If there's one thing Historically Black Universities are known, it's fostering a sense of interconnectedness for collaborative genius to thrive. Of all campuses, it was on the soil of The Mecca, Howard University, where She'Neil Johnson-Spencer and Nicolette Graves rooted their friendship and aligned their passion for beauty and natural brains. Today, the two have founded a skincare brand of their own, Base Butter, that has not only carved out their niche space in the market but rallied a community of women to glow from the inside out.
It all started with a Facebook message. In the midst of the buzzing anticipation of her inaugurate college year, She'Neil was on the hunt for a roommate with a particular aptness to live with, "Someone who was clean and possibly a Leo because I'm a Leo. And [Nicolette] answered my call."
When the two graduated, there were few Black-owned indie brands on the market, which compelled She'Neil to develop one of her own, "I was really inspired to create something for us, by us with clean, safe, and effective ingredients and celebrated our beauty," she shares. As an escape from her mundane work life, She'Neil followed her curiosity and began to explore her true passion: beauty. What she landed on was a quaint makeup line called, Color Cosmetics, which, although short-lived, led her to the real winner, "I had all these raw ingredients in my apartment and I was like, what am I gonna whip up with this?" What prevailed from the leftovers, was a homemade, natural butter that serviced the body from head to toe.
Photo Credit: Taylor Nickens
The roomies turned business partners when She'Neil sensed that her multi-use skin butter line, Base Butter (the product), was in need of some serious scaling. Meaning: it was time to call in reinforcement. Recalling Nicolette's background in product development, She'Neil knew there was no better person suited for the job than her bestie. As Nicolette recalls, "There was an interesting interaction between wellness and beauty at the time. I was consistently sending [She'Neil] trends and data that I was seeing at work then coming home and being her guinea pig."
The two knew that it was time to develop a product that would keep customers coming back for more, and looked no further than their growing community for the answer.
She'Neil and Nicolette conducted a survey called, Skin Struggles, which accumulated the insights of over 3,000 women to learn not only what ailed their skin, but how they could create a solution. "The women ended up sharing what their skin struggles were, what products they're using, what they hate about the industry, what they loved, and that was the beginning vision of the Base Butter 2.0." What they landed on was their "Hero Product," the Radiant Face Jelly, a staple for their oily, combination, and acne-prone skin to rejuvenate and restore.
xoNecole chatted with co-founders, She'Neil Johnson, CEO, and Nicolette Graves, VP of Product, to learn the secret sauce of running a successful business with your bestie.
xoNecole: For those creatives who are looking to find their business partner, what are some traits that you would recommend them looking for in that person?
Nicolette Graves: You need the Yin to your Yang. A lot of people will say, don't get into business with your friends, but I think when you're very clear on what your strengths and weaknesses are, and the other person's as well, it creates space to have a level of trust. Early on, when She'Neil brought me on, I would always joke like, "Oh my god, [Base Butter] is like your first baby." And I felt really protective of her first baby. Therefore, I was very clear on being intentional about how I came into it helping. You have to trust that the person you're working with has the appropriate decision-making skills in general. There's also the spiritual component.
It's the trust piece and having faith and knowing that person is going to pull up and show up when you can't and that you can be honest. There were some points in time where She'Neil wasn't feeling it and certain times when I wasn't feeling it, so you have to be able to communicate that and know that there's no hard feelings. It's being able to flex between those things and I think we've been successful because of the love that exists in our friendship and the level of respect.
She'Neil Johnson-Spencer: And you have to know that people's track record. I was able to officially live with Nicolette over the past 10 years because we were roommates in college together. So I knew at the end of the day, Nicolette would get it done - she graduated with a 4.0. She knew when it was time to work and when it was time to play. I think that's really important because there are signs when you meet someone and you want to work with them, and sometimes people ignore those times. So since I've been, I guess, "interviewing" Nicolette for 10 years, I know who she is, in and out.
"You need the Yin to your Yang. A lot of people will say, don't get into business with your friends, but I think when you're very clear on what your strengths and weaknesses are, and the other person's as well, it creates space to have a level of trust. There's also the spiritual component. It's the trust piece and having faith and knowing that person is going to pull up and show up when you can't and that you can be honest."
Photo Credit: Taylor Nickens
I’ve heard the term “hero product” come from entrepreneurs who describe the product that changed the game for their business. For you two, it’s the Radiate Face Jelly. How did you all know that you had something special with the Radiate Face Jelly?
She'Neil: When Nicolette came on, we were really like, "OK, what problem are we solving?" So from the Skin Struggles survey, we knew that 50 percent of our customers had oily, combination, acne-prone skin. We knew that we needed a solution for at least those skin types. It was also great because it was the type we also identified with and so it was kind of like a personal decision as well. For those with acne-, oily-prone or combination skin, a lot of times we're really scared to moisturize and hydrate our skin because either it's going to leave us oily or greasy or clog our pores. It was that revelation that led us to create Radiate Face Jelly.
She’Neil, you’ve once mentioned that at one point of your journey, you challenged yourself to just put things out there and not be such a perfectionist. What were some steps that you took to overcome perfectionism and how has that paid off in the long run?
She'Neil: I came into the business with a very strong design background, so for me, everything is about design, aesthetics, and being perfectly curated. It would be terrible to the point where I would spend so much time on maybe one graphic just to post on social media. But it got to a point where our brand became a business and I had to really look at the numbers and the bottom line, and make decisions based on what was making us money. That's really when the shift came. Even to this day, I don't want to do anything design- or aesthetics-related with the business because I just don't want to go back there; to being a perfectionist.
At the end of the day, it's really just about the bottom line: what's going to make us a conversion or a transaction? What's going to win us a customer? What do our customers want? The industry has changed to where customers really want that more real and authentic experience. That gave me some room to chill out some. I also became the CEO of my business and learned that everything is trial and error. Nicolette and I really take on this mindset that everything is an experiment; we're either going to hit the goal, or we're going to have a lesson learned.
"At the end of the day, it's really just about the bottom line: what's going to make us a conversion or a transaction? What's going to win us a customer? What do our customers want? The industry has changed to where customers really want that more real and authentic experience. Nicolette and I really take on this mindset that everything is an experiment; we're either going to hit the goal, or we're going to have a lesson learned."
Photo Credit: Taylor Nickens
One common misconception about starting a business and working for yourself is that you have to quit your job and let your business catch you. But for you two, how did having a full-time job help you all build your business?
Nicolette: I'm a single Black woman living in New York and therefore, I need money. We've gone through all the phases of broke entrepreneurship, making money, and all the ups and downs. One of the things I realized is despite having the goal of building this business to be as big as it can be, there are other things I want to do and that takes money and savings and being able to use those resources strategically. In addition to that, I think people have the 9-5 game messed up a little bit. I don't think they realize that when you have a 9-5, you're getting paid to learn. If you're strategic, you'll make sure you're in a role that is consistently teaching you new things.
In my [current] 9-5, I do Product Marketing for a B2B company. Through that, I've learned a lot of interesting things that I get to bring back to our company. Because I've always worked in the startup world, it's allowed me the ability to think of solutions ahead of a problem that might present itself so we're not being reactive, and we can be proactive. It's been like a really interesting space to continue to learn and find inspiration in the weirdest places, while also making sure that I'm financially setting myself up for success as it relates to the wealth gap.
"I think people have the 9-5 game messed up a little bit. I don't think they realize that when you have a 9-5, you're getting paid to learn. If you're strategic, you'll make sure you're in a role that is consistently teaching you new things."
Photo Credit: Pierre Eliezer
She'Neil: I started Base Butter with a 9-5 and ultimately, that funded the start of the business. But when Nicolette and I were laid off, we lived there until our lease ended. I had to make a decision: do I go and find a new job or do I still take this risk and make decisions to still work on Base Butter. Ultimately, I ended up staying in Philadelphia because my expenses were cut a lot and I had the support from my now-husband to build my business. I had to give myself a better financial situation so I could be a better CEO, owner, and founder - if you're not good as a founder, your company's not going to be good.
I thought early on in my business, that I'd just never pay myself until that "one day" we make it big. I thought it would be OK to be broke, broke, broke until we hit a million, but it honestly doesn't work like that. I had student loans, some credit card bills. So I went back to work with the goal of paying down debt, and I had to get very real about the type of life I wanted to live. Nicolette gave me a book calledProfit First and from that book, we learned how to pay ourselves, no matter how much we were making. Through implementing that model, we were able to start paying ourselves and things got a lot easier from there.
"I had to give myself a better financial situation so I could be a better CEO, owner, and founder - if you're not good as a founder, your company's not going to be good."
Photo Credit: Pierre Eliezer
Most creatives and entrepreneurs are used to only having themselves to look to for support in difficult times along their journey, but you all are fortunate enough to have each other. How do you all affirm each other when in moments of doubt or when you’re questioning yourselves?
Nicolette: We have the advantages of being best friends. We've always said, "If this is not fun anymore, then we'll stop doing it." In addition to that, although we're not perfectionists, I will say we are committed to doing a good job. There's a level of loyalty and commitment to the idea and the vision. Just consistently being aligned or finding room to realign. And understanding that there's no one right way to do anything, so we have to be flexible.
She'Neil: And I also would say we have each other, but because the of the industry being a mix of beauty, entrepreneurship, creatives, [we] do have a community of people who provide insight and advice based off their own experiences.
What’s one thing that you didn’t know prior to becoming business owners that you would impart to aspiring entrepreneurs?
She'Neil: Pay yourself from day one. I feel like a lot of the stress that comes with launching a business and starting a business is really the finances. Like, how am I going to take care of myself? How am I going to feed myself or how to pay my bills? But if your bills are paid, you're eating every day, and have a roof over your head, you can really focus on your business without having to figure out, how am I going to survive?
You want to build your business around what's going to make you happy and keep you satisfied. It's just making sure that you're in a comfortable position so that you can really focus on your business because your business is going to need you to be present. It needs you to be healthy and for you to be wealthy. Build out your financial plan around your business as early as you can to make sure your needs are met.
Nicolette: And to piggyback off of that, I would say there is no one right way to do anything and you have to trust yourself. Going back to the idea of a saturated market, things will always be saturated because none of these ideas are new. It's understanding that whatever you're building is unique because you're unique and different.
But also, I've seen a lot of people taking any and everybody's advice as goals, but you're supposed to sift through that information and discern what makes the most sense for you and your life. In the grand scheme of things, 5, 10, 20 years from now, what do you want your life to look like? Understanding that as long as you feel OK with that, any and everybody else's opinions of the way that they've done it is irrelevant. You can learn things, but it's your journey.
For more of She'Neil and Nicolette, follow them on Instagram @sheneilmonique and @nicolette.camille. Also, check out their brand Base Butter by clicking here.
Featured image courtesy of Base Butter
Aley Arion is a writer and digital storyteller from the South, currently living in sunny Los Angeles. Her site, yagirlaley.com, serves as a digital diary to document personal essays, cultural commentary, and her insights into the Black Millennial experience. Follow her at @yagirlaley on all platforms!
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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A dead bedroom can kill any relationship. In all long-term, committed relationships, couples experience various phases, from the initial passion to a more complex and enduring connection. Yet, as time passes, sex may decrease, which introduces an issue often referred to as "bed death."
According to Advance Psychology Partners, 'bed death' occurs when individuals in a committed relationship experience a decline in the frequency of sexual activity and fall short of the desires of both or either partner. It is sometimes labeled a "sexless relationship" due to the infrequency of sex. In the U.S., an estimated 20 million people find themselves in such relationships.
This shift is a significant change for couples. Let’s face it: no one wants to be in a sexless marriage or relationship. But how can couples effectively confront the impact of fading physical intimacy on the overall health of their enduring partnership?
"I have found that many factors influence one's desire to dive, and it is often not a majority of just one thing. Most people assume that if they don't desire [sex], they are no longer physically attracted, but in my experience, that has little to do with it most of the time," explained Brittanni Young, LMFT, CST.
"Some of the heavy contributors that I see most often include excessive goal orientation towards orgasm, people not prioritizing their own sexuality, and the landfill of ‘should’s’ that develop from toxic sexual scripts created long ago in upbringing," she added.
Furthermore, these issues are not exclusive to any particular orientation, but it does manifest differently.
Young is a licensed marriage and family therapist, sexologist, and board-certified sex therapist who practices in Georgia and Florida. She has worked in the sexology field for over a decade. Young helps couples and individuals looking to get through challenges of all facets facing sexuality and intimacy, such as desire mismatch, over-compulsion, and dysfunctions. She recently launched a deck of intimacy connection cards called "Show Me Your Cards." Young is working on another product that helps teach children to consent and negotiate appropriate touch. She sat down with xoNecole to discuss what causes the decline in the bedroom, the myth of 'lesbian bed death,' and recommendations on overcoming "bed death."
The Decline In Intimacy
Intimacy often dwindles within relationships, a phenomenon triggered by various factors such as stress, the insidious monotony of routine, and the toxicity of unresolved conflicts, to name a few. While couples manage daily life, exchanging intimate desires and concerns may take a backseat. Sadly, this gradually erodes the closeness once shared in the relationship.
"Typically, the first thing I do when working with a couple on desire challenges is rule out medical causes by referring them to their primary care physician or other provider they are working with," Young shared. "There are times when unmanaged or mismanaged conditions factor into low desire levels. Also, many medications can wreak havoc on keeping desire levels up, such as antidepressants, SSRIs, anti-anxiety, and blood pressure medications, to name a few."
Jeff Bergen/ Getty Images
"Next, I look at the state of the relationship. If there is dissatisfaction in the relationship, then it definitely affects how close and intimate one wants to be to another. There are also plenty of individual factors one can bring into the equation, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, feelings of shame or guilt around one's own sexuality, and external life stressors that can get in the way. I find that life stressors can be a big one for folks, as once you get in the habit of not prioritizing sex, it tends to stick," she added.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent "bed death." It can involve prioritizing your wants and open communication about sexual needs.
"What tends to be effective for all couples is taking an inventory of how satisfied they are with their sexual behaviors and engagement. Being truthful in this vein can be the start of unlocking inhibitions that can keep you from seeking out and being genuinely vulnerable in intimate spaces," Young explained. "Next, I suggest opening up lines of communication around these truths. When people assume that nothing can be done, hope is lost."
The Myth Of 'Lesbian Bed Death'
The notion of "lesbian bed death" perpetuates a simplistic and inaccurate stereotype about the sexual dynamics within lesbian relationships. Contrary to the myth, the experience of a decline in intimacy is not universal among lesbian couples. The diverse spectrum of relationships among women challenges this oversimplified narrative, emphasizing that the complexities of sexual dynamics extend beyond stereotypical assumptions.
"The notion of 'lesbian bed death' is based on a research study done by Pepper Schwartz in 1983 that found that lesbian couplings fell behind in sexual frequency compared to heterosexual and gay male couplings," Young revealed.
"Several other studies [after] have replicated these findings but give very little information about sexual satisfaction. Despite there being more research needed overall in the sexuality field, more recent research did find that when it comes to the length of sexual encounters, lesbian couples had the longest duration of encounters. To that end, sexual quality over quantity is a better marker of satisfaction, and that is what I pay most attention to in my work. With that said, dissatisfaction can happen in all couplings over time," the sexologist continued.
Factors influencing reduced intimacy among lesbian couples may include communication challenges, societal pressures, and individual variations in libido. Menstruation can also play a role, with some couples navigating discomfort or hormonal changes during this period.
"There are certainly some nuances that come into play with lesbian couples that differ from heterosexual or other-oriented couples. As I stated earlier, physiological factors can factor into the rise and fall of libido. The hormone fluctuations that come from menstruation and menopause can impact desire levels, and it is double present in lesbian couples. Another nuance is the lack of a sexual script from society on lesbian sexual behavior. There are patriarchal roots to sexual research, which have created our societal norms that tend to leave out anyone who isn't heterosexual," Young stated.
Overcoming The Challenges
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While 'bed death' challenges couples, solutions are within reach. By identifying and addressing the underlying causes, couples can rekindle the flame of intimacy and ensure a healthier, more fulfilling relationship.
"In the words of Esther Perel, another sexual professional in the field, 'love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery.' I recommend keeping it in the front of your mind, prioritizing, and keeping it interesting. Be open to learning more about your own sexuality every day, as well as your partner. You are always growing; what worked for you 20 years ago may not be the same today. Stay curious with one another and be open to exploring new ways to pleasure. You deserve it," Young said.
For instance, Young advised that couples should "keep sexual encounters light and playful." And not be afraid to introduce new elements, such as toys.
"Touch often in ways that are consensual and feel safe! I made 'Show Me Your Cards' to serve this purpose specifically. Just because you do not feel in the mood to go all the way does not mean you aren't in the mood to hold hands, exchange body massages, or dance together. Connecting often in any physical form, as long as it feels pleasurable, still counts as 'being in the mood,'" she said.
Overcoming the hurdles of "bed death" and debunking myths surrounding 'lesbian bed death' offers a unique perspective for couples grappling with the difficulties of sustaining a connection. Learning the proper ways to work through a sexless relationship can help foster a healthier, more fulfilling relationship.
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