Lady Boss Phenom
By Phenomgirl / August 6, 2018
Kimberly Elise invites you to allow your inner light to naturally shine. She offers up her natural hair care line, Kimberly Elise Naturals® and a wealth of information about natural beauty, wellness, and clean living on her website KimberlyElise.com. Kimberly's passion and purpose is to educate ladies who desire to take their first step toward their natural hair care journey. The vegan actress' beauty line offers products with organic and naturally-derived ingredients for ethnic ladies with tightly-wound kinky, curly and coily natural hair. In addition to her roles as real life mother, big screen movie actress, award winner and business owner, Kimberly has added the role of executive producer for the Back To Natural documentary directed by Dr. Gillian Scott-Ward. The film focuses on what you may find to be shocking truths about natural hair, politics, and racial identity in Black communities and worldwide. The four-time Image Award recipient has embarked on becoming an entrepreneur which she admits has come with some challenges, but her motivation and vision are clear....to assist ladies in achieving their most beautiful glow! Kimberly's sentiments are thoughtful, detailed, humorous and gracious. Enjoy our Q & A with Kimberly Elise!
Have you always been a naturalista? Growing up, did you always like your hair?
I stopped using relaxers in my hair in 2000. For years, I relied on wigs, weaves, pressing, etc. In 2011, I made a conscious decision to really get to know my own hair texture and wear my natural hair, and I’ve never looked back!
Any problems handling your hair at a young age?
I lived in Afro puffs and endured being called Mickey Mouse. I would often get my hair pressed as well. Like many girls, I had a love-hate relationship with that. The pressing part was stressful and to be dreaded, but the results were fantastic -- until your hair got wet. It was a delirious cycle of hair maintenance and I definitely envied girls with hair textures that seemed much easier to manage and seemed to grow effortlessly.
Were you ever teased about the texture of your hair? If so, what incident stands out?
Oh yes, I was called Mickey Mouse because I wore Afro puffs all the time. But it was less teasing, and more embarrassing questions. I realize now that the white kids I went to school with were really just confused and curious about my hair, but at the time, I just felt embarrassed.
If on Friday, I had my hair pressed down to my shoulders and on Monday, I came in with my hair half an inch long and in an Afro because I washed my hair and it shrunk, I got endless questions about why I cut my hair. Explaining that my hair shrinks when wet never made sense to them, haha! And then, if I came in with it pressed again down to my shoulders, they were sure I was wearing a wig. It never ended! It really was that, unless you had Afro hair, you just didn’t get it. That was a lot of educating to be responsible for, for a seven year-old!
I think that is partly why now, I enjoy taking the time to explain natural hair texture to people - both Black and non-Black people. There is a huge knowledge gap, and the more we can help each other understand, the fewer seven year-old girls will have to!
Any horror hair stories?
I share the same horror story as many Black women: pressing comb burns! I pretty much lived my early years with burns always on my ears and forehead from hair dressers nicking me with the scorching hot pressing comb.
As I grew older and switched to relaxers, I still suffered burns and scabs on my scalp.
No matter how much I tried to protect my scalp or what “sensitive formula” relaxer was used on me, I inevitably suffered welts and burns on my scalp.
To this day, the sight of the pressing comb or a jar of relaxer makes me break a sweat!
Can you explain why women have such a love affair with their hair?
Hair is extremely beautiful! Why wouldn't there be a love affair with it? And it's another way to express our individuality. I think there is a respect among women over a healthy head of hair and we will ask each other how it was achieved and go try it ourselves. I don't think there is anything wrong with having a love affair with our hair. Our hair grows from our bodies -- it's a part of us; we should have a love affair with all parts of ourselves!
In the fashion industry and society, trends come and go. The natural hair movement is in high gear right now. Is this another trend, or, are Black women just darn tired of hiding and apologizing for their natural beauty?
I think we are evolving as women and feeling our power and stepping into it boldly. And part of that, for us as Black women, is embracing our natural hair texture. For generations, our hair has been used as a way to shame and demean us. Our natural hair, which grows from our bodies and scalps via instructions from our DNA, has been used as a way to belittle us and make us seem ugly and worthless.
To step into our hair, our acceptance, and increasingly stronger love for our hair, is a statement of us loving ourselves in our deepest, greatest levels. By loving our hair, we are claiming who we are: our ancestry, our heritage, and our right to blossom and bloom, just as our DNA would like us to. It is, by no means, just a trend; it's a beautiful evolution to our next level.
Were you ever pressured to change your hair to get acting roles?
I've been asked on a few occasions to cut my hair. And I always recognized that it was because the stylist didn't know what to do with my hair so they thought that cutting it would somehow make his or her job easier. I've never agreed to do that. It's so easy to find great wigs and hairpieces to achieve whatever look the character needs. There's no need to have our hair abused in any way.
Before you started your hair product line, what were your go-to products for your hair care?
Before I started Kimberly Elise Naturals®, I was making my own products in my kitchen. Using natural ingredients, I would make conditioners out of avocado, oil blends using coconut oil and olive oil, and herbs and essential oils. I would research and study and it really helped me learn what worked for natural hair. All of this education and experimentation was the impetus for creating my own line.
What was the inspiration for starting your own hair products company?
My hair is the ultimate "4C" texture. Also, I'm vegan and gluten-free. So, I wanted to find products that could address my hair's needs while also honoring my values. There certainly were products that could address some of my needs, but they were laden with chemicals that I just didn't feel comfortable with putting on my body. So I began to study and research and create my own products that were effective in addressing my needs. As I shared these products with friends and family, they were having success too. It was then that I realized that my hair needs were shared by many, many people who were also desiring purer options. These are the sparks of inspiration that compelled me to create Kimberly Elise Naturals®."
Can you tell us a little about the process of how you went about getting your company off the ground?
It started with making the decision to do it. Initially, I was doing DIY concoctions with simple ingredients. Then, I started taking cosmetic chemistry classes and making shampoos, conditioners, and serums in my kitchen with more complicated ingredients and sharing them with my friends and family. I did that for a couple years and everybody loved the products I was creating.
I was literally filming during the day and going home at night and on the weekends, studying chemistry and ingredients, and making products. I came to realize that there are many women who share the same issues as myself and I knew I had something worthwhile to offer them. And, that this needed to be something that I could offer people on a bigger scale, rather than just my friends and family.
So, my daughter and I sat down and came up with a plan and a vision that we shared to create the company. I invested my own money - I took no loans, I borrowed nothing from anyone. I said, “If I can't believe in myself and use my own money then it's not something that I can stand by or need to be doing.” We used part of that money to create our first product, Alchemy 27 hair and scalp elixir. It was amazingly successful and we couldn’t keep it in stock. After that, we hired a chemist to help us develop our moisture layering system, the Kinky Coily Care Kit.
We- my daughter and I- are really a two-person operation. We have no huge corporation behind us, no big investors. It's me and my daughters and some friends and family, who will pitch in when we need it most. It's been the most amazing and challenging venture of my life. We work seven days a week and put our entire body, mind, and soul into what we're doing (while my daughter also holds a full-time job and I continue to act).
Our vision has always been to create a haircare line for women of color that addresses their hair needs but also honors their bodies. It is my personal vision to empower women by helping them see the beauty of their natural hair, healthy and vibrant, and loving it. There is great power in walking in the world as you are and feeling like a queen in all your glory. Kimberly Elise Naturals® has been no small endeavor, but we love it and our customers love what we are creating and that inspires us every day to keep creating and growing.
Did you use your own hair to test your products?
Absolutely! I'm very particular about what ingredients are used. I've studied ingredients and have a good understanding of what is effective for our hair texture and what is not. My chemist knows that I am really hard-nosed about what is used and that I will be very direct and passionate about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a product.
I do not hesitate to send something back if it's not right. If it's going to have my name on it, it has to be something that I have not only tried, but actually use. And not just to me, but also my children and my friends and my family. Additionally, we test our products on consumers. We use a range of women who have different hair textures and hair needs and honor their feedback. We structure our formulations around all of this information. Our slogan is “Formulated especially for you,” and we mean that.
What, if any mistakes did you make along the way, starting your company? Any important lessons learned during the process of building a business?
My biggest challenge has been learning to delegate. We are very clear in our vision and in some ways, my daughter Ajableu and I have to do certain things ourselves. We are a two-person team and really have to depend on each other to move things along. When we get into areas that are beyond our expertise, it's important that we recognize that and reach out for support in those ways.
I think that's important for any entrepreneur - we love what we do so much and we're so clear on our vision. Sometimes it just seems easier to do it ourselves. And it saves you money, of course. But in the long run, it can also lose you money if you do things wrong or without experience or knowledge.
It behooves an entrepreneur to delegate certain tasks to those who are more experienced and knowledgeable. And that way, it's important to remain humble in your ignorance. As an entrepreneur, it's one of the smartest things to practice if you want long-term success. This is definitely something that I learned on film sets- the greatest directors that I worked with didn't try to control everything. Instead, they allowed people with brilliance in areas that they didn't have to shine. By allowing others to share their gifts to the film vision, they, in the end, altogether made the end product the most glorious it could be.
Have you seen a slight change in the landscape where more Black women are spearheading their own Black beauty establishment?
Oh yes! And it's so exciting - every person is inspiring another person. We all have so many gifts and so many things to offer. It's exciting to see women taking those gifts and honing them and shaping them in a way that honors who they are, but also shares with the world what they have to give. I hope to see more Black women sharing their gifts as well.
Kimberly Elise Naturals® seems to be a labor of love. Why was it so imperative to create a chemical-free hair product line for a specific group of consumers?
It truly is a labor of love. I truly love what I am doing. Part of the inspiration was that I live a very natural, healthy lifestyle and every product that I use in and on my body has to be in alignment with that. Additionally, I have so many friends who have endured horrible illnesses due to chemicals they've used in their work, on their bodies, or have ingested.
There are too many chemical-ladened products that we use on a day-to-day basis.
Unfortunately, as consumers, particularly Black women, we have become accustomed to looking for the cheap alternatives, without regard to the facts of what makes the product so cheap. I feel we need to get into the habit of honoring ourselves by becoming familiar with labels and ingredients and how they affect us, and be willing to invest in ourselves from a big picture perspective.
What you don't pay for now in the things you put in or on your body, you may pay for later in regards to your health. Paying a little bit more for a product that's going to help preserve your health has to become priority. We have to break the habit of looking for the cheapest products that we can find. There's a reason that they are so cheap. I feel that if I can just offer something, even if it's just a few of the products that one uses during the course of her day, that are a bit healthier than what you're accustomed to, then I am contributing to the longevity and livelihood of women and people. It gives me great joy to offer women natural products to help nurture and sustain their health. Our world needs all of our women as healthy, strong, and vibrant as they can possibly be. If I can contribute to that, then nothing makes me happier.
How can the Alchemy 27 help to restore hair breakage?
No product restores hair breakage. When something is broken, it's broken. What Alchemy 27 does is infuse your scalp with essential oils, botanical extracts, and plant oils known to be hair-loving. Along with proper diet and proper hair care, these ingredients are believed to help support your body's natural ability to reach its potential in your hair’s health. Our customers love the effects of Alchemy 27. It's handmade in small batches with the finest ingredients. People buy two bottles at a time, stylists want to sell it in their salons - it's wonderful! And we can barely keep it in stock.
Your ebook, “Mane Principles” Is chock-filled with information on hair care regimes. What did you wish you had known over time about how to care for your hair?
That water is our friend. We Black women tend to avoid water on our head like the Plague. From the time we were girls with our hair pressed, water was a no-no. The truth is, water is the absolute best thing for our hair. Moisturized hair is happy hair.
Any more products on the horizon? What are your future hopes for Kimberly Elise Naturals®?
Oh yes, definitely! We talk to our customers and ask them what it is if they want from us. Literally, at expos, out in public, and when we meet them, we ask them, “What would you like to see in the line next?” We have a good idea now, based on what our customers have asked for and will be launching our next products at the end of 2018.
What’s your hair regime? What are some products you can’t live without?
I wash my hair about every week and a half to two weeks with the Kinky Coily Care Kit system. I moisturize it with the system and put it in a protective style. I really don't have to bother with my hair very often when I follow this regimen. I can't live without my Aloe Vera with Marshmallow Root Leave-in Conditioner and Argan and Castor Nutritive Sealing Oil with Pomegranate Oil. And of course, a bottle of purified water to spritz.
The Kimberly Elise Naturals® Living blog encourages eating healthy, living clean, and features vegan recipes. How long have you been a vegan?
I started as a vegetarian and did that for about 10 years, then became full vegan. All in all, it’s been about 18 years, meat-free.
Is the vegan diet popular among African-Americans? What are the advantages of adopting a vegan diet?
Yes, more and more African-Americans are becoming vegan. I find for me, my body just understands what I'm eating better when I stick to a plant-based diet. It was very confused and uncomfortable when I ate animal products. Now, when I’m getting all my vitamins and minerals through plants, my body is quiet and hums along in a much more efficient and comfortable manner. Additionally, on a spiritual level, I find it much more peaceful to my heart to know that I am not participating in the abuse of innocent animals. It makes me profoundly sad knowing what they go through and I'm grateful that I don't contribute to that.
Great hair products can help our hair thrive. But how important is it to establish a healthy diet that ultimately helps our hair to flourish?
All the products in the world aren't going to do anything if you aren't getting the proper water, vitamins, minerals, exercise, and managing your stress levels. That is all vital to live a proper healthy lifestyle overall. It's a 360-degree recipe to achieve a healthy head of hair. Hair products are only one aspect of that formula.
Mothers spend countless hours nourishing their daughters’ hair throughout their childhood. which I think can create an eternal bond. Your product line seems to have embodied that message. Why?
Yes, it's a beautiful tradition between mothers and daughters doing hair, and increasingly more of our fathers are participating in the grooming of their daughters’ hair, which I think is beautiful. I also think there’s no irony in that this company was created by me and my daughter, so in that sense, we continue the tradition of loving hair care, mother and daughter, side-by-side.
Any words of motivation/wisdom?
Yes, I can’t say it enough: How a woman chooses to wear her hair is profoundly personal. For generations, we have been told how our hair should be, what's wrong with it, what's right with it, who has the best, most beautiful texture, or not, etc. and not just about our hair, but all aspects of us as women.
Our hair and how we choose to express ourselves through it is personal - it’s our own journey and there is no “right way” to do it, nor “more authentic” way to be. What I'm about, for me, is natural hair. I found that was my place of joy and authenticity. And I'm here to support women who want to learn more about their natural hair. Equally, I'm here to support women who just want to express themselves however they choose to, in whatever hairstyle they select. At the end of the day, no one has the right to tell us what we should do or how we should do it. Ultimately, I want us all to be strong, healthy, and vibrant, shining our light as brightly as possible and loving and accepting ourselves and each other deeply. If I can contribute to that in any way, then I'm living life exactly the way I want to.