“I think as humans we just want to be seen. I think that that’s what we all as Black-owned businesses, we want that acknowledgment. ”
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While the wellness industry is one that should be accessible to everyone, it often feels like a luxury instead of a necessity — especially for women of color. Freedom Apothecary co-founders Morrisa Jenkins and Bonkosi Horn are working to change that. The Philadelphia-based wellness boutique opened its doors in 2019 to cultivate a community where women feel radiant inside and out.
The shop offers facials and carries toxin-free skincare products exclusively from companies founded by women. They’ve also hosted events on a myriad of wellness-related topics ranging from mental health to race in the beauty industry. Below we chat with Bonkosi (aka Bon) and Morissa about the process of launching a business together, the role their identities play in their mission and how Black women can get started on their own radical self-care journeys.
I saw that you described Freedom Apothecary as Morrisa’s dream vision and Bon’s creative vision. Can you tell me a little bit about what that means, your backgrounds, and what inspired you to create Freedom Apothecary?
Morrisa: I had a body care brand that I had created and was running its e-commerce for a few years. I was having another baby and took a hiatus from the brand. As I slept one night during all of this, I had a dream of this space, what it looked like and what it should do. I wanted to cater to Black women and women of color, and create a space for freedom, authenticity, and education on holistic living.
I woke up and thought to myself, “Wow. This feels like something I should do.” From there, I started writing stuff down, really getting an idea of what this should look like and what this should be. I knew right away that it wasn’t really something I wanted to tackle or do on my own, I would need a partner. I’m not from Philly so I reached out to Bonkosi’s husband since he’s an entrepreneur in the city. I talked to him about the idea and told him that I wanted a partner in this. He was like, “I think you should really reach out to Bonkosi.” Bon and I knew each other, she had been a friend in my head for years since we Insta-stalked each other.
Bon: [Laughter.] We didn’t really interact. I followed her, would check in on her, and she did the same but we never really spoke.
Morrisa: Once Bonkosi’s husband said that I reached out to her and I guess the rest is history.
Bon: Each of our strengths is so complimentary of one another. It’s like the yin and yang of relationships. Morrisa is the more reserved one, but she’s got all of the stuff happening in her head. I’m the one who’s like, ‘This is what we’re going to do, this is how we’re going to make it happen, and these are the people that we need to connect with.’
Tapping into that, describe the process of launching Freedom Apothecary. What were some early lessons you learned going into the business, especially working as partners?
Morrisa: One of the earliest lessons was trusting the vision. Patience was the second. Honestly, patience is an ongoing lesson in being an entrepreneur, especially in this space and being women of color.
Bon: I’ll share one more — if you’re clear on what you have to offer, who you want to be, what your values are, and that doesn’t resonate with everyone, that’s okay. If your brand doesn’t connect with someone or what you want to offer doesn’t connect with someone, that doesn’t mean that you have to accommodate, that just means that you guys weren’t meant to be together, or that just means that there’s something else for that client or customer and it’s not us.
How do you both identify and how would you say your individual identities play a role in the work that you’re doing through Freedom Apothecary?
Bon: Come on girlfriend, really?
Morrisa: [Laughter.] She’s been waiting for this question.
Bon: I think it’s really interesting because as much as Morrisa and I see eye to eye on so many things, where we come from and what made us who we are is so different. I’m biracial and while I love that about me, it can be a challenge. There’s also a multicultural perspective because I’m not Black-American, I am Congolese-American and then half white. I think that for me identity has always been something I think about, something to talk about, something that comes up, especially in a very Black and white world.
The work that I want to do through Freedom Apothecary is to create bridges because I’ve often felt othered more so by the Black community than I have by my white peers. For me, I’m like, “Here I am in this Black body, how can I bring these two sides together, essentially? How can I be that bridge builder? Specific to Freedom Apothecary, how can I meld this otherwise very white industry and be that tunnel between the two worlds?”
Morrisa: Meanwhile, I’m over here, being the Black girl who’s trying to tear down all of these barriers in the wellness space and health space and all of these spaces. For me, it’s more of a rebellion, how can I make all of this accessible to Black people, to Black women?
Bon: We want to create a community of support that empowers each other. Morrisa is Black and I am not that. I think that that’s such a perfect example of how we can represent all of the different ways to identify in our Black and Brown bodies. We have to showcase that there is not just one way to be a Black woman. Morrisa and I, as similar as we are, are so different. We’re two representations of what that can look like.
“For me, it’s more of a rebellion, how can I make all of this accessible to Black people, to Black women?”
Tell us about a moment that being a Black female entrepreneur has made you extremely proud. How do you foresee being funded by Barefoot and the New Voices Foundation as a way to create more of these powerful, impactful moments? Congratulations by the way on that!
Morrisa: Personally, the moment for me was probably being on Today Show. My Southern dad, Vietnam veteran, who doesn’t say a whole lot texted me saying, “Oh, I saw my baby on the Today Show.” That was probably the moment for me like, “Oh, I made it.” To have him say that meant a lot to me.
That’s a moment that stood out to me, but it there are so many moments. Just to hear people say, “Hey, I’m proud of you. I see what you’re doing,” or to shop with us. It’s an ongoing moment and I’m just so proud of what we’ve created and what we continue to create.
Bon: I think as humans we just want to be seen. That is at the core of what we want is just to be acknowledged to be seen. I think that that’s what we all as Black-owned businesses, we want that acknowledgment. We want people to shop with us. For us, it’s every opportunity and every moment that we are acknowledged is like, “Oh.” At the end of the day, it’s a vote of confidence of like, “Hey, we support you. Hey, you’re doing a good job.”
What actionable advice would you give to Black women who are new to the concept of radical self-care, and looking for ways to get started on their self-care journey?
Morrisa: Mine is to ask for help.
Bon: Mine is knowing what you need.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
Words: Clarice Metzger
Photography: Provided by Bonkosi Horn and Morissa Jenkins
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