Self-care and healing are practices that Ashley Mills, founder of hair and skincare line Shealoe & Coco, doesn't take lightly. Through her handmade, organic products, the young entrepreneur is paving the way for a new kind of self-care — one made for health, abundance, and prioritized care for her communities and black woman alike. Mills has designed a brand made specially for women of color, and the unique necessities that surround their self-care.
Read on for her words on the brand's mission, her inspirations, and her dreams.
How you would you describe yourself?
Ambitious. Easygoing on the surface, but always grinding.
Tell us about Shealoe & Coco.
I founded Shealoe & Coco out of my dorm room at Stanford. The name was inspired by the product line's three base ingredients: shea butter, aloe vera gel, and coconut oil. It's designed to be inclusive of women-of-color, and I've spoken with lots of women these last few months to find the pain points of products already out there. Shealoe & Coco was built on the vision of (1) building healthy hair habits, (2) being simple and straightforward to use, and (3) providing a quick 101 on ingredients that work with our hair.
How did you get started doing wellness products and lotions? what inspired you at the onset?
I've been making wellness products since high school. I started wearing my hair naturally when I was 17 and was sucked into natural hair movement. I was inspired by the connection between natural hair and natural products, especially given how many women with kinky-curls depend on toxic hair products to make their hair manageable and "appropriate".
I always had trouble finding products that worked for my natural hair, so I started making them myself. I was always in the kitchen mixing up products for my hair, and found that a lot of the ingredients worked well for skin too. I made shampoos, lotions, face scrubs — the whole nine yards, I was in it.
When I got to Stanford, I didn't have the time to be mixing up this that and the other, so Shealoe & Coco came from a need to save time & effort. I was tired of being a product junkie, of three-step processes that left my hair feeling heavy and my skin greasy. I wanted to wake up and use a product that left my hair & skin feeling sufficiently taken care of without additional products.
Are you working on a project or product now?
I just graduated this past June, so the transition from school is a project in and of itself. But for Shealoe & Coco, I've spent the summer selling at farmer's markets, art fairs, and cultural festivals around the Bay Area.
I'm currently working on building an online presence as well as connecting with hair stylists, masseuses, and aestheticians in the Bay, especially those that work with women of color. I recently partnered with a hair salon in Oakland and an online retail shop that "supports interdependence in the diaspora" by featuring products created by black folk.
Can you tell us a bit about your process?
I start by melting down the oils and butters and then cooling the mixture down to solidify. Essential oils are added to the butters, which are then whipped and put into jars. Between mixing the product and labeling the jars, the whole process takes around 3-4 days, but leaves me with enough product to only have to do it once a month.
Designing marketing material is what I enjoy doing the most — I studied Product Design in school, so it's fun to tie a lot of my learnings to designing an experience around the product. I create material that directly addresses and satisfies the needs of my customers, which are primarily women with kinky-curly hair. I love playing around with the colors, typography, and the layout of each design while still pulling in information that is relevant to their needs.
Can you talk a little bit about your experience starting your brand in the Bay? how has it influenced you?
I was blessed to have a very supportive community at Stanford that helped push and develop my brand to where it is now. Launching my brand in the Bay has been an awesome way to connect with black women, not just on-campus but from all walks of life. We're all connected in the fact that many of us were never taught to take care of our natural texture when we were young, some of us even discouraged to do so. It's sometimes hard to erase the discomfort we have with how we look, because that fear was instilled at a young age. I'm inspired by the natural hair journeys I hear from my customers — many of them have a story they want to share and it creates a community around our evolving relationships with our hair.
Tell us about one of your favorite memories thus far.
A woman I'd never met came up to my booth and said that her friend had gifted her with a jar of Shealoe & Coco. She was wearing it in her hair and told me she was obsessed. That made my whole week!
What motivates you to continue doing your work?
I'm really curious about the intersection of design, healing, and wellness. That's the space I see myself moving into, and building Shealoe & Coco helps me dig deeper into that.
What’s the next chapter?
I'm in the works of partnering with Jasmine of AvoCurl to launch a joint workshop series that teach women how to make their own natural beauty products and also promote ours. We're still in the brainstorming stage of what that will look like, but we both have experience leading workshops, so I'm excited to see what we'll launch together.
Given unlimited resources, what would you create? What are your dreams?
The dream is to build an all-natural, full-service beauty spa that would be inclusive and comfortable for women of color. You could get your hair done, get a massage, aromatherapy, facials, maybe throw some Reiki (a Japanese healing technique for stress reduction) in there too. You would have all your hair, skin, and healing needs taken care of by professionals who understand your texture and appreciate your melanin. It would be so dope if all the beauty products used were made in-house.
Why do you do what you do? Who do you create for?
I'm very much a believer in keeping it simple and becoming more comfortable in oneself. I made Shealoe & Coco to not only simplify the natural hair & skin care routine, but to also empower women to feel confident about how they look & feel in their natural glory.
Check out her products at: http://www.shealoecoco.com/
By taylor marie
Photos courtesy of Ashley Mills