By Willa Frierson

Considering the world’s obsession with skincare, overly eager brands tend to advertise their products as universal solutions. Various products labeled “for all skin types” compete for our attention by promising perfection, not only in skin but (what feels like,) in life. As learned the hard way by those of us with sensitive skin, products with lofty, irresponsible promises increase stress in our lives rather than cure it.  Kimberlee Keitt, founder of skincare brand Ode to Self, takes a gentler yet still effective approach,  telling thirteen lune that it’s the act of tending to ourselves that inspired her “minimalistic range for sensitive, dry skin and listening to [our] needs”. 

“The name "Ode to Self" comes from the journey I embarked on to place myself first and finally listen to myself”.

Keitt’s brand Ode to Self is not only a business venture, but it assumes an important role in her personal life as well. She shares with thirteen lune how the creation of Ode to Self relates to her struggles with severe anxiety. Ode to Self minimizes stress by honing in on just what's necessary for sensitive, dry skin. Getting to know our largest organ – our skin – falls in line with Keitt’s self care philosophy, which she feels “at this age and time in my life looks a lot like checking in with myself mentally and physically to make sure I'm okay”.  With intention, the bare minimum is more than enough. 


What was the impetus to start your brand?

A break up that happened in 2017 that forced me to get to know myself better and understand my needs more, which landed me back into the gym to take fitness more seriously as I began to focus more on myself. Then with more working out and taking supplements, my body became stressed out and that reflected on my skin. I was trying to cope with that and use products that promised clear, supple, glowing skin, but quickly found that the wrong information was being put out there and not many gentle solutions at the time for sensitive dry skin that delivered the results I was looking for without compromising my moisture barrier. 

Do you have a beauty philosophy? What is it?

The cliché adage, "less is more". Because over the course of the years and as I get older, I'm finding that a lot of makeup doesn't enthuse me as much as it used to. And wearing a full face of foundation has never really been my thing. Often because I can't find that *perfect* shade for me and also because my skin just hates it, no matter how great the formula may be. So, I keep it to the bare minimum, enough to accentuate my natural contours and highlight the best features, like my eyes or the beauty mark above my upper lip. Even with my hair, I do the bare minimum because I find that doing too much creates overwhelm and overcomplicates things. 

What were some of your first memories of beauty growing up? 

My first memories of beauty was this makeup set my aunts got me when I was four years old. There's a photo of me with a face full of misplaced eyeshadow and lipstick somewhere in my baby album back home. That's when I believe I knew that makeup and beauty was expressive. It was how we felt about ourselves and how we wanted to have fun. I remember the smell of my great-aunt's compact foundation, too. The brush, the pot, everything––it had a distinct smell to it, I can still remember it. Early beauty influences for me were Meagan Good, Ciara, Angela Simmons, Raven-Symoné, Adrienne Bailon, and Keyshia Cole. I dyed my hair orange and red back in middle school because of her! Very surprised my mom let me, but I guess she wanted me to express myself. And seeing these women, young girls at the time, with clear skin and long hair, that's really all I wanted. The same clear dewy skin and makeup looks that were subtle, but just right.

What does self-care look like in your life?

I'll talk with a therapist or mental health specialist to help me gain clarity on what I experience on a day to day basis, which is severe anxiety, as it affects my sleep, eating habits, social life, and more. Physically, it's checking in with my doctors about my body to understand the changes it's going through, and how my anxiety manifests into stress and affects certain functions, then we talk about ways to relieve those issues. And then to relax, I really like to be alone and try to enjoy watching my favorite shows or some movies. But, my anxiety often gets in the way and I end up checking my phone or getting on my laptop because I feel like I have something to look up or do.

What inspires you most about the beauty landscape and industry today?

The inclusiveness and openness that wasn't available a couple of years ago. I think that's why we launched at the perfect time because we got swept up in the moment during BLM and were kind of first-in-line to the retailers who were on the lookout for emerging black-owned indie brands that could deliver and help amplify their offerings. That inclusivity has opened doors that probably would have taken ages to pry into.

What has been the biggest challenge in starting your business?

Funding, marketing, and sourcing. Because sourcing isn't too hard, it's just a matter of negotiating for a smaller quantity of materials that you need to be able to afford the quantity you really require. With marketing, without the dollars to be able to pour towards that, it can be hard to plow money into trying to get in front of the customers who you know are looking for products we're offering, without blowing the mini budget you have to pay to keep everything else running like inventory, website, ingredients, etc. That's where funding comes into play because that's what can really help be a game changer to many brands starting out if they don't have that allocation already. And it helps to be able to compete for attention and customers the way we would love to.

What has been the biggest win thus far?

Having customers that keep coming back because that lets up know our products do work and make a difference, and that our story resonates with them. 

What would you like to see more of in the beauty industry when it comes to diversity and inclusivity?

Intention. Real, true intention and not separating "black-owned" brands into another subsection. Allow our products to be a part of the main feed just like the other products and brands that's on there. Because continuing to put us in subcategories creates even more division and allowance of further discrimination. 


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