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‘We are the change we wish to see:’ Finding harmony in life and business

Ashe Brown—owner of an apothecary that offers support for people navigating everything from menstrual health to white fragility—discusses finding and creating community as a serial entrepreneur.

Key business takeaways

  • Cost-cutting efforts can boost your business and meet different customers’ needs 
  • Events are a creative, effective way to market your business and draw in the community
  • Entrepreneurship is important, but so is your mental health—if you’re feeling exhausted and over-responsible for growth, it might be time to make a change 

Ashe and Christin Brown are serial entrepreneurs who’ve been together for 19 years and in business for 13. When they first met as teenagers in Oakland, California, the two of them started doing makeup for local weddings and proms. Since then, they’ve lent their artistry to businesses dedicated to helping people heal inside and out—most recently with Full Spiral Salon, the only salon in Santa Barbara, California, that specializes in curly hair.

The duo’s first venture began as a way to prioritize their own self-care needs. In 2008, finally in a place to quit her corporate job, Ashe urged Christin to do the same. “I was just tired of seeing my wife not have the light in her eyes,” she said. Together, they earned a reputation as the go-to team for bridal beauty in Santa Barbara. 

Today, Ashe focuses on helping people reconnect with their bodies through Pura Luna Apothecary, both a retail store and event space, with discussions spanning everything from menstrual health to white fragility. Meanwhile, Christin has earned national acclaim for her work with celebrity clients and advocacy celebrating natural textures, in a climate when many Black women face discrimination in the workplace for their natural hair. As queer women of color providing important services in a predominately white city, Ashe and Christin have focused on building community through their work—finding their own community in the process.

In 2021, Ashe and Christin made another change to make their operation more impactful: bringing Pura Luna and Full Spiral Salon under one roof. The new location is an inclusive space, where people can embrace their identities and process topics often stigmatized by society. We spoke with Ashe about growing her business during a pandemic, representation in the wellness industry, and how she learned to prioritize her own healing as a small business owner.

How did you get started in the beauty and wellness industries? 

After we started Luna Bella Makeup, we kept getting brides who wanted to get their hair done, but we didn’t offer hair. I looked at Christin one day and I said, “Babe, I need you to learn how to do hair. Look on YouTube, practice on a doll head, I don’t care.” Now, mind you, Christin never went to cosmetology school and neither had I, so she was literally having to learn a whole new craft of updos and bridal hair all on her own, which was a huge learning edge. She got really, really good at it and really infamous for it, and then we realized, oh, actually we’re doing this illegally. You have to have a license to do hair. Who knew?

So she went back to school to go to cosmetology school. And one thing that became very clear to her in cosmetology school is that they only teach you how to straighten hair. They never celebrate curly hair. They never honor Black hair. They never teach you anything on how to work with other textures than straight hair. 

This was something that was really disappointing to Christin, but also an opportunity for her to seek out other classes and certifications that would allow her to be of better service to those who never saw themselves in the salon environment, which was both of us. We both never had a stylist who knew how to work with our texture, or shape it correctly, or allow our curls to shine and be the focus—as opposed to wanting to straighten it, or chemically treat it, or use heat on it. So when Christin graduated cosmetology school, she got her certification in curly hair, and we became the only salon in Santa Barbara to fully specialize in curly hair. 

What motivated you to start your latest business, Full Spiral?

Wth Luna Bella Makeup and Hair, because we were known in town as the go-to hair and makeup team [for weddings], it didn’t make sense to try and throw curly hair in there. We were like, it’s just time to branch off. Why don’t we go ahead and make a curly forward salon and call it Full Spiral and make it official that this is what we do?

The beautiful thing is that Full Spiral not only specializes in curly, natural textures, but we also have someone who does braids and cornrows and box braids and locs—all of these things Santa Barbara doesn’t have. People were driving all the way down to Los Angeles in order to get their hair done because there was no one [here] to service textured hair. I feel really grateful to be able to be that hub in this town, being able to hold space for everybody. Even on a sexuality piece, we’re very cautious around pronouns and making sure that transgender folks feel comfortable in our space.

When you walk into our space, and we’re playing hip hop and neo soul music, it just brings in this element. Santa Barbara can be very one-dimensional in how people choose to market their shop or their experience, and it’s very catered to the white elite. We cater to all, and that’s very tangible when you are in our space. People feel instantly comfortable because they’re like, “Oh, this is where I’m meant to be.”

You talk a lot about creating experiences that help women feel cared for. What’s informed your approach to wellness and self-care?

We noticed that women can be very self-deprecating, especially because of how we are so indoctrinated and conditioned to believe that who we are and what we are naturally needs to be constantly manipulated. Early on in my makeup artistry, I realized I wasn’t the makeup artist you would hire to change your face. I was a makeup artist you would hire to enhance what’s already there. I want you to look like yourself and love you.

It was the same thing with Christin. Her passion was for the first time having women of color and even white women who have curly hair actually be able to see their curls in a way that they’ve never seen them before. That became our focus. 

But after years of doing that, for me, it became clear that makeup was not fulfilling the needs of women [who were] being so self-deprecating in my chair. Whenever they would sit down, it would be this whole thing: “Oh, don’t look at my eyebrows,” or “Oh my God, can you contour my chin?” Women were just picking themselves apart, saying “Hopefully you can work magic ‘cause I’m a mess.” I was constantly having to uplift people who felt bad about themselves. 

It was also at a time in my life where I was also going through my own journey with wanting to heal myself and feel good in my body and feel embodied in my experience in the world. I went through a whole process of working with plants in Costa Rica. I ended up getting an apprenticeship and becoming an herbalist. 

In the process, I realized women have lost touch with their ability to not only heal themselves, but also create their own natural beauty with what grows from the earth. That disconnect is having us reach for a false sense of beauty and healing. The minute I graduated from my apprenticeship, that planted a seed that I wanted to be able to provide tools for women to help themselves heal, and that included providing herbs and self-care remedies.

My original plan was to create sacred space for women because I do feel like women do need our own sacred space and our ability to see one another and talk about women’s issues. However, as a queer person—and understanding that gender is a social construct and that we need to be more inclusive in our language and inclusive in how we service other humans—I dropped the “women’s” from the Pure Luna Apothecary name to be inclusive of all. 

How did you grow that idea into a business, especially one that revolves around community?

Before I even graduated from herbalism school, we got a space, and it was this beautiful little 1920s cottage. I didn’t have a business plan—I just told the woman who owned the building that I wanted to have a women’s apothecary and I wanted to hold classes and I wanted to provide all these natural options for women to heal themselves and to feel supported in community and to build community because that was also really hard for Christin and I. We’re both from Oakland, California, and here we are living in white, privileged Santa Barbara and not seeing ourselves and not feeling represented or appreciated or that there was a community for us.

And so I believed in my heart that if I created community, it would take off, and boy, was I right. Because there’s a lot of people who were feeling the same way—white, Black, it didn’t matter. They just want to be with like-minded individuals who are on a healing path toward greater wholeness. 

I believed in my heart that if I created community, it would take off, and boy, was I right.

Ashe Brown

At the same time, we were also pregnant with our daughter. Quest was born on October 14, 2017, and then Pura Luna was born on November 17, 2017. So we literally birthed a new business and birthed a baby within a month of each other and were being called to action on completely new roles that we had never stepped into: motherhood and creating community. We went from just a service-based industry—showing up for weddings or showing up for people at our salon—to now literally holding space for individuals who are seeking support. 

That is a lot! How did you get through it?

It was a lot. I realized that I was burning the candle from both ends. But being a small business with no budget for marketing—and we were not in the main area of town, we were way off the beaten path—in order to get people to come, we would just host events all the time. Every Wednesday, we’d have talks around herbs for women’s health or a conversation around their cycles. Women are left in the dark a lot about their bodies: how to get pregnant, what fertility means, or that a painful period is not normal. Then we started our Full Moon Gatherings, which were really popular. We’d have lines around the block of people trying to get in. 

People really want connection. They want to do the work internally, but it’s really hard to be in ritual with yourself without having somebody hold a container for you and set the tone and give you journal questions and drop you into a meditation. So that was really great to remind people: Our great, great, great, great grandmothers would meet in the forest under the full moon and have these community interactions together.

We also started renting our space out to other healers and wellness facilitators. We were able to provide something for everyone: sex workshops on driving passion or a group where people would unpack their abortions—things that nobody’s really ever offering, which are those uncomfortable, taboo situations. We were able to hold space for that. And I think the community really appreciated that.

Even before George Floyd and the civil unrest, we were doing that work: holding space for women of color to come together and unpack those things. We even got some flack because we were holding space solely for white women to go through workbooks around white fragility, and people were like, “Why are you holding white groups?” And we’re like, because this is a white issue. Racism is a white issue. 

But we were like ahead of the game on that. And it was really scary because we’re not a nonprofit. Here we are like doing all this radical work that was either leaving a bad taste in people’s mouth or creating a certain type of message. But it felt important. It felt like this is what we needed to do. And we were just unafraid to do it. 

So many of the services you provide are essential but hard to access through the healthcare system. How does your business help break down those barriers?

I realize now that just by existing, we are already doing that work. By Christin and I being who we are—being Black, being queer, being women—we are the change we wish to see. This past year brought a lot of health challenges that forced me to focus within. I focused those first two and a half years of Pure Luna outwardly, and it ended up costing me way more within my own body, within my own health and wellness, than I ever want to sacrifice again.

So again, the pandemic allowed me to see where burning the candle at both ends and trying to be everything for everyone and feeling over-responsible for change was creating unhealthy habits within my life. So now being on the other end of that, I’m realizing I don’t have to take on so much responsibility to create that change. I just need to exist and do the things that bring me pleasure and joy. And that’s my pleasure activism. I’m supporting humans by doing the things that I’m being called to, instead of the things that I feel like I have to do because other people need it. What do I and my family need right now? By doing that, I’m leading from a place of representation of how you can be your own activist, your own entrepreneur. You can be a mother, and you can also have a happy quality of life and find your harmony within juggling so many different worlds and making it something that is healthy for you. 

I just need to exist and do the things that bring me pleasure and joy. That’s my pleasure activism.

ashe Brown

You’ll know you’re in alignment with your entrepreneurial path when things start to flow with ease. Yes, there’s challenges with starting a new business, but those challenges can still feel in alignment with your core values in your own life. If you feel like you’re doing things because you feel like you have to do them and it’s taxing you and it’s exhausting you, then maybe it’s time to make a new choice.

Photos from Pura Luna Apothecary and Full Spiral Salon

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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