The word "Bohemian" has been used throughout history to describe a person who is socially unconventional and involved with the arts. However, Black people are essentially invisible when it comes to the bohemian lifestyle, even though we are the very definition of art. Being the change they wished to see in the community was imperative to the bohemians behind The Bohemian Brands, co-founders Vanessa Coore Vernon and Morgan Ashley.
As two nomadic spirits who started their career journeys as best friends first, their vision for The Bohemian Brands was birthed from the mutual desire to add much-needed representation to the community. Through The Bohemian Brands, they dared onlookers to see the lifestyle not just in color, but to see it in Black. Besides being rooted in self-care, as a brand, intersectionality is also at top of mind for the two creatives who fused their ventures together to address the fully-realized expression of modern-day bohemian Black and brown humans.
Courtesy of The Brown Bohemians
Vanessa and Morgan Ashley are providing the keys to the kingdom, granting entry to the wonders of the world on a global scale through their thoughtful curation and cultural finds, all while making art and culture that much more accessible.
Vanessa and Morgan Ashley have no doubt created a business relationship built on mutual respect and a harmonious balance, truths that can be felt in every thoughtful detail of their brand. With Vanessa serving as Creative Director and Morgan Ashley as Director of PR and Operations, the co-creators are taking their vision a step further with the execution of their latest project,Brown Bohemians: Honoring the Light and Magic of Our Creative Community, a 200+ page full-color coffee table book. In it, the two curated a beautiful celebration of Black and brown people around the world who share their most honest truths while representing the complexity of creative communities.
Without further adieu, meet Vanessa and Morgan Ashley.
Where did the idea of Brown Bohemian come from?
Vanessa Coore Vernon: Brown Bohemian started as just an online platform originally just to highlight the creative energy and creative spirit of brown and Black people. Since Instagram has been around, it has really allowed us to take control of our own images and our own narrative more than we ever have before because there's no red tape. I think it really enables a lot of brown and Black people, in particular, to lean further into their creative endeavors, creative spirit, [as well as] create adventures. Also, to really honor who it is they are and not feel like they have to wait or be subjected to someone choosing or asking them to be a part of something.
What is the significance of describing Black and brown people as 'Bohemian'?
Vanessa: I wanted Brown Bohemians to be a place where we can gather the images, gather the people and highlight them to create a broader tribe of people that look like you, think like you, dress like you, and speak like you. When you think of Bohemian, obviously from the 19th-century context, it was artisans from lower-income that found creative ways to do things. We wanted to make sure that brown and Black people took up space when you looked up what a creative person looks like or what Bohemian looks like. I wanted to make sure that our images were there and our stories were there.
"When you think of Bohemian, it was artisans from lower-income that found creative ways to do things. We wanted to make sure that brown and Black people took up space when you looked up what a creative person looks like or what Bohemian looks like. I wanted to make sure that our images were there and our stories were there."
Courtesy of The Bohemian Brands
What was the transition from going to the social platform into the business side for Brown Bohemian?
Vanessa: The transition came when I realized that we don't own Instagram. We don't own any of these social platforms and all of this gathering that we've been doing will at some point wash away, and we had no control. I was like, how amazing would it be to have a book sell with these images, these people, and these stories? Especially when the majority of the books that I have in this same realm are white people through and through. There might be maybe one brown or racially ambiguous person, but for the most part, they don't necessarily look like us. That kind of initiated the process of wanting to turn Brown Bohemians into an actual book, a tangible book. Something you can hold, something you can pass, something you can share, something that lived outside of ourselves.
What is it like to run a business with your friend?
Vanessa: It's really difficult to run a business with anyone much less someone that you are friends with or in a partnership with. A lot of people literally will tell you from the very beginning don't partner with your friends because if something doesn't work out, you not only lose a partnership, you lose the friendship. The strength that has worked for me and Morgan is that we genuinely respect how each other works and we like each other and do our job. So, I don't concern myself with any part of her business and she doesn't concern herself with any part of mine. We don't micromanage each other and we know that each of us are doing our job. That's a big part of our work ethic.
Morgan Ashley: I think if you're going to do it, doing it in the way that Nessa described, is just super important. Because in my mind, there can't be two CEOs that do the exact same thing or two artists to do the exact same thing. I think that's why it's been able to work. I don't ever really see myself wanting to design or do those things. It doesn't excite me. I think that what I do does excite me, and the same for Nessa.
Being Black queer women, how has this influenced your brand and business?
Morgan Ashley: I'm definitely loud about being Black first and queer. Those are things that I advocate for and am extremely proud to be and identify as. Identifying as a woman, a black woman, and a queer Black woman is extremely important to me. I would like to say that I put a ton of attention behind it and always want to put it on the forefront, but it just happens organically because those are things that I'm so proud to be. It just comes across in everything that I do. Blackness and conversations around race and ethnicity are in everything. So whether it is us publishing this book that's for our community or we are going to a restaurant and are the only Black people at a table, it's a conversation that we have to talk about. So, for me, it comes across in everything that I do organically because I'm so proud to be and identify that way.
Vanessa: I wholeheartedly agree. The thing I love the most, and that I know within our brand and within ourselves, is it is something that happens consciously and unconsciously all the time. It shows that we are unapologetic about who we are and who we evolve to be. For me, it was less about labels or how you identify or what you believe and more about are you living in love authentically and living in your highest and best life. That was always the most important thing and I made sure in our brand everything represents the people that are a part of it.
"Identifying as a woman, a black woman, and a queer Black woman is extremely important to me. I would like to say that I put a ton of attention behind it and always want to put it on the forefront, but it just happens organically because those are things that I'm so proud to be. It just comes across in everything that I do. Blackness and conversations around race and ethnicity are in everything."
Why were you the ones to tell this story and did you have any self-doubt?
Vanessa: 1000%, [we had] all the self-doubt because, who are we to think that we can publish a book? Being women; brown and Black women, just in life in general you can find yourself always being pushed down, pushed in a corner; shoved down. I think you question and second-guess yourself more than other people in that same situation. These opportunities don't show up at our door. Essentially, we have to show up for the people that showed up for us. It's more about fighting through nervousness and eagerness and saying we are absolutely worth it, we are absolutely showing up as ourselves, and this project is bigger than that. There were people we reached out to in the community that sent us their images and their stories, and they trusted us. I always looked at it like, no matter what, this isn't about me, this is about them; showing up for these people that trusted us with their story. So, no matter what, I'm going to make sure I see it through.
Morgan Ashley: I joined the project for brand Bohemian only a couple of years ago. I haven't been here since its inception, so I don't have the same feeling regarding self-doubt. What kept coming up for me is fight or flight. At that moment when she asked me for help, I had to do it or she wasn't going to do it at all. I didn't have the time over the years to have the same feeling. I just remember thinking at that moment, 'Holy shit, we have to get this done.'
How did you come to the decision to write a book?
Vanessa: The decision came from knowing that we wanted it to live outside of the social platform and then trying our hand at self-publishing. We were not just telling our story, we wanted the stories of all of these different brown and black people around the world to have their story shared through their work and images. We found we were more of a vessel or a conduit. We have 53 different brown and black people that have a quote in the book or a whole feature. That itself is a rarity and very, very hard to do. But it was our job to just get as many people from different places and different backgrounds as possible telling their story. It was important to make sure that their stories directly came from them, and were highlighted.
We didn't want to send off all of these stories and all of their images to our publisher. For us, the part that made our book special and different is we did everything. It was every single image, the color tuning of it, editing the text, the layout, the concept; every single element was done by us, by the three of us. To look at this book, know that it's black and brown hands and black and brown energy that created it through and through. We have everyone from different places, different backgrounds melted into this book, but still made it feel seamless.
"Being women; brown and Black women, just in life in general you can find yourself always being pushed down, pushed in a corner; shoved down. I think you question and second-guess yourself more than other people in that same situation. These opportunities don't show up at our door. Essentially, we have to show up for the people that showed up for us. It's more about fighting through nervousness and eagerness and saying we are absolutely worth it, we are absolutely showing up as ourselves, and this project is bigger than that."
Courtesy of The Brown Bohemians
How did you create the images in the book?
Vanessa: In our community, we ride for each other, we show up for each other and that's literally how this happened. The people that are featured in the book are people we're inspired by and are our friends. Also, people whose work we aspire to collaborate with one day or that do beautiful stuff in our community. Everyone did this off the strength of the relationship we have or them being familiar with our brand or feel at ease to share their story. The book has a warm familiarity to it that can be rare and hard to find. It doesn't feel like this whole book happened outside of our community but happened within our community.
What is the Brown Bohemians book about in your words?
Morgan Ashley: I think what you'll see and feel is yourself as a person of color in a way that you have never seen yourself before. The coffee table book is really about Black and brown folks, but it's our voices in regards to curating it and then the voices of the people who are featured. I think you'll see yourself in a way that you haven't before and you'll see Bohemian described differently in a way that we haven't been before. People look very different in this book than you would see when you're Googling or looking up the word Bohemian. So that feels really authentic because we are as a brand who our community is, and it felt necessary to do.
Vanessa: These are pieces from this ongoing story, and no matter if it's this book or 50 books in the future; there would never be enough books to house the complexities of us, the creative spirits of us, or our contributions. But, this is just our art and adding something to this big puzzle that is important. We hope that you see yourself reflected back to you in some ways because the most important part of this book is that you feel a part of this community, you know you're a part of this community and you feel welcomed here.
For more of The Brown Bohemians, follow them on Instagram. Purchase the Brown Bohemians coffee table book by clicking here.
Featured image courtesy of The Brown Bohemians
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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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith went to social media to share their Thanksgiving holiday with followers. The pair were surrounded by family and friends Thursday, and both posted how grateful they were to be with the ones they loved. Yet this comes on the heels of Pinkett Smith’s whirlwind of negative opinions and critics forecasting her book would be a flop.
Despite the negative feedback she received, Worthy, Pinkett Smith’s memoir, still debuted at #3 on the New York Times’ Best Seller list on October 25. The greatest backlash she received was centered around her relationship with Smith and the fact that the two had been living separate lives since 2016.
The commentary about their marriage overshadowed the reality that this book is ultimately about her journey to self-worth and the path she’s had to take in order to get there.
Social media comments about her book tour ranged from, “Me counting all the times Jada woke up and chose to embarrass Will Smith,” to podcasts like The Joe Budden Podcast saying, “Take me out the group chat,” which was a sentiment shared by many celebrities and fans alike. Yet, a point made by comedian KevOnStage proved that even though people say they don’t want to know about the Smiths, they’re secretly interested and want to know more.
Since the Smiths were wed in 1997, people have been fascinated with their marriage, and rumors about their marital arrangement have always been a topic of conversation. People continue to speculate that the pair is gay and swingers, and even new allegations have come out that Smith and Duane Martin shared an intimate relationship at one point.
However, despite their consistent united front throughout their marriage in recent years, Pinkett Smith has borne the brunt of backlash in the couple’s relationship, from her entanglement with August Alsina to Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards to the recent truths she’s shared about the couple’s marriage in her memoir.
Individuals are consistently running to the internet to support Smith and villainize Pinkett Smith, from podcast guests saying things such as “She doesn’t like Will, she likes the lifestyle” to deeming her “mean” or "manipulative" because of her facial expressions and demeanor.
Likewise, when you have hosts of daytime talk shows such as Ana Navarro saying, “I think she’s having a relationship with her bank account,” insinuating Pinkett Smith only shared stories about Smith to increase her book sales, it begs the question of where was this same energy when Smith released his memoir?
In Will, Smith discusses both of his marriages and how, in relationships, because of his upbringing, he needed constant validation and praise from his partners to feel secure. He also shared the reality that Pinkett Smith never wanted to be married, just as she never wanted the huge estate they share in California, but he wanted to give it to her despite her feelings about it.
Smith admitted to creating this family empire that only further boosted his ego and what he wanted his legacy to be instead of actually asking his family what they wanted or needed. People praised him for his vulnerability and said his book was an inspiration.
So how is it that one book about a person’s family, upbringing, and journey to self is praised, and another is villainized? The glaring thought that comes to me is, does likability often trump accountability?
People love Smith and his “good guy” persona; he’s always been an attractive, charismatic man that people can relate to, so even when he speaks about the way he mismanaged his marriage and family, it’s seen as growth. On the contrary, because Pinkett Smith doesn’t constantly fawn over him and shares how miserable she was in their marriage, she’s the villain.
People still blame her for not stopping Smith from smacking Rock at the Oscars and share their sentiments about how she embarrassed Smith with her entanglement with Alsina. Though this is a celebrity couple we’ve all followed for years, the question must be asked, how much accountability must Black women be subjected to in relationship to their partners' actions?
Why is it that the media is more interested in the marriage between Smith and Pinkett Smith than her childhood, or the fact her memoir consists of writing prompts, meditations, and methods for other women to find their sense of worth?
Could it be that the larger society doesn’t value Black women having the tools to find their own sense of worth? Or is it that Black women are expected to accept whatever is given to them regardless of how they feel or what they want?
The exclusive interview with Eboni K. Williams (@ebonikwilliams) and Dr. Iyanla Vanzant about if she would date a bus driver seems to have a lot of people talking. You can watch her response tonight on #theGrio. Catch the full interview, here: https://t.co/ctxE0zKFWj pic.twitter.com/BhIO52T2fg— theGrio.com (@theGrio) May 2, 2023
When Eboni K. Williams shared that she wasn’t interested in dating a bus driver, the internet blew up with individuals saying that Black women need to be less selective with their dating prospects. The commentary around this conversation shed much light on the reality that this demographic is expected and invited to settle in love if they actually want a life partner.
Black women aren’t often given the space to find their joy, fulfillment, or even self-worth because of the responsibility they’re forced to acquire in order to support their families and communities. Yet, “high value” Black men speak vehemently about Black women’s masculinity and inability to submit. We’re often inundated with podcast guests sharing that they’re not impressed by our success and are uninterested in our aspirations.
Black women, from a young age, are taught to place their community first and cater to the men around them regardless of what they do or how they behave.
We see this when young girls are told to put on pants when male relatives come around, we experience it when domestic violence survivors are encouraged not to press charges against their perpetrators, and we even see it when Black women face backlash for dating outside of their race.
The way Pinkett Smith has been treated since sharing the truth about her life and journey of discovering her self-worth is another example of how the world isn’t receptive to Black women being their most authentic selves.
It’s another example we can hold up to illustrate how Black women are expected to be magical but not human.
Even with this article, I’m sure there will be many who want to argue why Pinkett Smith was wrong in her narrative, but at the end of the day, it was her story to tell, and no one has more authority to share her lived experience than her.
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Featured image by James Devaney/GC Images