Brown Girl Jane Is Refinery29’s Beauty Innovator Of The Year

Meet the CBD brand fighting for our right to self-care.

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While many spent most of 2020 counting down the days until the end of the so-called “dumpster fire” year, Brown Girl Jane founders Malaika Jones Kebede, Tai Beauchamp, and Nia Jones worked overtime to find their power in the flames. As millions took to the streets and social media to protest police brutality and systemic racism, and the world grappled with the coronavirus pandemic, they were using their platform as a CBD-based beauty and wellness brand to promote change and create a community that went beyond products on a shelf.
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This past June, the three founders — all graduates of Spelman College — launched an initiative to create lasting change in the communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic and racial injustice. The pledge, called the #BrownGirlSwap, asked Instagram users to replace five of their go-to products with brands owned by Black women. The hashtag eventually became a directory for people to discover new Black-owned businesses through social media. As it continued to gain momentum, what started as an online pledge to help drive the conversation around wealth distribution and racial disparities in America became a powerful movement.
In August, Brown Girl Jane partnered with Shea Moisture, a Black-founded brand now owned by personal-care conglomerate Unilever, to offer entrepreneurial mentorship to Black-owned brands from industry veterans and award funding with an investment of a $250,000 grant. Halle Berry joined the free virtual Black Beauty and Wellness Summit in September as the event's headliner, where she offered insights based on her own entrepreneurial projects. "We are supporting the next generation of beauty and wellness leaders, and they are Black women," Berry stated in the press release. Shortly after, Brown Girl Jane teamed up with Birchbox to bring the #BrownGirlSwap to their curated subscription boxes filled with products from Black-owned, women-led beauty brands.
When asked if they were surprised at all with the traction they’d gained with the swap, Jones Kebede and Beauchamp shared the same answer: no. "In everything we do, we always expect that it has the capacity to reverberate, affect culture, and change the industry," says Jones Kebede. "So while an initiative may start in a smaller way, we don't ever place a cap on ourselves."
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Where the founders are concerned, there’s never been a limit to what they can dream up, especially since the brand zeroed in on a commonly misrepresented space: Black women in hemp. In communities where over-criminalization is rampant, Brown Girl Jane wants to use its outward messaging and CBD-based products to promote a world where everyone has the opportunity to benefit from using the cannabis plant equally. "We knew it was our responsibility to help rectify these systemic issues that traumatize too many people of color," Jones previously told Refinery29.
But that's not all when it comes to the brand's mission. In Black and Brown communities, where taking on as much as you can is seen as a badge of honor, the Brown Girl Jane team wants to inspire people to prioritize their wellness. "For women of color, it is a constant struggle. We have been taught so many times, in so many ways, to be the backbone within our families, communities, and jobs while continuing to reach and thrive," says Jones Kebede. "But who has your back? And what are you doing to make sure that you are supported?"
That's where Brown Girl Jane’s community-first ethos comes into play: The brand wants to provide customers with a supportive and realistic approach to everything they do, from the products they choose to finding ways to make it easier to buy Black, like the swap. "Often, the people behind wellness brands want to present this facade that they are always calm and always at ease," says Jones Kebede. "We approach it from the perspective that there is no concept of perfection, and that's where sisterhood and community kick in."
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As they look towards the future, Brown Girl Jane’s founders hope to be a part of every woman's lifestyle, from those already committed to their Pilates classes to the busy woman looking for easy ways to fit wellness into her schedule. But it's not just about providing products — they want to shift mindsets in the long run. "This is for her to feel like she's not alone in moving towards her higher and greater self and that she has some of the tools to support her on that wellness journey," says Beauchamp. "We're trying to build a community for every woman and wherever they are on that path towards wholeness which is not a destination, but a lifestyle,” adds Jones Kebede.
Photographer: Maya Darasaw
In a society that relies heavily on Black women to get the job done, especially when it comes to education and progression — something we saw in the 2020 presidential election with Black women like Stacey Abrams, who devoted two years to advocating for voter equality and registered 800 thousand Georgia residents to vote after losing the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race amid mass suppression of Black voters. Brown Girl Jane is looking towards long-term solutions.
"It should not all fall on Black women, and there are opportunities in very inventive and creative ways to innovate what it means to change an industry," says Jones Kebede. That's where their innovative work and intention comes in. By taking a seat at the table, working closely with industry partners, and building their brand with purpose, they're calling on those who can help the movement. But let it be known that no matter who is pulled in, Black women will always deliver because, as Beauchamp puts it: "When Black women show up, we change the world."
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