For decades, the beauty industry has maintained a culture that prioritizes correcting and concealing our outward blemishes while overlooking our inward needs. As brands sell products with the promise of flawless skin, Devin McGhee, co-founder of the adaptogenic brand, Deon Libra, suggests that the key to one’s wellness starts by getting to the root of their stress.
After losing her father to a stress-induced heart attack in 2018, McGhee began to have difficulties sleeping. “A lot of people were like, ‘just take Xanax,’ because there were days where I was up anywhere from 48 to 72 hours with no sleep. Meaning no nap, nothing,” she recalls. Armed with firsthand experience of the effects that long-term stress can have on the body through the loss of her father, she began researching natural stress solutions to cope with her grief.
“I didn't want that to be my fate,” says McGhee.
Through her research, McGhee found out about a profound natural remedy that gradually put her mind and body at ease. “Adaptogens are essentially a specific group of herbs and non-psychedelic mushrooms that help your body regulate your cortisol levels,” she explains.
“I came across a sleep study that studied Black people sleeping versus white people sleeping. They monitored their heart rate and blood pressure and what they realized was that when Black people are sleeping, they're not truly at rest because their blood pressure and heart rates do not drop to the normal level of a sleeping human,” she says. “When I realized that, everything in my world and what happened to my dad clicked.”
Deon Libra CEO/co-founder Devin McGhee
Courtesy of Devin McGhee
It wasn’t long before she began seeing changes in her mood and after just two weeks of taking adaptogens, McGhee was finally sleeping again.
“I looked at Brit, our co-founder, and I was like, this works. Why isn't anybody teaching Black people about this?” she says. “There were no brands marketing this to Black people and teaching Black people." She decided to create her own.
Deon Libra, named in tribute to McGhee’s father’s middle name and his astrological sign, is an adaptogenic brand fostering beauty and wellness from the inside out. In November, the brand launched its ingestible adaptogenic powder, Unbothered, along with Big Up, a luxe, adaptogenic full-body oil serum that aims to make Black folks feel and look good.
Deon Libra COO/co-founder Brit Kirkland
Courtesy of Devin McGhee
McGhee and her co-founder/fiancée, Brit Kirkland, aim to supply “stress care to every hood.” Through their bold, luxurious, and educational products, the duo strives to challenge the “white, skinny, and feminine” standard within the wellness industry that often treats Black folks as an afterthought.
“In the wellness industry, we've been excluding so many people by trying to make it this cookie-cutter thing,” she shares. “I think what keeps a lot of people away from wellness is that it's so intimidating, and nothing looks fun,” McGhee continues. “Wellness can be fun; not everything has to be a meditation or yoga pose.”
xoNecole: Being a new founder, are there any obstacles or challenges that you've encountered along the way? If so, what have you learned from them?
Devin McGhee: As a founder, it feels like every day is an obstacle. Outside looking in, it just seems like everybody wants to be ‘the perfect founder,’ and everybody wants to have their shit together. But I've learned that that's impossible. If you're a founder, most times, it's your first time doing this. At one point in your life, it was your first time taking a physical step and you had to learn how to walk. I look at my founderhood the same way: every day, I'm going to do something and learn something. If I've never done it before, and I don't understand it, that’s okay.
I think a lot of times, the lack of knowledge and the lack of access to certain knowledge on your founder's journey scares a lot of people. The difference for me, and my co-founder—who's also my fiancée—is that we never let not knowing scare us. Just because you don't know something about a certain area doesn't mean that you can't learn it. And that doesn't mean that you can't find somebody to help you learn it or help guide you through that process.
"Outside looking in, it just seems like everybody wants to be ‘the perfect founder,’ and everybody wants to have their shit together. But I've learned that that's impossible.”
xoN: The wellness industry is a traditionally white space that can often feel exclusionary to Black people. How do you hope to shift this with your brand?
DM: I always like to emphasize that the wellness industry is very white, feminine, and skinny. When we were doing all those polls and surveys while trying to initially build the brand, one thing that stood out to me was how whenever I mentioned something with wellness and color, it came down to very muted, light things. And so for me, I had to first define what wellness looked like to me. And for me, it was balance.
If practicing yoga once a week or meditating is your thing, that's a form of wellness and it looks different for everybody. I really wanted to create a brand that allowed our people to create space for themselves during the day.
"For me, I had to first define what wellness looked like to me. And for me, it was balance. If practicing yoga once a week or meditating is your thing, that's a form of wellness and it looks different for everybody. I really wanted to create a brand that allowed our people to create space for themselves during the day."
Courtesy of Devin McGhee
xoN: As someone who has battled with stress and seen the impact that long-term stress can have on the body, how has your relationship with wellness evolved since first starting Deon Libra?
DM: I think I'm very much a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ type of person right now, and it's not 100% intentional, but I am a founder, and there are sacrifices you make. I tell people it's really important to get sleep and take your adaptogens daily, and I try my hardest to practice that. But we run a whole company with just two people and I'm very straightforward about that. Like on Instagram, if I'm having a bad day, I have no problem saying that this journey is really, really hard right now. I think we talk a lot about founders making entrepreneurship look really glamorous, online and it's not, this shit is ghetto. I tell anybody who wants to do this that it’s worth it, but it's very ghetto.
Although I know how to take care of myself, I don't do the best and that's because I'm trying to make sure other people do it. There's a line on the Kendrick Lamar song, "Mr. Morale" where he says, "I'm sacrificing myself to start the healing," and that’s literally my mantra. I'm not gonna let this company kill me, but somebody has to make the sacrifice for Black people to understand how detrimental stress is to our life and that it can kill you. It killed my daddy and he was 54.
I think there are a lot of things that are challenging as a founder, especially as a Black, female LGBT founder. There are a lot of things you have to take and tolerate, so I think the hardest part about my wellness for me is balancing what I'm going to tolerate, what I want to change for other founders and entrepreneurs, and what I can deal with.
"There are a lot of things that are challenging as a founder, especially as a Black, female LGBT founder. There are a lot of things you have to take and tolerate, so I think the hardest part about my wellness for me is balancing what I'm going to tolerate, what I want to change for other founders and entrepreneurs, and what I can deal with."
Courtesy of Devin McGhee
xoN: Overall, how do you hope Black people will feel and take away from their experience with Deon Libra?
DM: I hope that our people know that they are worthy of anything and everything good, to them and for them. Down to our branding, Brit was like we really need a little monogram that looks like luxury; like the LV of Louis Vuitton, because as Black people, we deserve to have luxury.
Luxury doesn’t have to equate to a dollar sign. Luxury for me is things that make you feel good and that make you proud to be exactly who you are and where you are at any given point in your life. I just want Black people to know that they are worthy of feeling good. I think everything cool and everything innovative comes from Black culture, I will stand by that until I die.
Featured image courtesy of Devin McGhee