles as a spot treatment, an ammonia bouncer for cloth diapers, is strong enough to tackle athletic wear yet gentle enough to clean baby clothing and bedding without worrying about irritation.  It’s cruelty free and can even be used on pet bedding and clothing. We also keep hearing from our customers about other uses that we are testing out internally — such as carpet cleaner, puppy wash, whoa! These come straight from customer reviews. While we do not make that claim, it is a testament to the gentle effectiveness of our plant-based formulation and our new puppy Churro lives for the good stuff.  

What did you find most difficult in marketing this product? How are you overcoming that?  

Advertisers in our category seem to have a psychological hold on many of us. Detergent is one of those necessities that people purchase and use pretty passively, and the tendency is to look for quantity over quality.  Big brands know that, so they add more fillers to products to make it seem like the masses are getting extra soap.  So, we stand tall on our soap box, pun intended.  We are finding incremental success in building awareness of some facts that can be shocking once they learn about the ingredients. Outside of educating our customers in our weekly newsletters where we share tips and ideas, we have found that we are up against the emotional capital held by our larger competitors.  Creating awareness and bringing customers on board is disruptive and makes people have to reckon with the fact that they may be consuming something based on nostalgia. How many of us use what our parents used without question.  This tendency is a real thing that advertising researchers know.  We have to be laser focused in order to interrupt some of these realities. Still, we are figuring out the puzzle pieces by staying consistent with our message that we make precious ingredients for precious skin, educating the customer on the multiple benefits of using our product, not only to feel good about saving the planet but to let them know what’s in it for them. 

Where do you get the drive to continue even when things are hard? 

God Almighty. That is the only way!  We had to exercise our faith muscles in a real way.  How else does a former accountant and former school administrator jump into an industry that’s very different from their professional practice. Yet, what we find is that we are well equipped and were Perfectly positioned to run this business. Many couples that are married in business tell us the importance of separating the two yet being married to your business partner can be another motivation to keep pushing even in the craziest of times.  How can you ever give up? We both recognize that our business growth is in fact connected to our ability to be in a healthy marriage as it’s the bedrock of everything we do. Guess who’s responsible for that? We are in this business to serve our people, and that is a function of our union we take seriously.  We are Dinobi, and that means precious and it’s who they (and you) are!