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A Single Mother in Oakland Shines While Creating Her Own Skincare Line

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Photograph courtesy of Marla McDonald

Since 1976, the United States has recognized and celebrated the outstanding achievements of extraordinary Black Women and Men during the month of February. As we approach one year of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, I realized something: if you were fortunate enough to survive every aspect of 2020 and you identify yourself as Black, guess what? Black History Month is about you too. You’re still here. And that’s ample cause for a celebration.

Marla McDonald, a 37-years-young, single mother living in Oakland is shining bright these days with her body butter business. “We came from parents who weren’t financially well off. As a teen, my family experienced food insecurities and homelessness. It’s that experience that empowered me to take my own financial future into my own hands by creating BodyByANaturalBeauty,” she told me. Marla launched her business last year on her birthday in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Or as Marla so perfectly describes the social impact of the pandemic, “Skrr! Y’all in the house.”

With an Autistic 12-year-old daughter, Marla’s business model provided the answer to one of many questions she was asking herself. “How can I show up in a way that’s not taking me too far from my daughter,” she shared with me. It was equally important to Marla that she also be a good role model for her daughter. “We need to see women walking in their strength. I can be that person,” she explained.

Wanting to get away from store bought products containing ingredients none of us can pronounce and that wouldn’t leave her skin looking ashy, Marla started looking into natural products. “Really getting back to natural ways as much as possible was very important to me,” she admitted. Soon thereafter Marla discovered shea butter, learning of its benefits. Rich in vitamins A, E, and F, shea butter supports healthy skin and promotes circulation.

Reading Queen Afua’s book Sacred Woman: A Guide To Healing the Feminine Body, Mind & Spirit was pivotal for Marla. “It inspired me to live a holistic life and create natural body products. I learned how to heal myself and that by doing so, I heal my ancestors,” Marla told me. The decision to make her own body butters for herself was birthed. “We need all the good ingredients and products we can get,” she explained. Marla was on a continuous journey to have a natural lifestyle. Her hair is also natural, free from chemical processing. And she even has her own garden.

Photograph courtesy of Marla McDonald

But Marla’s life wasn’t always roses and butterflies. Previous trauma shut her down for years. Marla is a domestic violence survivor*. And anyone who has experienced this knows first hand of its debilitating impact on one’s sense of self. Marla admits to going on auto pilot and not really contributing to society. Once she made the decision to heal and took the necessary actions to do so, Marla no longer felt the need to be isolated. Instead, she opted to move forward, coaching herself along the way. “Yeah, that happened but what did I learn from it? Forget fear. I’m too awesome to be in solitude. I have a lot to offer,” she said.

In getting curious about what she was passionate about and wanted to do, Marla’s vision came to life. “I’m creating products that empower my community to be healthy,” Marla declared. Although she intended to launch her business in 2018, that was put on hold so Marla could focus her attention on helping her Autistic daughter successfully navigate her way through school. Instead, Marla began handing out samples of her shea butter creations. “I know what I’m putting in my products. There’s nothing harmful in them,” she explained.

Operation Hope** is a non-profit organization, with numerous locations throughout the U.S., that serves low and moderate-income adults and youth. It has played an important role in the successful launch of BodyByANaturalBeauty. Marla attended a class about financial literacy last year that the organization hosted. It was in that class that she learned she needed to get a seller’s permit. “That’s the first step in being official. That was my way of dotting my I’s and crossing my T’s,” Marla pointed out.

And her business couldn’t have launched at a better time, especially when the need for self-care is so prevalent. Significantly different from store bought lotions and creams, Marla’s body butters are richly moisturizing at affordable prices starting at $12. Making all of her products from scratch in her home, the production process of her body butters resembles delicious, yellow cake batter being mixed in a large bowl. Marla’s Queens and Kings Collections consist of emollient body butters with alluring names like “Divine Temple” and “Sandalwood & Tahitian Vanilla”. These softly scented butters both hydrate and protect the skin, leaving one looking and feeling like they just left the spa.

Photograph courtesy of Marla McDonald

As for what’s next for Marla’s body butter business, she’s just getting started. “The end dream is opening my own brick and mortar full of handmade, black-owned products from artisans like me,” Marla said. Although life “outside” is far from what we remember as “normal”, a new year is upon us and Black History Month is here, shining a light on what’s possible when resilience meets brilliance. “I’m making history by walking in my ancestors’ footsteps. They were business owners. I remember watching them run stores,” she told me. And as Marla continues to run her successful business, she also creates a new paradigm for herself, her family, and her community.

*If you are experiencing domestic violence and need support, please contact these organizations:

A Safe Place
Oakland, CA
(510) 536-7233 {EMERGENCY LINE}
(510) 986-8600 {MAIN}
asafeplace.org 

W.O.M.A.N., Inc.
Women Organized to Make Abuse Nonexistent, Inc.
San Francisco, CA
(877) 384-3578, 24/7 Support
womaninc.org

 

**If you are interested in learning how to attain financial wellness for yourself and your household, please contact:

Operation HOPE, Inc.
Oakland, CA
(510) 535-6700
operationhope.org

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Erynne Elkins – Chief Entrepreneur Advocate

Erynne Elkins – Chief Entrepreneur Advocate

Erynne Elkins is a Chicago native, San Francisco resident, and Solid Gold dancer wannabe. When she's not tending to her blog, growing her Wise Girl Tee empire, or forgetting to give herself a tarot reading, she works as a Breathwork Facilitator and Nanny. Her literary sunshine has also appeared in The San Franciscan, Chicago Literati, and FindBliss.

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