Kimberlee Alexandria-Day on Building Ode to Self

Kimberlee Alexandria-Day is the founder and creative force behind Ode to Self Skincare and Wellness, an intentional line focused on providing nourishment to dry, sensitive skin, with a gradual approach to hyperpigmentation. Ode to Self is rooted in the importance of showing up for yourself in the midst of showing up for everyone else.

Tell us a little about your background!
I was born and raised in South Carolina, the midlands, and always had a love for fashion, beauty, and skincare. I always found comfort in makeup, expressing myself through drawing, art, and fashion designs. I actually wanted to become a fashion designer, but I cannot sew clothes, I just used to sketch them very well. Then, I went to college after high school and immediately enrolled in a bachelor's degree program for business management to follow in my mom's footsteps. But, I knew that program wasn't for me, especially because of all of the math classes behind it! After my first year of college, I dropped out and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to pursue my love of beauty, enrolling myself in the Aveda Institute for Esthiology.

During my time there, I thought I was interested in learning makeup. This was the original reason I wanted to attend because of the makeup artist culture that had a hold on YouTube at the time. But, once I started to learn more about "skin" care and "self" care, I began to realize the importance of taking care of yourself and doing things from a holistic perspective, and how well your body responds to what it's meant to have such as proper nutrition, rest, hydration, mindfulness, etc. It was so eye-opening and from there, I immersed myself in everything wellness and skin.

What is your brand’s mission? What motivated you to create Ode to Self?
Ode to Self's mission is to help women, and even men, to show themselves grace, own who they are, and celebrate themselves, thus creating a purposeful, joyful life that allows you to just "be" in a world full of instant gratification.

I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was a kid. Even in high school, we took extracurricular classes, like college electives, and I took entrepreneurship and participated in pitch competitions that we had as teenagers. But, as an adult, the thing that pushed me the most to finally start this company was really getting to know myself after a breakup and finding myself again through fitness and just doing all of the things that I couldn't before. Unfortunately, when I was training, I was taking supplements and those supplements really screwed with my face, and also the added stress I was putting on myself from lifting. So, when I would walk into a Sephora or Ulta, I would go get something for acne because I experienced pimples. However, those products dried my face out even more and the moisturizer I was using was great until I noticed it wasn't doing anything else for my skin. So that's when I was like "I've got to do this because I'm suffering and I know there's others like me out there that are, too."

How have you navigated being a Black female founder?
It's been interesting. I think that we launched at the perfect time because one year into the business, COVID and then the BLM movement happened, and we were scooped up into that with the immense support and started connecting with people in the industry on a personal level. I was able to get in front of my dream retailers and say, "Hey, you said you wanted to support? Let's do that," and work together with them. Especially with the 15% Pledge introduced.

I think just navigating as a founder in general has had its ups and downs, just like any business starting out, especially if you don't have the funding out the gate and are doing it more as a passion project rather than out of pure money gain. Bootstrapping is tough, but I'm thankful that I have supportive retailers and partners that are able to work with me and see the human in the business rather than it being just a transaction.

What impact would you like Ode to Self to have in the world?
To inspire people to just be themselves and take care of themselves mindfully. That's the impact I'm hoping and pushing for us to have. Because it's important. And to understand that the problems that we're looking to solve externally start with examining ourselves holistically in all areas of our existence––mental health, physical health, nutrition, and stress.

Who in your life has inspired or influenced Ode to Self?
The women that I've come across who're learning to reclaim their time and take care of themselves, including myself.

What tips or advice would you give a Black entrepreneur looking to start a brand or business?
Of course go for it, but be intentional about it. Know that it's not easy, and know that there are still stigmas in the industry, but thankfully those stigmas are starting to become less and less apparent because our world is changing. Slowly, but it's getting there. And also, find your tribe because support in any industry is crucial, and finding peers that are in the same boat as you are or have insight really helps to keep you level-headed.

How do you choose the ingredients that go into your products? What traditions or teachings do you draw from?
Ode to Self is based in supporting the needs of darker-complected women who have sensitive, dry skin. With this, these women experience the occasional breakout, pimples, eczema, keratosis pilaris, and contact dermatitis, like I do. When I think of creating a formula, I think about what's already out there that's great in terms of addressing certain needs like eradicating pimples, i.e., salicylic acid, but how could I position that ingredient to perform well for someone with dry skin like me to where it's not going to dry my skin out further or cause additional irritation? In that aspect, I'm very intentional about the ingredients that go into the formula, and this really does draw from my time at Aveda. I love the minimalist approach, and this is coming from someone who owns 20 different styles of glassware for just two people! But when it comes to my beauty routine, I like to keep things as simple as possible to cut down on time and also to help with my anxiety and not become easily overwhelmed. That approach translates into my development process and why the line is so simple and multi-functional.

What’s next for Ode to Self?
So many exciting things, like rounding out our offerings and moving into multi-functional bodycare and potentially beverages, because we love a good drink. I'd like for Ode to Self not to just be a skincare brand, but to be a powerhouse that really bridges the wellness disparity that's present within Black and Brown communities. So for us, we're working on developing programs that are catered to educating the Black and Brown communities in wellness and understanding of their bodies because we deserve that due to how plagued our communities are with genetic diseases due to bad nutritional habits and/or lack of access to healthier choices.