At any given time of day, Fairfax Avenue turns into a catwalk for streetwear aficionados. They step out in neon Air Max's with doorknockers dangling from their ears while multi-ringed fingers snap and flick their latest fashion conquest. They're dressed to the nines in urban gear, and some even camp out for days outside the doors of popular skateboard and streetwear brands, vying to claim the title of being the first to scoop the latest release.
Photo Credit: Kiah McBride
In the midst of the “all boys club" of apparel stores is the boutique ran by designer, Melody Ehsani — a bright white shop with vibrant-colored threads, multi-dimensional jewelry and chromed-out bikes. Though she stands out by gender, her designs fit into the hip-hop culture of consumers that grace the gritty West Hollywood street. Her designs have adorned the ears, hands and backs of artists, such as Erykah Badu, Beyoncé, and Lauryn Hill, and like her fellow soul sisters, she stands to ensure that we're not confined by societal norms — that we're accounted for and heard.
Redefining the proverbial rules is nothing new to Ehsani. She grew up in a Persian household that preferred fitting into molds over breaking them. “Parents Just Don't Understand" became her mantra as she fought to maintain her creativity and identity with little support from her family. Though her mother was a painter, art as a career wasn't considered realistic. It was good to be a doctor, being a designer was disgraceful.
“I wanted to be a pediatrician because I wanted to please my parents, and my culture identified being a doctor as the highest possible value in terms of role," Ehsani says of her days before design.
Though she didn't become a doctor she still went the “safe" route, trading in her stethoscope for social justice, and dedicating undergrad to prepping for a career in law, interning on Capitol Hill at the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, and working as a paralegal for a private firm before throwing in the towel a week into law school upon realizing that her purpose wasn't in legal.
“I still felt like I hadn't found a place for myself within the legal field," she says. “I had a meltdown when I found out how much law school was going to cost me, and knew that I couldn't pay off my loans unless I worked in the field, and that gave me major anxiety at the time."
She searched her soul, read self-help books, and consulted close friends who helped her to discover that she was repeating the patterns of her parents who subscribed to a culture where blueprints weren't created, but were followed. She credits prayer and meditation to being the catalyst behind her transformation and decision to follow her passion instead.
“I would have these conversations with God and be like show me my path, show me how to serve you, and show me what you look like to me!" she says. “Establishing that personal relationship with my Creator outside of any learned constructs was very powerful. I found guided meditation to work very well for me. I would literally put questions to my soul, and my soul would answer. My intuition has and continues to sharpen as a result, and it has helped me make a lot of decisions with a clear head while being true to myself."
At 23, she went back to embracing the real Melody who bumped N.W.A., studied hieroglyphics, and rocked bamboo earrings and three-fingered rings. She enrolled in the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and interned at Creative Recreation before deciding to sketch out her own shoe designs. But becoming a designer wasn't an easy feat, and during the period in between waiting for her shoes to arrive, she started experimenting with the laser cutter at school, ultimately creating what would become the Melody Ehsani jewelry collection.
“Love is not this esoteric thing that's in the air. Its real, its powerful. Find what you love no matter how big or small it is and do it everyday, and I promise it will serve you," she says. “I think often times we feel bogged down because of the breadth of the work we think we have to do to 'find ourselves,' but start small. If you're asleep on the couch, just wake up. If you're awake on the couch, just sit up. If you're sitting, stand up. Just one small step and we can all move forward.“
Behind the Business
When I first came across Melody Ehsani, I was instantly hooked by her creative designs. I saved my dollars to make my first purchase — a pair of lightening shaped earrings that I still rock to this day—and waited anxiously for the mailman to deliver my goods. I opened the box and pulled out a card that read “Stop Waiting to Be Who You Already Are." The words spoke to me, and I later went out and bought a frame so it could sit on my desk as a reminder to no longer speak about who I wanted to be, but to boldly claim who I already am. Packaging is something sometimes overlooked, but when carefully curated can be just as distinguishable as your brand.
“I was really into package design, so I wanted it to be beautiful," says Ehsani about the decision behind her packaging. “I had an image of a certain warm pink and gold and I wanted to make sure my tag line “I see you" was on the box. It was “I see you" because the first friend that really mirrored back to me who I was, said that to me, and it was so powerful because I believed it. I also learned that in Africa, it's a common greeting from one person to the next. I found that to be the most beautiful thing ever. From that moment on I wanted to pay it forward, be it forward to everyone who wore or purchased my items."
Ehsani said the hardest part of the design process is the manufacturing. She spent a few months in China building relationships and researching the best manufacturers to produce her custom designs. “Now there is no need for this for people starting out. You can find everything online," she says.
Over the last decade she's built a distinguishable brand, developing a cult-like following of women who are just as in love with urban culture as the designer herself. But it's not just her colorful collection that is drawing people to the shop, but the message behind the material.
“I actually have been following Mel for a long time,“ says Daisy Espana, a model who doubles as an intern at the M.E. shop. “I liked how her message was that you can be yourself. You don't ever have to switch up or pretend to be somebody you're not; who you are is perfect. I love that because growing up I felt like I was an outsider; I didn't really fit in. But coming here, she was very welcoming and she's always been like that, and it's kind of like a big sister, somebody to look up to."
Authenticity is etched in her brand, from the designs often intertwining her Persian and American background to the motivational messages inserted into her packaging. Carving out her own lane has been just as fulfilling to her as it's been inspirational to others.
“I knew the only way I could serve myself and the world was by expressing it through doing something that I really loved. Having this understanding within myself helped me to overcome any fear and move forward with what I knew to be true."
Building Beyond the Brand
On an early Friday evening, a group of over 120 women and men packed into the M.E. shop to talk “Race, Racism & The Healing Process," one of the many discussions hosted by Ehsani and her select guests as a part of the Speaker Series, where she transforms her retail space into an open discussion forum on a variety of issues plaguing the community and society as a whole.
"I'm building a fashion empire, but in reality I'm really building an empire of service, fashion is just the vehicle," Ehsani says. “Using my platform to create community and try to move the feminine forward is my passion and my purpose. I like looking at trends in the world and figuring out what kind of messaging I want to create to support or refute those trends."
Being the only woman to open shop on a strip dominated by male-owned brands like Supreme and Diamond Supply isn't Ehsani's only breakthrough as an urban fashion entrepreneur. In 2011 she claimed the title of being the first female to have a pump sneaker with Reebok — her design sold out within hours — and has continued to collaborate with the brand on a number of custom design projects.
But still, being fearless enough to be the woman of the block is pretty damn awesome.
“It was very needed and very smart of Mel to do it like hey let's put this here," says Espana. “We're going to scream louder than any other shops here because we're the only girl store here, so girls love us for that. We started noticing that a lot of those stores started carrying girl stuff like oh okay, we're going to make this a real section in our store now."
Breaking barriers and defying the odds both creatively and culturally has enabled Ehsani to build a rewarding life instead of a regretful one. After all, well-behaved women rarely make history.
“It's always safer to repeat history, to do what's always been done, but that's not why I'm here; that's not why God created me," says Ehsani. “I believe each person on this planet right now is a special part of the remedy to all the ills that are happening. We can't afford to repeat history; we have to make it."
For more of Melody, follow her on Instagram.
- MELODYEHSANI (@MELODYEHSANI) | Twitter ›
- Jewelry Designer Melody Ehsani on Craftsmanship - YouTube ›
- About - Melody Ehsani ›
- This L.A. Streetwear Designer Changed The City's Retail Game ... ›
- Custom Designer - Melody Ehsani ›
- Melody Ehsani (@melodyehsani) • Instagram photos and videos ›
- Official Melody Ehsani Website ›
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.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
When we think about our overall health, how we keep up without physical strength and emotional endurance are often a top priority. But another muscle that’s just as important to keep sharp and in shape is our brain.
Our brain is the control center for everything we do. From its ability to keep our memory and motor skills in running order to maintaining the millions of subconscious functions that we’re unaware of, our mind is essential for overall well-being and quality of life. And while the wonders of our brain’s full capacity still remain a mystery, one thing that we can be sure of is its complex nature that controls one important factor, cognition.
“Brain cognition is a term for the mental processes that take place in the brain, including thinking, attention, language, learning, memory, and perception,” Anna Braunsdorf, VP of Content at Elevate Labs, tells xoNecole. “It's a critical part of our day-to-day life as it helps us understand and interact with the world around us.”
The brain is responsible for the storage and retrieval of information, allowing us to remember past experiences and learn from them. It controls our ability to focus on specific tasks or stimuli while filtering out irrelevant information and is crucial for language processing, including understanding, speaking, reading, and writing.
As we age, the need to keep our minds sharp and focused is more important than ever, and it’s never too early to start.
With November officially serving Alzheimer's Awareness Month, it’s important to recognize and understand the causes and preventive measures to take with this common disease that primarily affects memory, cognitive function, and the ability to carry out daily activities.
Thankfully, there are a number of specific exercises and practices that can contribute to and improve cognitive well-being. “We can do a lot of easy things to support our cognitive well-being on a daily basis, such as completing memory exercises, playing word games, meditating, and practicing mental math,” Braunsdorf says.
“Unsurprisingly, in this digital age, there are a host of apps available to support us in improving these skills while also making it fun. From Elevate, which trains practical cognitive skills in the areas of vocabulary, memory, reading, writing, speaking, and math through fun, research-backed games, to Balance, which is a highly personalized meditation app that can improve people's stress, sleep, focus, and mood, people can easily work on improving their cognitive well-being with the help of mobile apps,” she adds.
Engaging in activities that stimulate the brain promotes improved memory, clearer thinking, and reduced anxiety and depression, better mental health. Improved cognitive health is essential for overall cognitive well-being.
“The National Institute on Aging clinical research has reported that engaging in activities like music, theater, dance, and creative writing can improve quality of life and well-being in older adults, boosting their memory and self-esteem and reducing their stress and loneliness,” she says.
“As I like to put it: Physical health can help you live a long life, but cognitive health makes that life worth living.”
The road to a stronger and healthier brain doesn’t have to feel like mental gymnastics. In fact, Braunsdorf says that solving puzzles, especially crossword puzzles, is an effective way to maintain cognitive sharpness and have fun while doing it.
“Studies published in top medical journals have found that solving crossword puzzles, in particular, can improve cognition, problem-solving, and memory skills. According to a Harvard study, crossword puzzles can improve thinking and memory almost as much as an FDA-approved memory-enhancing medication by engaging multiple regions of the brain and training them to link new concepts together,” she says.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image by Vuk Saric/Getty Images