Meet the First Indigenous-Owned Beauty Brand to Open a Cosmetics Store
As a member of the Navajo Nation, Ahsaki Báá LaFrance-Chachere didn't grow up in an area with a nearby Sephora or Ulta Beauty store, so she set out to build her own luxury makeup and skincare brand: Ah-Shí Beauty. And opened a store to carry the products.
On top of reclaiming her tribe's culture and traditions — which have been commercialized to death — LaFrance-Chachere wants Ah-Shí to encourage people to set their own beauty standards, and have great products to use as a means of self expression.
"The brand name itself connects my culture with the world. Ah-Shí in Diné (Navajo) means 'This is me. This is mine.' Ah-Shí Beauty translates to 'This is my beauty,'" LaFrance-Chachere tells InStyle. "When you look at yourself in the mirror and say 'Ah-Shí Beauty', you're saying 'This is my beauty.'"
The brand has also created opportunities for her community. Ah-Shí Beauty has a studio that also functions as a gift shop, content studio, distribution center, and showroom just off the reservation in Gallop, New Mexico, as well as a storefront in the Navajo Nation capital Window Rock, Ariz. Ah-Shí beauty is the first Native American-owned beauty brand in the country to open a storefront, in addition to being the first Indigenous- and Black-owned beauty brand.
Ahead, LaFrance-Chachere shares the inspiration behind Ah-Shí Beauty, the challenges of opening her first storefront, and more.
What inspired you to create Ah-Shí Beauty?
What really started it all is the need for authentic representation. Being a product of the Navajo Reservation, we never see ourselves or hear our voices in the beauty industry. The closest we get is probably seeing patterns or inspiration from tribes in packaging, story lines, or the commercials they shoot on our reservation. Being a res. kid and having a mom who was a fashionista and into luxury beauty, there has never been a voice of ours in the space. I don't want to be just one brand, but the official first Native American prestige beauty brand. It took awhile to start the brand because I knew I only had one shot to show the industry that we are here. From one reservation to another, we're all in the same regulated, oppressed system. I hope building this company is going to do more than create amazing products, but also inspire others to start their own brands and businesses, in the beauty industry and beyond.
How do you hope to share your culture through your brand's products?
My top priority is to protect our culture and who we are as Indigenous people and not commercialize it any further. That's why my packaging is black and white and very classic; I wanted it to be timeless. I'm a storyteller and I want to help unite the world through the power of beauty. By controlling the narrative of who we are as Indigenous people and making spaces we've never been in, I'm helping to move my culture forward in the beauty industry.
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You opened your second store location right before COVID-19 hit. What has kept you going?
The first location we opened was in Gallup, N.M, a border town of my reservation. It's a beauty studio where we shoot a lot of content for the brand, a distribution center, and showroom. It gave me the momentum to work with my tribe to get a space on my reservation, which was historic. Doing this on any reservation, especially mine, is very hard, but I fought and worked very hard to get this space. It's the first Native American beauty brand storefront in the U.S., in Navajo Nation capital Window Rock, Ariz. We just reopened in July after being shut down for a year and a half, so I'm still building momentum until I can get to the point where I'm able to reopen the studio in Gallop. The 15% Pledge was created while we were shut down, and I consider expanding into a big box retailer. I realized that signing a vendor deal will always be there, but my people are more important and it would defeat the purpose of creating jobs for them and stimulation the economy of the Navajo Nation.
As a Native American and Black brand founder, what do you hope for the future of the beauty industry?
This brand is truly uniting people through the power of beauty and yes, being in the industry up against major brands I truly admire and can't wait to become one day. I love to be a consult in the industry, especially when it comes to representation of my people. I want to be that Allie in the industry that major brands can still reach out to for advice on how to properly represent us because it shouldn't be a competition. I know what it's like to be a modern-day Native-Black woman, and I want to help them.
Shop Ah-Shí Beauty Products
Hi Def Foundation
Quattro Blusher/Shadow Compact
Under Cover Liquid Concealer
Liquid Velvet Lipstick
Dual Powder Foundation
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This story originally appeared on instyle.com