From Educator To Entrepreneur: Abena Boamah-Acheampong On Creating A Sustainable Brand With Hanahana Beauty
Sometimes the best solutions aren't found in reinventing the wheel but instead found through getting back to the basics. That is a truth that helped founder and CEO Abena Boamah-Acheampong sow the seeds that would eventually make her clean beauty brand Hanahana Beauty bloom. Birthed from a place of needing nourishing skincare products to combat Chicago’s harsh, cold weather, Abena happened upon a solution for dry skin by turning to a trusted product she grew up on, shea butter.
This time though, instead of just using the raw material, the Ghanaian-American began formulating different products in her kitchen until she landed on three body butters, lavender vanilla, lemongrass, and eucalyptus. And after trying the products on her family and friends, the former algebra teacher said goodbye to education and hello to the beauty space with the launch of her brand, Hanahana Beauty.
Since launching in 2017, Hanahana Beauty and its holy grail Body Butters have become more than a skincare and wellness brand. In addition to providing skincare essentials for melanated individuals, Abena wanted her brand to have a social impact that offered levels of sustainability for not just herself, but for the Katariga Women's Shea Cooperative–where she sources her shea butter–through her Hanahana Circle of Care, an organization that provides healthcare access and education and wellness activations.
Today, Abena is preparing for retail expansion following her recent launches in Revolve and JCPenny, as well as looking for new ways to create access to the brand by listening to her community and focusing on what they want. In this conversation with xoNecole, Hanahana Beauty founder, Abena Boamah-Acheampong talks with us about the importance of creating a sustainable beauty brand, how her time in Ghana shaped Hanahana Beauty, and what advice she gives to the next generation of Black women entrepreneurs.
xoNecole: When did you realize you wanted to go into the skincare and wellness space?
Abena Boamah-Acheampong: In 2014, I was teaching and in grad school, and started making shea products for myself, because the cold weather in Chicago was drying my skin out. I'm Ghanian. So the first thing that I thought about was shea butter. I grew up using it and wanted a better product instead of the raw material.
I became interested in the wellness space, through the eyes of what it would be like as a therapist in beauty. But around 2017, as my parents and my friends began using the products, they encouraged me to start something. And that's when I decided to start a business. But even then, I was more so interested in the social impact.
I felt like the beauty industry was unsustainable, and it didn't make sense to me. I realized how much money was being made and saw how there was a lack of sustainability. So as I started, I became more interested in beauty and wellness as a business and a brand. But all of it came back to me being both an educator and a graduate student, and how to create levels of sustainability through people or whatever I wanted to do.
"I became interested in the wellness space, through the eyes of what it would be like as a therapist in beauty. But around 2017, as my parents and my friends began using the products, they encouraged me to start something. And that's when I decided to start a business. But even then, I was more so interested in the social impact."
xoN: How much time did you spend with the Katariga women in Ghana as you were developing your brand? What did you learn from them? And then how did your time there shape Hanahana Beauty?
ABA: I launched in 2017 but didn’t go back to Ghana until after. There, I met the producers of Katariga Women's Shea Cooperative, and that experience shaped the whole look of Hanahana Circle of Care. After finishing grad school in 2018, I moved to Ghana and lived in Accra. I was going back to the city of Tamale–which is where we source the raw materials–once a month.
And during the first seven months to a year of living in Ghana, the Hanahana Circle of Care began as an initiative surrounding healthcare and access to it. Because the women there felt that that was what they were lacking. So we held bi-annual healthcare days along with monthly health education and just kept growing. During this time, we began to look at what are some things that we, as a brand, have access to. And what can we give access to?
Then, in 2021, we decided that with all of the work that we had been doing–where we were pulling money from our sales to do this work–how do we now just create it, so it's more sustainable and expanding? So how do we look at access to healthcare in a way that we can mobilize it? So that's when we formatted it to become a fiscal sponsor.
We worked with The Body: A Home for Love–a nonprofit founded by Deun Ivory–who is our fiscal sponsor. When I launched Hanahana, being a B Corporation was always something that I strived for and now the Hanahana Circle of Care is moving into becoming a nonprofit.
xoN: How many products did you initially launch and how long did it take for you to develop them?
ABA: We launched with three shea butters: lavender vanilla, lemongrass, and eucalyptus. We also launched the shea balm which, at the time, we called the exfoliating bar. I had been making the products since 2014 and just working on different formulations for myself. And in December 2016, I went home to see my parents and told them that I wanted to start a brand. I already knew the formulas because I was working on them for three years for myself and my friends and family, so it took me three months to launch the brand.
Now, if I was launching a whole brand today, I would think of it very differently. But that time was perfect for me because people got to grow with me as a founder, as a person, and as a teacher who was making products. They got a chance to grow with the brand from the time I was making products in my kitchen to now having a team and doing different launches.
xoN: How was the transition from being an educator to pursuing entrepreneurship full-time?
ABA: My transition came from a place of me having to do it. I was in my second year of grad school and had been teaching for two years. When it came to my third year of teaching, I had to decide to move into finishing my master's program and that’s when I started Hanahana. But when I finished in 2018, I moved to Ghana and was a therapist for maybe six months while still building the brand. And in 2018, I was just doing Hanahana full-time.
I feel like I didn't realize [the career transition] because, for me, it was more so the idea that I wasn’t going to apply to anything else after grad school. I remember talking to my parents because they wanted me to get my license. But I felt like if I couldn’t make it in Ghana, then I would keep doing therapy.
While in Ghana, though, I was inspired to continue taking the creative entrepreneur route. And if Hanahana didn’t work out, then I had already realized how my skills as a teacher and everything that I learned as a therapist worked in the creative and entrepreneurial space.
"I have to prioritize my growth to be able to prioritize anything. A lot of times in this self-care era–and in spaces where you're promoting self-care–people find themselves promoting and centering self instead of growth. And I think when you center growth, you're going to think of how you affect people through work, through your personal life, all those things."
xoN: What have you learned about yourself since launching Hanahana Beauty and how would you use that to inspire the next generation of Black women entrepreneurs?
ABA: I've learned that I have to prioritize my growth to be able to prioritize anything. A lot of times in this self-care era–and in spaces where you're promoting self-care–people find themselves promoting and centering self instead of growth. And I think when you center growth, you're going to think of how you affect people through work, through your personal life, all those things.
So I think that's important because as entrepreneurs, and especially as Black women entrepreneurs, we're told to focus on one thing. But then how do you build this brand if you want to be a mom, or if you are a mom, or if you're just being a Black woman in general? Sometimes capitalism can be very consuming and it really pushes us to a level of self-centeredness and also lack. And I feel like when you prioritize growth, it allows you to see every situation as a new opportunity for yourself to grow.
Featured image courtesy of Abena Boamah-Acheampong
Dorion Renaud was first introduced to us in 2008 on BET’s College Hill: Atlanta. Soon after, the Beaumont, Texas native saw great success as a model, gracing the pages of Vogue magazine, and as an actor, starring in Bounce TV’s hit sitcom, In The Cut. Recently, Dorion has added the title of 'entrepreneur' to his ever-growing list of accomplishments and successes over his decade-plus-long career. With the launch of his skincare line, Buttah, he has taken the beauty and skincare industry by storm, providing Black men and women with attainable solutions to their pressing skincare concerns and resulting in an all-around even skin tone.
From embarking on a quest to address his own skincare challenges to being a successful Black skincare founder with products in Macy’s, it’s safe to say that Dorion Renaud’s foray into the beauty space has left and will continue to leave a lasting legacy.
The Buttah founder sat down with xoNecole to discuss what made him go into the beauty industry, common challenges Black people have with skincare, and what inspired him to pivot from the entertainment industry into the entrepreneurial realm.
xoNecole: When did you realize that you wanted to create a skincare line?
Dorion Renaud: In high school. For one, I suffered from hyperpigmentation. I would pick at my skin if I had a pimple or something. But it wasn't the pimple so much that bothered me, it was the dark spots that it left. So I began looking for resources in my small town of Beaumont, TX and getting procedures in places where I shouldn’t have gone to get these dark spots off of my skin.
I realized there were many young people around me with those same issues. And when I got in front of the camera at about 18 or 19, I realized how much makeup was needed to cover the dark spots. It was an insecurity that I had. When they took the makeup off me, whether it be for TV or modeling, I wished that I either had makeup to cover the spots or a skincare solution.
When I was in Harlem, I found some shea butter and I started using it all over my body and my face and saw that my skin was clearing up. I thought it would have broken me out due to the fats in it, but it actually worked with my skin. And so as I started matriculating in Hollywood and doing more work on camera, it had always been a goal of mine to perfect my skin or try to keep it as clear as possible.
Soon after, everybody started asking what I was doing, and it was really just a gentle cleanser, a vitamin C serum, and the shea butter from Harlem. When I learned that there were so many people who were embarrassed to ask–especially men–what I was doing for my skin, I realized that skincare in our community wasn’t something that we were educated on properly. We were somewhat ashamed to ask for help in that area. So I wanted to create a line that was easy and efficient and that people could feel proud of. And at the top of 2018, the idea for Buttah came to me, with it launching later that year.
xoN: What was the process like creating the products?
DR: It was pretty strenuous, but for a very short amount of time. I had to learn a lot and educate myself on different ingredients. So I worked with a chemist and we got our shea butter directly from Ghana. There was a lot of trying the products and testing them to make sure they had a shelf life. Just so many things that I had no idea about before getting into beauty and skincare because I never thought I would have my own skincare line.
I always knew that I was going to be an entrepreneur. But I never thought I'd have to focus on formulas and ingredients and what they could do to your skin. So I had to dive deep into the problems that we as Black people had with our skin and the most common problems. As I learned more, I began addressing them first so that we could be a solution-based brand. Then we added other things that people can use to enhance their skincare routine.
xoN: What are some common issues that you found when it came to Black people and skincare?
DR: Hyperpigmentation is definitely one of them. The dark spots and unevenness on the skin as well as sun damage. I think a lot of Black people overlook what sun damage can do to your skin, so we developed a Mineral Tinted Sunscreen for that. But in general, breakouts and cystic acne, and discoloration were what most people complained about.
We're not an acne-based company. I was an adult dealing with adult acne and the after-effects of it. I [also] had a hard time finding products that kept me moisturized all day and used shea butter on my body because lotions were drying out 30 minutes after applying it. So I think finding moisture and ingredients that give us that even tone was important because that's where a lot of people were struggling.
They say, “Black don't crack,” but we can crack if we don’t take care of our skin.
xoN: So, what is your current skincare routine?
DR: I love to use our Tea Tree and Aloe Scrub. It's both a mask and a foam cleanser. I like to use that because I like to work out and I'm active during the day. A lot of times, you think you can’t scrub your face every day, but ours is so gentle, I tend to use that most of the time. Then I follow it up with the Vitamin C Serum which regenerates the skin and helps with fine lines and wrinkles, and my CoCoShea Revitalizing Cream. At night, I'll put the toner on just to get my face clean and fresh, and let my skin breathe.
But all of our products are used differently, depending on the climate, where I'm going, and what my skincare needs are. Every part of our system at Buttah is for something. So I even use our Charcoal Mask at least once a week to get all that gunk out of my skin and renew it.
xoN: Your line is in Macy's, JCPenney, and Ulta. How was the process of getting into retail?
DR: We're also in Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, and we're getting ready to launch in Saks Fifth Avenue, which I'm very excited about. It was a process. Fortunately for me, it started taking off during the pandemic. I was at home with a lot of time on my hands to think about the creativity of it, how to make it look and feel a certain way, and be specific to certain retailers. Once we got on HSN and QVC–which was amazing–it allowed me to not only talk about the products but educate people on how to use them. Then retailers started reaching out to us.
Getting into retail is a bit of a process. You have to first have to have the finances to get into these stores. I know a lot of people have dreams of being in retail but they often don't have the money to fulfill their orders. So we had to dive in and restructure as a company because it was costing a lot to go into these retailers. And also make sure that each retailer had the right products and campaigns because every retailer had separate campaigns. Along with going in and training the employees in each store, which is something that I do, I go in and educate them so that they give people the proper education when they come into the stores.
Retail was a totally different game. Once I got the art of direct-to-consumer down, then we went into retail. But I tell people all the time that I'm learning as I go. Because this has been such a fast process, I'm learning the dos and don'ts. A lot of times, a brand will be successful online but won’t do as well in retail, so you have to transition how you promote it and transition how you market it specifically for retailers.
xoN: You said that you always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Did being in the spotlight after 'College Hill' inspire you to pivot from TV to business?
DR: I think it inspired me to understand that I could use my TV presence as a way to grow an audience in different arenas. I was also tired of relying on the entertainment industry to pay my bills. I was looking for something that was for me. In doing television shows and acting, I was always waiting for a “yes” from someone, or always waiting for somebody to tell me what lines to say and what to do. I mean, I'm 34 now and shot College Hill at 20, so I kind of felt like a puppet. I was just doing whatever the industry told me to do to stay successful.
I wanted something that I was in control of and how successful it was, and that it wasn't in somebody else's hands. I think having fame at a young age allowed me to see it and not get too excited about it because I've had it, I've lost it, and I've had it again. And you tend to place value on things that are more purposeful outside of just being in front of the camera. I realized after every season of In The Cut ended, I felt empty. I felt like I needed to find another gig or was hoping that we would get picked up again, and I didn't want to put all my value into that anymore.
Now I still do it. But I'm able to do it through Buttah. I’m able to model through Buttah, act through Buttah, and host through Buttah. And it's so much more fulfilling to not have to have someone telling you what you're doing wrong, or what you can do better to make a show better. It feels more organic this way.
I felt like some of the things that I had done, although they were entertaining, weren't reflective of who I was as a man, as a human, and as a businessman. And I wanted to do something that really showed the world that I mean business. I'm not just here to make people laugh or go on a reality show or take good pictures, but I have purpose behind my name.
"I wanted something that I was in control of and how successful it was, and that it wasn't in somebody else's hands. I think having fame at a young age allowed me to see it and not get too excited about it because I've had it, I've lost it, and I've had it again... I wanted to do something that really showed the world that I mean business. I'm not just here to make people laugh or go on a reality show or take good pictures, but I have purpose behind my name."
Courtesy of Dorion Renaud
xoN: Looking back over your career, what have been some of your greatest lessons?
DR: Wow. You know, stay patient, stay in it. You have to have perseverance and really know what you want out of this. And also listen to the audience. Don't focus so much on your peers and the people around you because the audience will stand by you and support you. They will also let you know when they don't like something. Sometimes your peers can give you a false identity of who you are because they see you as somebody that they're in proximity with. So listen to the supporters, listen to those people out there, and do your education.
Do your research and get educated on whatever field that you're going into and really know your stuff. Because when it starts to happen for you and you’re successful, if you don't know what you're talking about, you're going to instantly be exed out.
For more of Dorion, follow him on Instagram.
Featured image by Manuel Hernandez
Since her Peloton debut in May of 2020, Chelsea Jackson Roberts, Ph.D., has become one of the most sought-after yoga instructors on the app. Using a mixture of hip-hop, R&B, classical, gospel, house, and funk-themed classes, the Dayton, OH native guides Peloton users across the globe, in the weekly practice of feeling connected with the body and the breath as they “root down and rise up.” With many leaving her classes feeling more grounded and anchored than they were when they started, it’s easy to see how the former Lululemon Global Ambassador and two-time Yoga Journal cover star has made such an impact. While her background as a third-grade school teacher and founder of Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp lends to her influence, her journey to becoming a world-renowned celebrity yoga instructor was not met without tragedy.
Following the sudden death of her best friend to gun violence, Chelsea says that it was yoga that helped her to confront the trauma of losing someone so close, so abruptly. Yoga empowered her to open up and embrace how her body showed up. Over time, the practice went from stretching on a mat to becoming a lifestyle, and one that she even integrated into her third-grade classrooms to help her students cope with their traumas as well.
In this interview with xoNecole, Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts discusses how yoga can be used to heal from traumatic experiences, ways to remain grounded, and how yoga has set the tone for other areas of her life.
xoNecole: What made you decide to start practicing yoga?
Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts: I first met yoga as a senior at Spelman College. But I never actually went into a yoga class because I was quite intimidated. It wasn't until I graduated, and started moving through my early adulthood that I began to practice.
I was a third-grade public school teacher in Atlanta and it was during that time, I tried my first yoga class. My understanding was completely physical. I thought it was only a workout and that I would burn some calories and sweat in my hot yoga class. It was later in life that I found out yoga was so much more.
I also started to go deeper into meditation, which supported me through the trauma of losing one of my closest friends and Spelman sisters to gun violence. So it was definitely a journey that evolved that started as a workout and later became an integrated lifestyle for me.
xoN: How did yoga help you to move past that trauma?
CJR: I don't know if I moved past it, or confronted it. When we go through trauma, our bodies naturally go through a 'fight, flight, or freeze' [response]. And more than anything, I think I was numb. I hadn't reached out to a therapist and this was the first time I had experienced trauma that abrupt and of that magnitude. When I was in those yoga classes, I remembered something happening that allowed me to really connect with how I felt in the moment. It allowed me to embrace my body and how it was showing up.
There were mirrors in the class that allowed me to look at myself, in my eyes, and I started wondering what would have happened if I went back to that first experience of practicing yoga and feeling really whole. And then I used that to confront and embrace the experience that my body, my heart, and my mind were going through. And honestly, the more that I practiced yoga, it opened me up and supported me to begin to talk about what I was experiencing.
I then sought professional help from a therapist. It helped me lean into my faith and my community. So I think that yoga more than anything was this tool that opened me up to so many other ways of supporting me through the trauma.
"When I was in those yoga classes, I remembered something happening that allowed me to really connect with how I felt in the moment. It allowed me to embrace my body and how it was showing up... And honestly, the more that I practiced yoga, it opened me up and supported me to begin to talk about what I was experiencing."
Courtesy of Peloton
xoN: In addition to yoga being a tool to open you up, what were some other benefits?
CJR: If you know yoga, it’s centered on the breath and a moment for us to pause to allow ourselves to take that deep inhale. To this day, I tell my students that even if they even have one minute of connected breath, you are practicing yoga. Yoga simply means to unite, to join, and to yoke. When you use the practice of yoga, you are essentially allowing yourself to feel fully connected to the body and the breath, so that when you move into the action in this world, you're coming from a more grounded and anchored place. And so those are some of the tools that I pulled from the practice for me to even navigate and articulate what I was experiencing through that trauma.
Even in my classroom, as a school teacher, it opened up how I showed up for my students who were also experiencing traumas. I was in a Title 1 school where the majority of the students lived below the poverty line, and there were moments they were struggling. So I began integrating some of what I learned in those yoga classes. That's when I started creating this trajectory of exploring yoga as a tool for communicating and learning, and even unlearning things in this life.
xoN: Given the traumatic events that have happened within the past few years and the overall trauma that Black women endure, what other ways can yoga be used to remain grounded?
CJR: I love this quote, and if you ever hear me speak about some of my teachers, I always say that James Baldwin is a teacher who–though I may not have met in the physical–has certainly influenced the lens that I use in this world. I always paraphrase this thought that he had which goes, “Once we understand our own suffering, we can then understand the suffering of others, and from that place, we can move deeper into love.” In my own lived experiences, unless I was able to confront that pain, that trauma of losing my best friend in my early adulthood, my life will be a lot different in how I interact with understanding the trauma that I would later experience and the trauma of other people.
For me, I think that yoga can be a tool to get us to be honest about who we are and the reality of why we are. And not blaming ourselves, even for some of the social inequities that we experienced in these bodies. Yoga helps me to seek out the truth. It helps me to look into my ancestry and read literature that contextualizes what it is that I'm experiencing right now.
There's a sacred text called, Patanjali Yoga Sutras. The first sutra talks about nonviolence and that's the first approach that I always encourage–especially for first-time yoga practitioners–to move through so that you're not hard on yourself and your yoga practice. Also, truth and integrity. If we integrated these ways of seeing the world and how we interact with each other, I think that we would have a lot less injustice and the traumatic events that we've seen in this world.
"Yoga simply means to unite, to join, and to yoke. When you use the practice of yoga, you are essentially allowing yourself to feel fully connected to the body and the breath, so that when you move into the action in this world, you're coming from a more grounded and anchored place."
Sara Haile Photography
Courtesy of Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts
xoN: You mentioned the social inequities that we experience in our bodies. And I know that oftentimes, bodily trauma can cause us to feel disconnected from ourselves. Have you ever felt disconnected from your body and how did yoga help you to repair that connection?
CJR: I have been very public and transparent about the loss that we experienced at the end of last year when I was pregnant for the first time. I felt really disconnected. It was a time when I really had to dig deeply into my yoga practice and not blame myself for what happened. But what I could do was embrace the fullness of my experience. And that's why I talk about it.
Yoga reminds us that this is a practice that we have to take one day at a time. And yeah, it has certainly helped me embrace the light and the dark, the suffering and the joy, that I often talk about in my classes. So I see yoga as this tool that–especially when we're going through hard things in our own bodies–gives us space to really breathe and take inventory of what it is that we have truly gone through. And over time, we’ll realize that we are quite amazing in the resilience that we have, and the hope.
Also, I want to say that how I teach yoga, I remind people to embrace the unique way that our bodies show up. To translate that off of the mat, I started to consider the unique ways that I could be a parent, had it not happened the way that I thought it would. So that means all of the different ways that you can parent in this world.
To me, in yoga, when I embrace it may be that I need to use a block or prop or a pillow to get into this posture. It may look different than the person next to me in my yoga class. And that's exactly how life is. It may not look identical to someone else's path, but we can celebrate those individual unique ways in order to see our collective union as we move through our life. I like to take those lessons off the mat and into my lived experiences too.
xoN: How has yoga helped to set the tone for other areas of your life?
CJR: When I announced that my husband, Shane, and I were expecting our first child, I was like all of my yoga classes and all of my practices have been for this moment right now. I know that my yoga practice will deeply impact how I show up as a mother. This is a role I've never played in my life, and I'm grateful that I have these tools that I can pull from. When I'm being pulled in different directions, or feeling overwhelmed–because I hear parenthood can be that way–I know that I have these tools to come back to be my anchor and support how my husband and I communicate. And essentially I know it's going to impact how we are as parents, living in this household together, and still working together.
Yoga has definitely influenced how I show up in the world and the voice that I use. If anybody is familiar with the work that I've done, they know that I'm also deeply committed to social justice and cultivating communities. We do that through our nonprofit, Red Clay Yoga.
As Yogis, we are peaceful. But we are also grounded in truth. We acknowledge that equity and equality are essential for harmony. So yoga has impacted and influenced how I show up with my voice in the world, for how I speak out against or in support of different social issues in this world as well.
"I know that my yoga practice will deeply impact how I show up as a mother. This is a role I've never played in my life, and I'm grateful that I have these tools that I can pull from. When I'm being pulled in different directions, or feeling overwhelmed–because I hear parenthood can be that way–I know that I have these tools to come back to be my anchor and support how my husband and I communicate."
Sara Haile Photography
Courtesy of Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts
xoN: I know that you are the first Black Lululemon global ambassador. And from there, you’ve gone on to become a Peloton yoga instructor. How was that transition?
CJR: And ironically, I'm the first Black Peloton yoga instructor. That's something that isn't necessarily voiced aloud. But in spaces where we are really visible, I think that it's important for us to know that we exist everywhere. And by “we,” I'm talking about Black folks, Black women, people of color, or however you see yourself not being elevated in spaces because of your background. It's been a tremendous honor to be that trailblazer in many ways and never forget the teachers who came before me.
So the pivot to being a Peloton instructor has certainly inspired others who may have never considered themselves Yogis. They may have seen themselves as athletes, but to see yourself as a Yogi can be quite intimidating because of the flexibility that’s articulated in pictures or magazines.
But I’m hoping that people come into my class because they felt the intention that I said and that we can all be welcome to this practice. That's why I rely on unexpected musical genres in yoga spaces. And being at Peloton has afforded me the ability to cast a wider net and get yoga out there even more.
For more information on Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts, visit Chelsea Loves Yoga.
Featured image by Sara Haile Photography
Grammy-award-winning singer and songwriter, Melanie Fiona says that her story with her husband, fellow singer, and songwriter, Jared Cotter is her favorite love story. Describing it as having all the makings of a romantic comedy, their relationship involves “real introspective lessons of growth and self-awareness.” Following a year and a half of doing intense and intentional, spiritual work, the Canadian native decided that it was time to meet her person. What she didn’t know was that on her way to a songwriting retreat in the Caribbean, she would meet Jared.
They began dating shortly after returning to New York. However, less than a year into their relationship, Melanie made the difficult decision to break up with Jared, a decision she didn’t want to make but needed to so that Jared could be sure of where he wanted to be. Six months into their break-up, Jared made his way back to Melanie more evolved and confident in how he wanted to show up for her and what she meant for him in his life.
Since then, the two have welcomed two children, gotten married, and recently shared their love story on OWN’s Black Love. In this exclusive with xoNecole, Melanie Fiona shares what she did to manifest Jared, why Black women should stop holding onto potential, and how their six-month break shifted her and Jared’s relationship dynamic.
xoNecole: After a year and a half of not dating, what were some areas you focused on and things you did to manifest Jared?
Melanie Fiona: I think the main thing that I did was say it out loud. And I said it to one of my very good friends. I said it in such a way that I woke up and was very clear about it. Once I was clear, my body, my life, and my mind began preparing for it. I had already stopped dating and sharing my body with men who were not committed partners to me. I stopped going on dates just to fill my time with company and casual conversation. I told myself that I wasn’t going to pick up the phone and call that ‘on reserve’ dude just to have a conversation because I was bored or sad or lonely.
I started valuing my time, my energy, my body, my love, my generosity, and grace for myself more than ever. I realized that I was not preserving myself for me or who deserved me. And so the minute I started operating from that space, I woke up and was ready to meet someone. I said it so clearly and just operated from a space of openness and positivity and self-love and self-value.
Courtesy of Melanie Fiona
"I started valuing my time, my energy, my body, my love, my generosity, and grace for myself more than ever. I realized that I was not preserving myself for me or who deserved me. And so the minute I started operating from that space, I woke up and was ready to meet someone."
My mantra for that year was “Happy, Healthy, Creative.” And it guided me in every area of my life, even when it came to working. Because I had these affirmative words, I had this clear direction of where I saw myself going. And I think the universe or God heard me and saw that I was doing the work and willing to set boundaries for myself with other people. I was living an obedient life that would create space for healthy love and healthy relationships and happiness to come in beautiful, creative opportunities.
Any opportunity that fit in that “Happy, Healthy, Creative” box, I was going for it. And so because the opportunity came up to do this camp on this island, that checked all of my affirmative boxes, I went for it. I had no fear. And lo and behold, that’s where I met Jared.
xoN: Did you feel that Jared was your person when you met him?
MF: I didn’t feel that he was my person, but I was taken aback by the fact that he was the first person that I could be myself with since my previous serious relationship. There were no red flags and I didn’t feel like I was playing a game of deciphering what someone says or means. Jared reminded me what it was to be authentically safe with someone. As we spent more time together, I knew there was something very important about our meeting and I knew that he could be that person.
But I also recognize that holding on to potential is a very dangerous thing for women. We see this potential of who someone could be, and we want to hold on to it and fix it and look for ways to help someone be that for us. I've done that before, but this time, I recognized that he was the person for me, but he needed to know he was the person for me. He needed to see that. I knew that Jared knew I was his person. There's no doubt about it. If you talk to him, he will tell you. But he didn't have the confidence to know that he was the one for me and that's the difference.
Courtesy of Melanie Fiona
"I knew that Jared knew I was his person. There's no doubt about it. If you talk to him, he will tell you. But he didn't have the confidence to know that he was the one for me and that's the difference."
I'll say that it didn't happen instantaneously, but once everything started going. I was like, “Oh no, this is him.” And so when I had to break up with him, it was the hardest breakup I think I've ever had. I had never released someone in love. I had always broken up with somebody due to something tumultuous or dramatic or at a breaking point. I had done so much spiritual work to understand what healthy attachments were and understood that if things are truly meant to be they will be. But I was sending away my person.
I did the work, I was in the right place. I knew what we shared. I knew what we had been through. But I had to let him go because his learning process couldn’t be at the expense of my feelings and he understood that. It was the biggest act of selflessness and self-love at the same time. But I had an odd sense of peace and trusted that I was making the best decision for me.
However, deep down inside, I was hoping that we would always come back.
xoN: Did you ever have any doubts that the two of you wouldn’t find your way back?
MF: It's interesting. I feel like I had closed the door but I knew that I had a crack in it for Jared. I knew inside that I would leave this door open for him. I was like if he comes back and he comes back right, this door is open for him. It was never shut completely.
I always knew that there was more for our story. I didn't know how or when it would present itself, but I'm very grateful that it was only six months. On the outside, I had to move and live and treat him and the whole situation–even amongst our mutual friends–like we were moving on. But on the inside, I knew there was more.
xoN: You previously said that as women we sometimes hold on to potential or look for ways to fix someone. Why would you say that it is important for women to let go of potential and stand firm in their boundaries in relationships?
MF: I think that Black women have enough to fight with every day for their existence. Just to exist as a strong, beautiful, Black, intelligent, established woman. As Black women, we go through so much individually and I feel like you have to set boundaries for yourself to honor your value when you know what you have to offer.
Holding on to potential or trying to fix it comes from a place of fear. I think it’s a bit of trauma response and feeling like you can't or won’t do any better. Sometimes as Black women, we take what we can get and [don't] get upset. Also, I just think Black women in general are nurturers. We have this insane and beautiful ability to come in and fix and nurture and gather and just want to take care of people. And it's depleted us over time. We see it in our mothers and our grandmothers and hear how tired they are at the end of the day from doing so much.
Courtesy of Melanie Fiona
"As Black women, we need to honor the fact that that is our superpower. That we can come in and fix and help but we can't do it in spaces that deplete us or that abuse us or take advantage of us. They have to be healthy, reciprocated environments where we're growing together. It can't be at the expense of our emotions."
I think that as Black women, we need to preserve what we know is our light and our power, and we need to always make sure that everyone sees us for that, honors it, and doesn’t take advantage of it. Because some of these dudes also want to be taken care of because of what they go through daily and are looking for somebody to come and help them through it.
As Black women, we need to honor the fact that that is our superpower. That we can come in and fix and help but we can't do it in spaces that deplete us or that abuse us or take advantage of us. They have to be healthy, reciprocated environments where we're growing together. It can't be at the expense of our emotions. It cannot be at the expense of our feelings and our happiness in the situation.
xoN: How did you come to know what your superpower was as far as what you brought to your relationship?
MF: It came through spiritual work. Through understanding the higher vibrational version of myself, and knowing that I'm very powerful with my words. I'm very powerful with my love. I can change things. I can make things happen for myself when operating from a place of self-love because it allows you to just know what is working within that vibration or is not. It comes with work, it comes from really knowing yourself and understanding. Are you ignoring what your inner voice is screaming at you right now? Or are you letting it lead and trusting it and are you going with yourself?
I knew that when there was high vibration because I could feel the difference. I could see the difference in myself. I knew that I had pure love to offer someone because I had done the work for myself. And I was in a place to do so.
Courtesy of Melanie Fiona
"I used to tell Jared that I expected exceptional love because that was what I had to offer. I know that the place in which I like to operate in love may not necessarily fit everyone's parameters or description of what a healthy relationship looks like, but I know what it looks like for me and it feels like going above the norm."
I used to tell Jared that I expected exceptional love because that was what I had to offer. I know that the place in which I like to operate in love may not necessarily fit everyone's parameters or description of what a healthy relationship looks like, but I know what it looks like for me and it feels like going above the norm. It feels it's going above standard and expected. It operates a little bit higher, a little bit more mindful. It operates a little bit more intentionally. And that's kind of the way that I feel like I've found my superpowers in all areas of my life.
xoN: Given everything that you and Jared have gone through in your relationship as far as breaking up and getting back together, how has that changed the dynamic within your relationship and how do you intend on using that to set an example for your children?
MF: The thing that we hold on to is that we made a choice. We chose to be here. We didn't get thrown into the situation. We made an absolute mindful choice to choose one another. And that's the thing that I hope more people start to think about in their relationships. By making that choice, the foundation of our union, every other choice has to honor that one. That's how we navigate our relationship now.
Courtesy of Melanie Fiona
"We chose to be here. We didn't get thrown into the situation. We made an absolute mindful choice to choose one another. By making that choice, the foundation of our union, every other choice has to honor that one. That's how we navigate our relationship now."
My husband and I are very affectionate. We love each other. And my son sees that. But the other day, he said something about getting married. I asked him if he knew what it meant to be married and he paused and said, “To be happy.” Jared, we looked at each other, and I realized we were doing it right because our six-year-old could define marriage. And that’s the goal.
I think most parents want their kids to feel that their union is healthy and happy and loving. And that was one of those confirmations along the way that reminded me we were doing something right. But again, we intentionally chose one another. And we take our actions in the way that we lived individually and together to honor that choice.
For more of Melanie, follow her on Instagram @melaniefiona.
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Born into the world of entertainment, Deja Riley is a star in her own right. And if her last name sounds familiar, it is because she is the daughter of legendary producer and King of New Jack Swing, Teddy Riley. But rather than rely on her father's connections and last name, Deja chose to forge her own path into the entertainment industry. Going from dancing professionally with the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and the queen herself, Beyoncé, to now becoming one of the most sought-after MIRROR home fitness trainers, a lululemon global ambassador, and the creator of her own fitness brand, the Sweaty Smiles Squad.
In an exclusive with xoNecole, Deja opens up about her professional dance background, transitioning into a career in fitness, being an advocate for Black people in the fitness industry, and the importance of 'Deja Dailies' to her self-care routine.
xoNecole: Let's first get into your dance background. How long have you been a dancer and how did you begin dancing for some of our faves?
Deja Riley: Dancing is actually something that I've always done. My parents put me in dance at the age of three so it's always been a huge part of my life. Once I started competitively dancing at 12, I started taking it more seriously. When I moved to LA at the age of 19, my first dance job was working for Laurieann Gibson as her assistant. She was a huge mentor who gave me my first celebrity gig which was on Dancing with the Stars with Lady Gaga.
Since then, I have danced for Britney Spears, J.Lo, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, and the list goes on and on and on. So it's something that will always be a passion of mine. And I think that that is why I love dance fitness so much. It's because I get to incorporate both my passion for wellness and then my passion for dance as well.
xoN: What made you decide to transition into the health and fitness space?
DR: I've just always had this inclination to move my body. I love movement of all kinds. It varies from yoga to HIIT workouts. I love kickboxing. I love boxing. So at the age of 27 or 28, I was transitioning out of the dance industry. I remember being on the football field at Super Bowl 50, dancing behind Beyoncé with all of the glitz and glamour and lights. And I still felt small. I felt like I was not enough. And my mental health is important. So when I started feeling that way, I knew that it was time to shift. It was time to switch gears into something a lot more fulfilling for not just my body, but also my spirit and my mind.
It took six months to a year for me to fully make the transition. But I had already been working out a lot so I decided that I wanted to lean into fitness even more. At first, I was like, maybe I'll do some fitness modeling. Then I was like, maybe I'll go into personal training. And I landed in group fitness where I started my fitness journey as a leader.
"I remember being on the football field at Super Bowl 50, dancing behind Beyoncé with all of the glitz and glamour and lights. And I still felt small. I felt like I was not enough. And my mental health is important. So when I started feeling that way, I knew that it was time to shift."
xoN: As a Black woman in the fitness industry, what hurdles have you had to overcome?
DR: That's a great question. Representation is so important. Especially because when I was a little girl, I didn't have very many examples of that. But we have more today. And it is up to trainers like me and other, Black and brown women to continue to pave the way and show our young Black women that you can lead a healthy and happy life. I think that is part of my mission, as a trainer, as an advocate, as an activist. I take that responsibility very, very seriously. In terms of obstacles that I've had to conquer, it goes back to the very beginning of my journey as a dancer.
I was oftentimes faced with this idea of tokenism. Like there can only be one of us in the group, or there can only be one of us on the platform. And that's not true. Combating that narrative is so important. It's not competing, it's about sisterhood. When negotiating my contract for lululemon and MIRROR, I had to seek advice from other mentors in other industries because I didn't know anyone within our industry to help me navigate that. So now mentoring people that come after me is very important. I currently work with an organization called Fit For Us which advocates, supports, and continues to push the agenda forward for Black wellness and fitness professionals. That is near and dear to my heart.
I've done things like fireside chats, one-on-ones, and being transparent about fair wages and what other Black fitness professionals should look out for in their contracts. I think it is important that we continue to band together and teach those that come after us on progressing and pushing forward. And that's what I'm on a mission to continue to do.
"In terms of obstacles that I've had to conquer, it goes back to the very beginning of my journey as a dancer. I was oftentimes faced with this idea of tokenism. Like there can only be one of us in the group, or there can only be one of us on the platform. And that's not true. Combating that narrative is so important. It's not competing, it's about sisterhood."
xoN: As the daughter of super-producer Teddy Riley, what was that journey like making a name for yourself and not relying on your father?
DR: I think what is often perceived by the public is that I got to where I am, because of my dad, and it's quite the opposite. We can never escape the name. My siblings and I work very hard. We all have different careers in different industries. And we all do our best to let our work and our character speak for themselves. My dad instilled in each one of us a very strong work ethic. So it was never an option to only lean on my last name. I always had to work for everything that I had.
When I was in the dance industry, I had to audition just like all of these other dancers and work for the job. My dad wasn't making phone calls to choreographers or artists for me to get the job. But I think that I do have the privilege and the honor of being able to get industry and career advice from somebody like him. He has paved the way for so many in the music industry, and I'm hoping to do the same in the fitness industry.
xoN: How do you prioritize yourself and approach self-care in your busy life and the different titles you juggle day-to-day?
DR: I make self-care a priority every day. I couldn't put out radiant, joyful energy in the world if I didn't start with me first. I use my 'Deja Dailies' -- my own internal assessment I roll through -- to set the tone for my day. I meditate first thing in the morning and take time to read and journal. I usually get into my favorite book of the month, read articles that challenge my brain or inspire me and then take time to journal and take into account feelings that I need to get out on paper and release.
I make it a priority to get nourishment into my body, which could be through food, music, or movement, so I find space to dance or run, or whatever I need that day to feed my soul. I make sure to intentionally set the pace of my days; even if that means going to bed early or waking up earlier, ultimately I do what's necessary to be my best self each day.
"I make self-care a priority every day. I couldn't put out radiant, joyful energy in the world if I didn't start with me first... I make it a priority to get nourishment into my body, which could be through food, music, or movement, so I find space to dance or run, or whatever I need that day to feed my soul."
xoN: What are some sustainable lifestyle changes that people can incorporate into their lives?
DR: So I'm going to give a little bit of motivational advice, and that is you have to do something that you love. If you don't find what resonates with your heart, you're eventually going to quit doing it. There are so many ways to move [your body]. Also, "Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can."
That's actually a quote from Arthur Ashe. I think we oftentimes forget that he, like many others, had to start somewhere too. So I go back to that phrase often. And if you get overwhelmed, from looking at the entire staircase, just focus on one step, focus on being present.
For more of Deja Riley, follow her on Instagram @dejariley.
Featured image courtesy of Deja Riley
In the year of our Lord 2022, we should all know what boundaries are. But for those who still haven't fully grasped the concept, boundaries are non-negotiables used to enforce where you stand with a person, place, thing, or idea. Boundaries protect you from various forms of danger, manipulation, or disrespect, and they help you determine the appropriateness of something or someone. In short, boundaries act as that angel on your shoulder, forcing you to make good choices.
When communicating your boundaries—whether at work or school or applying them to friends, family, and in relationships—you should be assertive but respectful. Empathetic, but not overly apologetic. Confident, but not accusatory. And most importantly, firm, showing no signs of backing down or being swayed in a different direction.
Now, what about when it comes to boundaries for ourselves? The truth is, when we think of boundaries, we typically think of them in terms of setting lines with others but never within, causing us to go back on our word by breaking promises to ourselves. This, in turn, causes us to take longer than expected when accomplishing our goals and to run back to situations we should have left. We're in perpetual cycles of turmoil.
Many of us don't think about boundaries when giving ourselves that hard "no" because we feel like we're depriving ourselves of something. We don't always keep our best interests at heart and leave too much room for error, never taking into consideration that we're only doing ourselves a disservice.
Establishing boundaries with yourself can look like many things, but for those who need help, here are four examples of self-boundaries and how to maintain them:
1. Make better financial decisions.
We all have big financial goals, but sometimes we lack financial discipline because we don't know how or when to say "no." We think those little splurges won't matter, not realizing they eventually add up. And if we're not careful, that extra splurge can put a major dent in our finances, pushing us farther away from our financial goals. One way to maintain financial boundaries with ourselves is by making a budget, sticking with it, and always keeping our why at the forefront. Or, if that doesn't help, hire a financial planner or coach for additional help.
2. Block that person who isn't good for you.
There's always that one person who seemingly has a hold on you so strong that you abandon all of your morals, standards, and values to be with them. They disappoint you time and time again, make you feel like you're not good enough, and sometimes put you in the middle of situations you can't navigate. While at times you feel like you're strong enough to reject their advances, they always find their way back because you have not blocked them.
A huge boundary with ourselves that we often overlook is not blocking certain people from our lives. When we fail to do that, we leave ourselves susceptible to their advances and open to possible mistreatment and disrespect. Want to protect your peace? Block that person from everything and enlist some accountability partners to help you never go back.
3. Don't settle.
When it comes to settling, we don't just settle in relationships. We settle for jobs, friendship circles, and our goals because having a little something that resembles what we want is better than not having anything at all. Once the novelty has worn off, we find ourselves continuously searching for that little something time and time again, only to live a life of mediocrity, never being fully satisfied. Or worse, we tell ourselves that we are not deserving of nice things. The only way to get out of mediocrity and reinforce that you are worthy of a life you deserve is to set clear boundaries by not settling for less.
4. Commit to a healthier lifestyle.
And health isn't just in the physical sense. There's mental, spiritual, and emotional health, too. A lot of times we fail in our pursuits of a healthier lifestyle because we are not fully committed to taking care of our mind, body, and spirit. Taking the easy road and thinking that a quick fix is all we need when it should be about making a complete lifestyle change. Want to finally get your mind, body, and spirit on one accord and stop the cycle of constantly starting over? Practice boundaries when it comes to your health by being intentional about the changes you want to make.
Other examples of self-boundaries include allowing time-frames for screen time, not working on off days, adhering to routines, not taking phone calls on certain days or at certain times, and distancing yourself from people who are no longer aligned with who you are. When establishing self-boundaries, it's important to remember that you don't have to change everything at once.
A little goes a long way, so one by one, examine areas of your life that need changing and begin intentionally working towards getting better at them. Because self-boundaries are extensions of self-love and self-care and can only enhance your life when enforced.
Featured image by Tim Robberts/Getty