I had the delight and privilege of interviewing Dominique Harris, maker of the exquisite, family-run, holistic skin care line The Bohemian Collection (please see my Bohemian Collection review here to find out about a few of their most tempting skin treats) as well as the well-loved natural hair-care line Natty Naturals. Throughout our interview and in subsequent correspondence, Ms. Harris blew me away with her in-depth knowledge of–and her deep passion for–natural ingredients and green living. She views skin care as a holistic extension of self-care, and one that ideally encompasses body, mind, and spirit. Together, Ms. Harris and her husband Syeed handcraft every small batch of their artisanal hair- and skin-care lines with mindful, positive energy, and they have turned down lucrative wholesale opportunities–such as a mass retail opportunity with Target–in order to stay true to their core vision and mission. As Dominique has said, “Being mindful of what we eat, what we drink, what we value, all play a part in how we live. We are more than a handcrafted apothecary and green beauty brand, we are a community..we are a vision..we are a lifestyle.” Without further ado, I present The Bohemian Collection Interview, a conversation maker and green beauty pioneer Dominique Harris.
Positivity is infused into everything you make. Have you always been this inspired and positive? What do you do as a family and/or individually to sustain this incredible outlook and attitude?
As much as I would love to think so, positivity was not always at the forefront. There was a time when I was a bit narcissistic so that in itself can be a very negative selfish character flaw. With time, a desire to grow in maturity and wisdom and with being a wife and mom, I had to learn to let go of self-centeredness and embrace working as a team for a healthy family unit. Positivity is a daily work in progress, and with each day that we learn and grow, we embrace how to make mistakes, dust them off and hopefully learn from them.
Oh gosh, as I mentioned, it’s a daily workout, lol. Working the mind to focus more on positive living, or rather embracing the understanding that problems will occur, it’s how we handle those problems that aid in our growth as a whole healthy person. My husband was extremely and is extremely helpful in assisting in growth…we hold each other accountable, and that’s extremely important to keep the ego in check. Our children also help. We know, as parents, we have a responsibility of accountability. They learn by our actions, so we are always reminded of our accountability. When we make mistakes, we talk very openly and honestly with our children. We teach them, particularly the older 2 (11 and 8 years old) about energy..about accepting responsibility for actions and learning and growing from mistakes.
How did you initially come up with the concoction that started it all and healed your son’s painful scalp infection?
In terms of the Kerion that my son had, I was getting the run around from the ole docs, so as a last resort, I began researching…not only was it through my research that I learned that he had kerion ( the doctors kept saying it was a ringworm fungus, however, kerion is when the body has a type of allergic reaction to a fungus that causes it), I began researching natural remedies and studying natural ingredients and this is what sparked my love of all things herbal, homeopathic, natural and holistic.
How did you transition from making natural products for your family to starting a business?
Right after I had my 3rd child, I was homeschooling my two older sons as well as a cousin who was the same age as my oldest while my husband was in restaurant management, so with homeschooling, my love of natural ingredients began to grow even more and that love sparked a desire to begin making products for my family that I was not seeing in the stores. My outside family members and my husband’s coworkers were falling in love with our first product, Natty Butter (now known as Hair + Body Butter) and since I was home already, I began to research more and more about ingredients, educating others with via Facebook on the benefits of natural ingredients and herbal living, reading herbal books, books on essential oils and their safety, etc. and from there, I began the process of beginning our business, All Things O’Natural.
Can you tell us about Natty Butter and what makes it special?
Natty Butter, oh man, it’s the creamiest triple whipped butter ever! My husband actually artisanally handcrafts our butter now and he has truly perfected how to make it like a whipped cream..so fluffy and light. It contains organic cold pressed oils, shea butter and a blend of essential oils. It is literally, hands down, our most sold product, ever! It melts instantly upon contact and aids in locking moisture into the hair and skin while smoothing the skin and softening the hair.
How would you describe your beauty and skin care philosophies?
To me, beauty is a spiritual blessing. It’s of the surface and beyond the surface at the same time. It’s our soul and our spirit..body and mind. My belief is that is should be an enjoyable sacred practice of self-care. The world, many times, has reduced it to physical, but it is also mental and spiritual. When I indulge in a regimen, I give thanks for the ingredients, for the hands that harvested and for the hands that created the products. This is what I strive so hard to help others understand…beauty is self-care..self-care is holistic…it’s a team of greatness that includes the mind, body, and spirit. I take self-care very serious because I have to work so hard to slow down and embrace the beauty of slow living..so I have to be mindful and aware and present. Skincare is holistic in itself..it’s listening to the body and the mind because they both affect our exterior, which is our largest organ, the skin. Our skin tells us what’s going on inside of our physical bodies as well as if our emotional and spiritual energy is unbalanced. Our bodies are so amazing, if only we listen to it.
Education is a big component of your mission. When it comes to sharing your knowledge, what topics are you most passionate about, and what do you most want people to know?
You are so correct–education is so important. It is a freedom that is one of the most beautiful powerhouses. I get so passionate when I can learn, talk and educate on homeopathy and holistic living. I can talk about it for hours ( I have talked my husband to sleep, lol…literally). I’m also passionate about self-care because, as I stated earlier, it is part of holistic living..and many times, in today’s society, especially in Western culture, we are not encouraged to slow down..embrace the now..be present, but the opposite..work, work, work, stress, stress, stress..work harder, not smarter..this type of encouragement is the antagonist to self-care…and unfortunately, it causes many to feel guilty for taking a moment to be present, in the moment.
What are your biggest goals as a formulator/maker/founder?
I think one of my biggest goals is to help many understand the beauty of our natural earth and all of the goodness that is bound upon it. To understand how our energy is symbiotic with its energy.
You and your husband are business partners and advocates of spicy marriage. How do you keep your marriage strong?
Wow, I could go on and on about how to keep a marriage strong, and honestly, I would be just saying a bunch of words…Meaning, we are learning as we grow. We utilize basic foundational principles: respect, honor, communication, accountability, responsibility, selflessness, etc. My husband has said to me many many times, “The greatest leader is the biggest servant and one of my duties is to be one of the greatest servants to Our Creator and my wife and children.” I try to be mindful of that principle, and that’s such a huge sacrifice. We encourage our supporters to be easy, relax, go out on dates, do the same things you did when courting and keep doors closed…. By that last statement, I mean, don’t allow outside influences (family, friends, coworkers, etc.) to interfere with your marriage bond…don’t put yourself in a situation that could cast doubt within your marriage. Having a marriage vision is one of the Most important tools in a union. We talk loads about this because one of the worst things is to marry someone and realize your visions for marriage and family are not aligned. So for us, it’s the basics.
What role do your kids and parenting play in your business?
With our business, how we operate daily is based on how it works within our family unit..again, understanding that we are a team. We have turned down opportunities to be in certain stores such as Target because it would have been just too much on our family dynamic and that’s truly not the vision I had for this business. From when we formulate product, which is weekly, to our ship out days, which is every Tuesday and Thursday mostly, lately it’s been daily, down to taking Fridays completely off from work; it all depended upon how it operates within our particular family dynamic.
What are your favorite ingredients to work with, and why?
I absolutely LOVE working with herbs and essential oils. I love how concentrated essential oils can be and how amazing they work with our physical makeup. I love their molecular makeup, their aroma, their potency, their volatility, their ability to aid in healing, cleansing, clearing, uplifting and so much more. I absolutely love them. Herbs are so amazing because I can infuse them, extract them, make poultices, create decoctions, cook with them, burn them and so much more.
What is your process for creating a new product?
My process for creating a new product is big time, big time research and development. That takes a lot of time, money and experimentation. It’s best to understand what ingredients work together and which can be dangerous or toxic if combined. Understand ratios of ingredients, how they hold up in certain temperatures and environmental conditions. How they work on varying skin conditions, how safe they are for children, how long they preserve for, how quick or long before turning rancid, the type of container that each product will be housed in, how much each ingredient costs, if ingredients are similar and which works better for what purpose. There’s so so much that goes into formulating a new product, which is why it usually takes me about 8 months to a year, sometimes 2 or 3 years to introduce a new product.
Are you self-taught? Either way, how did you begin and what have you learned along the way?
I am semi self-taught, but learned quite a bit from my grandmother who was huge into skin care..she has flawless skin, and she’s 84 years old. My great-grandmother used to forage, so I would say my love for all things natural was inspired by those beauties. I love to research. I’m a huge ‘why’ person… I question almost everything. If something works great together, I usually want to understand why… if it doesn’t, why…. Why some ingredients preserve longer and some do not..how some ingredients need no preservation at all, etc. A ton of ‘why’ goes into much of my crafting a product… I ask, ‘Does it make sense?’…is it simply something that I’m creating just to introduce a new product, or does it truly make sense….does it align with our current products and why or why not…so much thought.
What is your approach to preservation?
My approach to preservation is simple..if there is a water-based substance in the mix, preserve it. There are both synthetic as well as natural occurring preservatives. If the product does not contain water, aloe, hydrosols or the like, such as dry masks, preservatives are a bit less needed. There’s so much misconception about preservation and what are true preservatives. Liquids should use a preservative…. Oils should use an antioxidant…. Clays can last awhile; however, a crafter should be mindful of the type of container they will use and ask the questions, ‘Will the customer apply this with wet hands?’ ‘Will the customer pour or scoop?’ etc…all of this thought should go into creating a product.
What did it mean to you to be widely recognized for your lines’ achievements [e.g., named as one of 9 Incredible Black Owned Natural Hair Businesses by Black Girl with Long Hair (BGLH), voted a top Instagram account by Essence Magazine Online, and featured in Parent’s Magazine in April 2016]?
I was truly, truly honored to be featured on BGLH (Black Girl With Long Hair) as one of the top 9 Black Owned Businesses because when it comes to green beauty, many Black owned brands are not really featured or introduced, leading many to lack the knowledge that we exist. With so many of the larger more prominently featured brands, it’s rare that women of color are featured in their selection of features on their social media page or website, save brands such as Josh Rosebrook, who I had the pleasure of chatting about this very thing via Instagram. I love what he is doing with his brand and how he doesn’t simply speak about diversity inclusion, but actually puts his words into action. I don’t truly see that with many of the green beauty brands. So, I’m always excited to see brands such as Okoko Cosmetiques and Siam Seas, Concept FortySeven, The Balm Co, women of color who are passionate about green beauty. With the lack of featured Black owned brands or brands owned by people of color, it creates a lack of interest in much of the Black community, so we, as women of color, as green beauty brand owners must work twice as hard to ensure that we are letting the public know we exist and are just as passionate, sometimes if not more, and with features such as BGLH, Essence and Parents Magazine, it’s a step in aiding us in that struggle. So, I’m always, always honored to be featured on any blog and surprisingly, we’ve had quite a few write about our products.
How did you decide to expand and create the Bohemian Collection?
The Bohemian Collection is the alter ego of the Natty Naturals collection. Natty Naturals first began as a focus on hair care for the natural hair community, although it is also used by beauties of all ethnicities, hair types, ages and both genders. The Bohemian Collection was a concentrated focus on the whole self, the skin care, bath and body, oral health, etc… It embraces the diversity of ingredients as diverse as our customer base. It’s a part of my energy as a whole.
If you had to pick a favorite product or two of which you are most proud, what would it (they) be, and why?
Yikes, this is a hard one… I would say some of my faves, and I’ll narrow it down to 3, are: Hair + Scalp Rinse (because it lightly cleanses, aids in removing product buildup, aids in closing the cuticle for smoother shinier hair and aids in preventing buildup on the scalp), Natty Butter Hair + Body Butter (I love everything about it..it’s a multi purpose product that is simply amazing), Cacao Clay Cleanse (I love making it, smelling it, applying it, enjoying it and love how my skin feels afterwards)..if I had a 4th, it would be either the Kijani Beauty Balm or Rosehip Facial Serum ( I love dry oil cleansing with them and applying them to my damp hair and skin).
How would you describe the experience you want people to have with your products?
I truly, truly, truly want people to experience what I experience with our products. I take so much time and thought and put a ton of energy into creating and crafting them, and I want them to experience all of that passion and love. I love, love, love when customers say things such as, ‘I had a headache or stressful day, and when I used your products, it made my head feel so much better or alleviated the stress.’ I want them to feel that symbiotic connection of earth energy and our spirit energy. Using my products make me feel so so happy, and I truly want that for each and every customer…even if they don’t understand why.
What do you see as the greatest success of your line(s) so far and what are your hopes for the future?
Honestly, I’ve already experienced the success. For the past 6 years, my husband and I have not had to work for anyone else outside of our business, we’ve purchased a new home and are sustaining a family of 6 with a business that we started..that, to me, is already a success story. It has taught me so much about myself, how to work as a team and family unit with a business. I’ve made some great connections and met some great people. I’ve learned so so much and am continuing to learn and grow..we have a healthy marriage, healthy and joyful children who get to see their parents operating a business daily…that, to me, is success in itself.