Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person’s skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we’re passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry, so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they’re using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: Kimberlee Alexandria-Day, founder of wellness and skin-care brand Ode to Self.
The earliest memory I have with beauty is from when I was four years old. I remember playing with my aunt with this little makeup kit that I had. There’s a picture of me using it and I had makeup all over my face — I looked like a clown. I also have a lot of memories from growing up watching my grandmother get ready for church on Sunday mornings — watching her put on makeup, reapplying throughout the day, touching up her face as needed.
But something I didn’t notice until I got older was the use of skin-lightening products among the women in my family. I slowly began to understand and recognize how they weren’t really comfortable in their own skin. I think that was a big thing for the Black community back then, especially Black women, because there were photos of women plastered everywhere that really didn’t look like them — it was always a lighter-skinned woman or fair-skinned woman. They thought, “Hey, I have to be lighter to be beautiful.” And that was something that I kind of dealt with too as a kid. On my dad’s side, they’re all biracial and have very fair complexions and I always felt like I needed to fit in — like I was too much darker than them. That’s when I became interested in skin-lightening creams too but I was like, “You know what? That’s just wrong. I don’t think anybody should use that.”
I always had a passion for wanting to help people and bring out the best in them. When I was in high school I tried to start a nonprofit called the Sweetheart Foundation to help girls who were 7 to 16 years old gain self-confidence, self-discipline, and just really be comfortable with themselves. But I didn’t know how to start a nonprofit. I was only 17 years old and it wasn’t fully encouraged. It wasn’t a norm in the south and especially in my family. It was kind of glance over like, “Ah Kim, that’s cute, but you need to go to college, you need to get a real job.” And I was always like, “No, I don’t want to do that.” I wasn’t taken seriously, unfortunately. That part hurts a little bit.
I went to college basically out of fear of everyone else. I thought, This is the path that you do. You go to high school, you go to college, you graduate, you get a good job. I majored in business management, like my mom, but then I switched my major because it required too many math courses. I tried communication because I was like, “Okay, well I could probably be like a PR person and I can work in like PR offices, help people out.” But then I realized I wanted to do something artistic and that kept eating away at me. It made me really unhappy.
I started to find things that actually made me happy and understanding how to love myself more. I still had this slight interest in makeup. I ended up quitting my first year of college to attend Aveda Institute. I was like, “You know what? I’m just going to be a makeup artist and then I get to make people feel beautiful.”
It wasn’t until I attended Aveda in the beautiology program that I actually found I loved the science aspect behind beauty more. I learned about skin care and the holistic approach to achieving healthy skin. A light bulb sparked for me. I was like, “This is how you achieve the best skin of your life, as well as mental clarity and just a healthier overall wellbeing.” I had the idea to start a skin-care line centered around wellness so in 2017, when I was 20 years old, I graduated from Aveda and I started working on my brand.
But what I found was it was incredibly extensive. You have to pay close to a thousand dollars just for four hours in a lab just so that they can benchmark and test the product that you think that you want. I didn’t think I could make it happen so I let go of that dream for a while.
Simultaneously I was going through a breakup (with the man who’s now my fiancé) and I was just devastated. It made me realize, This is your opportunity, Kim, to take care of yourself. To really get back to you and put yourself first for a little bit.
During this time my skin was breaking out badly. I had these dark spots all over my face and a bunch of pimples. Almost every product that I tried wasn’t working for me. I started thinking, what could I do? What can I make? What’s out there that prioritizes the needs of Black skin?
I was 23 years old and working a full-time job when it hit me — I wanted to try making my own skin-care brand again. I opened up Ode to Self as an eCommerce shop first to carry other people’s products in June 2018 but quickly realized I didn’t feel connected to any of the brands. Even though they were beautiful products, they just still weren’t working for someone of my complexion and skin tone.
By that time, my boyfriend and I had gotten back together and he asked me what I wanted for Christmas that year and I was like, “All I really want right now is probably $300 to start so I can figure out how to formulate and buy the ingredients that I need.” And so I used that Christmas money to first start testing the formulas of De Palma, the best-selling facial oil that we have now.
That was December 2018, and I tested the product out for a while. I really wanted to make sure that it worked, and that it gave people the opportunity to slow down and focus on themselves. We finally relaunched Ode to Self as a direct-to-consumer brand in June 2019.
At the time, there weren’t a lot of brands that took into consideration the needs of Black women or Black men and our skin. Everything was marketed towards other people. Seeing how detrimental those beauty standards were to my grandmother and mother, and seeing them struggle to feel comfortable with who they were and take care of themselves was something that influenced the brand I wanted to create.
My main goal is to reduce any stress that comes with skin care so that you can give more time back to yourself. From the scent to the texture, everything is meticulously structured to make your routine really enjoyable and to help you appreciate the moment. I wanted it to attainable luxury. A lot of people can’t follow a 12-step regimen — that costs money. I wanted to make sure that the line was realistic in a way that someone on a very tight budget could use it.
When Nordstrom initially reached out last year, I was like, “Wait, this isn’t real — this is crazy.” It took me a moment to realize, “OK, we’re actually going to be in Nordstrom.” Now, we’re also carried at HeyDay. It’s exhilarating but it’s also a frenzy because I’m still the only person doing everything. I write all the formulas myself, test all the products, do all the product research development, design the labels, fill the bottles, box them, pack them, and ship them out.
Making people happy and seeing that people actually love the product is the most rewarding part — especially because I second guess myself every single day. My dream, which has been my dream since 15 years old, is to help people. Especially people who don’t know how to show up for themselves.
What I really want to do with Ode to Self is turn it into a legacy brand and have it be a sanctuary for people. I want to have a wellness center that’s not your typical wellness center — something that’ll actually serve as a community center for people of color to receive mental health services, understand their bodies, and receive nutrition services. It would be a place where people can hang out, relax, and feel like they’re being heard.
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