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Creating a space for us: Ode to Self focuses the skincare and self care conversation on black and brown skin

Written by Marquita Yother

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Posted on October 23 2020

Black women are often excluded from conversations of wellness, skincare and cosmetics whether it be makeup lines that don’t cater to deep and dark skin tones or fitness magazines that feel our bodies won’t sell issues—black women are often an afterthought. Creator and artist by nature (she drew the logo for brand) Ode to Self founder, Kimberlee Alexandria Day seeks to change that by creating skin care designed for women of color first. The line features high quality organic ingredients formulated for the unique needs of skin with a deeper hue.

 

Hi Kimberlee, thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path?

I got to college and I realized how much I didn’t want to be there and I performed poorly because I just wanted to do makeup or something with skincare—I just felt college wasn’t the path for me. I’m an artist by birth and distinctly remember discovering my talent for drawing and the arts in kindergarten. In high school I created logos for a foundation that I wanted to start named the Sweetheart Foundation, and for a sugar scrub line named Sweetface—that never came to fruition however I was constantly trying to find ways to get healthy skin because I dealt with teenage acne.
After getting a letter from financial aid asking me to reinstate my financial aid that summer I realized that it was my time to take the leap and go for what I truly wanted because I was in total control of my life. I was only 19, but I took the liberty of enrolling myself in Aveda for their esthetics program and completed the program in February 2014.
So, you’re an aesthetician—how did you first become interested in skincare?
I have always been interested in skincare, beauty, and fashion since I was a kid. It stuck with me and I learned that I could help people by making them feel good in their skin and elevating them. That’s my gift and my purpose. 

What’s the concept behind Ode to Self?

To create a line that places the needs of deeper skin tones first in a minimal, multifunctional range for dry and sensitive skin types, while gently addressing the concern of hyperpigmentation. I created this line for the needs of black women first by getting us to put ourselves first. The intent is to dismantle confusion and overwhelm when shopping for skin care, and to truly elevate the dry and sensitive skincare category to make it a luxe, shameless experience.

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Photo: Ode to Self

Do you feel that black women don’t take the time for self-care or that the subject of self-care is not as focused on us?

We do self-care in the form of frivolous things, but we don’t do self-care in terms of freeing our minds and being real with ourselves.
There’s generational anger that we haven’t addressed and released, and it’s deteriorating us from the inside. I have seen the women in my family practically put their feelings aside because they’re trying to make others feel comfortable or not articulate those feelings properly because they weren’t given the tools to have those kinds of deep and thoughtful conversations, and it results in anger, yelling or fighting.
This image has been created of black women having to be the strong “do for myself” types which creates this unhealthy cycle of repressed feelings and emotional turmoil. Seeking counseling still is seen as taboo and highly stigmatized in smaller and rural Black communities, like back home in South Carolina. I think that because we haven’t been given the tools or proper education around mental health or therapy we’re afraid to speak up in fear of being condemned or shamed.
The subject of self-care isn’t super focused on us because we have painted this façade of superior strength so people have come to think we don’t need it, but statistics for bipolar disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia, depression and postpartum depression show a different story.

Our blog at Gusto and Co is called Routine and Reason—we’re believers in developing routines and creating rhythms that flow with your ‘why’. In what ways do you think people can inspire themselves to create routines and rituals that allow them to live a well-balanced and grounded life?

Think about what you want and what would bring you peace in life—not superficial things because it’s easy to get wrapped up in that. Envision a “perfect” day’s routine that allows you to be mindful and gives you the opportunity to slow down. Write it down then pick at least two of the things on that list to try to incorporate into a daily routine. If meditating isn’t your schtick then try walking around your neighborhood, lighting a candle, or brewing non-caffeinated tea (like Rooibos). Do nothing. Be absolutely still and just breathe. I do this sometimes and on a good day I’ll make myself a cup of tea with agave, light a candle and I just get in rhythm with myself. It sets the stage to try to be calm for the remainder of the day. 

What are some routines that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? 

I used to be into weightlifting and lost weight a while back, but because I had a demanding job and was starting Ode to Self—working out and taking care of my physique went on the backburner. I started gaining weight, becoming easily fatigued and having frequent headaches. Between all of that and watching the stretchmarks form on my FUPA and not being able to be intimate with my partner the way I wanted—I’d had enough. I realized I really needed to start making time for myself again and thought it was time to practice what I preached about putting yourself first.
I’ve started working out again because it gives me time to think about and focus on myself. When I’m lifting weights I envision the weight of the stress that I carry with me every day being lifted.
Depending on the mood after my shower I spray Tom Ford’s Black Orchid on myself before bed. It’s such an intoxicating, grounding scent, and it makes me feel so good at night. It just brings out this confidence and I feel esteemed in my oversized sweater.

 

Photo: Ode to Self

Can you share more about how the products are made?

I make the products by hand and create the formulas based on what I want the product to do, which is to hydrate, moisturize, and protect. From there, I look at the different properties of the ingredients, oils specifically, and their chemical composition from how much oleic, linoleic, and palmitic acid they have because it all requires balance. I look at exactly what dry skin needs and being cognizant of how sensitive skin is, especially melanin-rich skin tones, I don’t include irritating or skin sensitizing ingredients like dyes or synthetic fragrances. Our skin is delicate and thinking of how my own skin has reacted to certain brands in the past, I make sure to keep it simple and clean. I also try to figure out how can I make a product effective by using the least ingredients possible because when a formula is complex, you’re more susceptible to triggering a reaction, then you have no clue which ingredient caused that reaction. Keeping things simple allows for lower pricing because our cost of goods stay relatively low so we can offer an elevated brand to all budgets.

What kind of ingredients do you use and where do you source them?

I use ingredients from reputable suppliers that are primarily based in the US, like California, Colorado, and Oregon. Many of those suppliers source directly from African co-ops or Brazilian farmers and we think this super important because it gives back to their community and creates sustainable income for farmers, workers, and their families. I also try to use ingredients that are biodegradable and high in carotenoids which means it’s high in vitamin A such as the Buriti oil that we use in the DUSK Body and Hair Oil.

“Clean” beauty is a buzz-y word in the beauty industry currently. What does the phrase mean to you and how you formulate your products?

Clean beauty tends to have a lot of misinformation around it, so I don’t necessarily say that we’re “clean” but say we’re more safe beauty. You know being aware of what’s bad and unnecessary versus what’s needed in the basic building blocks of a formulation. We know what ingredients are useless and are completely sensorial enhancers such as silicone that provide no real benefit, and what ingredients are absolutely required to protect safety and efficacy like preservatives. I like to focus on what ingredients provide the most benefit while making sure it's texture is appealing and ensuring that it’s safe for our customers to use.

For someone who may not know about your line, can you tell us how you recommend incorporating your products in a daily routine?

It depends on what your routine is already. If you don’t have a routine and are looking for an elevated, minimalistic brand that is specifically catered to dry and sensitive skin, our entire line from either of our cleansers, Bask and Savant to our De Palma Facial Oil can be used daily, morning and night. If you suffer from dry skin on the body, then our Dusk Body and Hair Oil works best when skin is damp after the shower massaged all over the body and for daily morning use as well to keep skin soft while replenishing moisture and important nutrients the skin needs while reinforcing its barrier. If starting out with the De Palma Facial Oil use it at the end of your routine after your moisturize and massage into skin to provide extra hydration and moisture and seal everything in.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-growth, intimacy, or relationships?

I don’t really do a lot of books or anything for self-growth really. I just kind of create it for myself and figure out what works best for myself and the people around me, especially my partner. Because I realize that everyone’s advice doesn’t necessarily fit your situation. If I were to choose something that I listen to from time to time for a different perspective on things though, it’d be Devi Brown’s Dropping Gems podcast with her guests. She provides some good insight and perspectives on life, the universe, and just moving with grace. 

Does your brand give back? How?

Right now, we’re looking at giving back in a sense of giving the community around us the opportunity and access to mental health therapy and counseling services, as well as access to other wellness services that people like us may not have that advantage of knowing. What I would like to do in the near future is host some events with NAMI to raise more awareness about mental health and wellness.

What’s next for Ode to Self?

We’re focused on growing our community and building up an environment where people can feel safe being themselves and thinking of themselves for a moment without feeling guilty. We want to create a space or a community where our customers become family and feel safe to have open dialogues with us about whatever they’re feeling.
We’re also looking towards hopefully opening our own wellness studio soon that will combine all aspects of wellness and make it accessible and open to minority communities. Hopefully that will come in the close future depending on how COVID-19 will have shaped the in-person experience.

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