6 Founders Share How Women Of Color Can Be Part of The Wellness Conversation
By Janell M. Hickman
The women behind GIRL+HAIR, LivSo, SDOT Beauty, Cosmic Juice, Shop Jaqs and Marjani Beauty share their thoughts.
It’s no secret that starting (and maintaining) a business isn’t a walk in the park. However, we see plenty of examples of women of color who are excelling in this arena—especially within the beauty and wellness space. More often, the “w” in “wellness” has been code for white women, specially with the influx of yoga classes, fascination with crystals and newfound obsession with healers.
Despite practicing (and promoting) self-care for centuries, people of color have been unfairly excluded from the conversation. Platforms like Project Beauty Expo and 21Ninety were created specifically with that intent—to bring the focus and dialogue back on us—in mind.
We curated a select set of founders to discuss how to ensure women (and men) who look like us are in the forefront. Afterall, self-care isn’t just for Sundays...it’s a 24/7 practice directly connected to our happiness, healthiness and overall, well-being for generations to come.
“To be honest, I personal feel like we’ve always been apart of the wellness industry so, I wouldn’t call it a trend,” shares CEO and founder, Barbara Jacques of Jacq’s.“I believe social media has been a major tool and vehicle at showcasing what we’ve been doing for a long time in private either alone, with close friends, family members or in intimate groups like sister circles.”
Her journey into the industry started through challenging circumstances—after finding out she was expecting, she also learned that she had an ovarian tumor. “Driven by knowledge, I learned about what was going on with my body, the food I was eating, the many environmental toxins used in beauty and personal care products,” shares Barbara. “I saw a need for products that were all natural, organic, family-friendly, environmentally safe, and result-driven.” Now, she running an vegan, organic, antioxidant luxury skincare line with hero products including her Hibiscus and Wild Carrot Beauty Bar.
“[In terms of women of color], she is often the matriarch, the giver, the caretaker, the well wisher....she is forever putting the wellness of others before her own self care,” explains Dr. Camille Verovic of GIRL+HAIR Under Hair Care, a natural hair care line specifically designed and formulated to care for your strands under protective styles (think braids, hair extensions, wigs, weaves, etc.).“The bigger obstacle is how do we as beauty advocates empower her to consistently think of her own wellness (spiritual, mental and physical). I think everything starts with a conversation.”
Dr. Verovic’s advice is simple: “Listen to your inner voice...be your own counsel.” Despite her busy career in the medical field, she channeled her frustration into a product line with nourishing botanical ingredients ranging from Castor to Abyssinian and Sunflower oil, found in her RESTORE+ Protective Restoring Balm.
After being diagnosed with acute liver failure, Harlem Wright of Cosmic Juice, used juicing as a way to heal her body, enrich her mind and expand her spiritual awareness. “I found that the mind/body/spiritual connection played a major role in my rehabilitation and decided I should spread the word about the amazing healing powers juicing,” she explains.
“Women of color can tap into the wellness trend by continuing to create products that are specific to our needs—as well as buy into brands that uplift the wellbeing of people everywhere. We have such strong buying power and it’s important that we have an abundance of brands to support.”
Harlem evolved from making juice out of her mother’s kitchen for family and friends, to serving the Washington, D.C. market based on demand. “I knew Cosmic Juice could be a viable business when I started hitting the streets and getting juice in people’s hands. They only way I could tell that it’s wanted or needed is if people actually drank the juice!” she shared.
Tired of seeing a lack of representation in the cosmetics arena, founder of Marjani Beauty, Kimberly Smith, set herself up to become the authority for brown beauty. “We [consumers] want more than a corner in the back of the store or 3 dark shades in a foundation line,” she expressed. “Further, I see no reason why I can’t wear bright blue eyeshadow, just like I see no reason why you can’t wear a bold orange lip. Or why products with unsafe ingredients may be targeted to us at a higher rate than other female demographics. We want something real. We want options. I wanted that for myself, so I'm curating it for all of us.”
She acknowledges the importance of representation on a larger scale, but isn’t a fan seeking a co-signature from the masses. This is evident by Kimberly noticing her customers over index when purchasing foundation shares—a pain point particularly for women of color. Thankfully, Marjani offers over 50 shades, including five minority owned brands.
“[You can claim your spot by] not waiting for a seat at the table or an invite to the party. Identifying the problems and creating our own solutions, both in front and behind the scenes. Product creation to buying to distribution and manufacturing, etc. We need to be involved in all facets of the beauty industry...We can create, re-tell and control our own beauty narrative. It’s about creating our own lane.”
Many of us can relate to wanting to make a complete 180 (or even 360-degree turn) from our current careers. And, that’s exactly how Stephanie Coker found herself creating SDOT Beauty. “I had just left the fashion industry after working in it for over 15 years and ended a relationship at the same time,” she said. “I used that time to really to carve out my space in the world.”
“I cut off all of my hair and started doing research on natural ingredients and remedies, and started to formulate products for myself. My family and friends started asking me to make products for them and right there in my kitchen SDOT Beauty (luxury apothecary brand handcrafted in NYC) was born.”
Stephanie firmly believes that in order for women of color to excel in wellness, we need to practice collaboration over competition. “Creating a sisterhood of fellow female entrepreneurs is key [for new businesses],” she explains. “When I started, I did not personally know anyone else that were creators. When I finally linked up with women that were creators and innovators, it was such a breath of fresh air because I had felt isolated. It was such a relief to know that you are not alone in your journey. Find that circle and support one another!”
At the root, wellness is also based on need. Shari Hicks-Graham, MD of LivSo wanted to create a streamlined three-product hair care system that targeted scalp dryness and itches that fit the needs of textured hair. “I have many patients in my medical dermatology practice who experience a wide range of scalp and hair loss issues. Many of them—particularly those with textured hair types—were dissatisfied with dryness of the hair caused by use of traditional dandruff shampoos. I felt like they deserved a better solution!”
In Dr. Hicks-Graham’s opinion the biggest barriers within the wellness world are education and access. “As a physician, I see patients who may have lapses in healthcare coverage from time to time,” she explains. “So, it was important to me to bring a product to market that would be safe, effective and available to all. [It’s also important] to meet people where they are, so bringing conversations about healthy lifestyle habits to social media is one way to connect people to these ideas.”
Inspired? If you haven’t purchased your ticket to this year’s Project Beauty Expo on Sunday, August 12th, get yours here! These 6 founders (and so many more) will be on-site to share even more gems in person, plus have their amazing products on hand.