Description and Show Notes
This was a really fun conversation. Listen in to hear more of her story and the big radical act that you can do take up space and reclaim our true selves. We rant a bit about euro-centric norms, modern bro-marketing strategies, and coaching certifications, among many topics.
Althea Branton (she/her) is a skincare designer. Her eponymous skin care line “Althea Branton” is for QTBIPOC who are tired of staring the current beauty industry in the face and not seeing a reflection that looks like their own. For more than a decade, Althea has been creating natural skin care products using the finest ingredients the Earth has to offer. She believes that clean beauty can be accessible to all and that only YOU can define what beauty means to you. When Althea isn't dismantling Eurocentric beauty standards, she loves to watch musicals, playing soccer with her mic-drop child and eat all sorts of chocolate.
Keep in touch with Rochelle on Instagram or Twitter at @rochellesanch
ROCHELLE: Hey Althea!
ALTHEA: How’s it going?
ROCHELLE: I’m excited! I know that you and I have been waiting to have this conversation and I can’t wait to hear you lay it out for me.
ALTHEA: Same here! I’m so glad to be here! Thank you! Thank you for having me!
ROCHELLE: You’re welcome! Welcome to the show!
Just to start us off, what is your side hustle?
ALTHEA: I don’t want to call it a side hustle. I think it diminishes. When people say, “side hustle,” it diminishes what we’re trying to accomplish. There’s this school of thought that’s like, “Just do this little thing on the side,” like you’re selling some multilevel marketing something or other. “I’ll just make a little extra cash.” But, on the side, if you want to call it a side.
ROCHELLE: Yeah, I agree.
It diminishes the intent that most of us have with this thing that we’re starting. You have your primary thing that you do that pays the bills and satisfies all the cultural norms and all that stuff. And then, you have the other thing that you’re like, “No, but my heart is over here.”
ALTHEA: This is what I’m saying.
I am a skincare designer. I am in the midst of creating and designing a full skincare line for queer and trans black, brown, and indigenous people.
ROCHELLE:I just want to give a pause to that. Can we just honor what you just said?
ALTHEA: Thank you.
ROCHELLE: Tell me more about it.
ALTHEA: I realized, in the skincare industry, the skincare industry is wholly dominated by Eurocentric beauty standards.
When I say Eurocentric beauty standards, I mean thin, white, cis, heterosexual female, able-bodied, neurotypical, about 5’5” and 120 pounds, blonde hair – no back side, by the way. If you don’t fit the standard, there is something inherently wrong with you.
There is this whole industry, and this goes and largely feeds up into colonialism and white supremacy which – trust me – is a whole other conversation. But what this does is, once you have this standard and if you don’t fit into it, there are myriads and creams and injections and juice fasts and workouts and diets where you don’t eat fat, or you eat fat, or you don’t eat carbs, or something to that effect that will make you fit into the standard.
If you are a black, brown, or indigenous person, a person of color, especially if you are queer or trans, there is no way on this green earth that you are going to fit into this standard. It’s not going to happen.
ROCHELLE: It seems like all of the messaging is like, “Here is how you can become more like this.”
ALTHEA: Right. That particular standard is seen as the ideal.
I don’t know about you. I spent years trying to fit into it. I just said, “You know what? I’m never going to.” I just decided to take my 48-inch backside and say, “No, I’m going to just appreciate myself, reclaim myself, and honor who and what I am.”
My line is all about skincare that is intentionally and purposely for queer and trans people of color.
ROCHELLE: Tell me more about that.
ALTHEA: I have been asked this. Actually, I got asked this yesterday. “Are my products for non-people of color?” My answer is no, it is not. You can go into any beauty supply store, any place that sells skincare or makeup, and you can find products for people who are not people of color.
We people of color have to hope and pray that those products work for us, and I have a problem with that. Why do I have to fit into this world? Why do I have to conform?
Potential investors, if you hear me now, my products are not for white people.
ROCHELLE: That should be readily accepted too. That shouldn’t have to be a statement, you know.
ALTHEA: This is the thing.
In the industry, black-owned beauty brands are constantly asked by wholesalers and suppliers, “Are your products for white people?” If the answer is not “yes, they are,” then their eyebrows are raised. I’m like, “No, booboo.” I am not having that.
I am intentionally making these products for queer and trans black people, brown people, and indigenous people. These communities are not monoliths. There is division in these communities. There is a very strong anti-queer sentiment in the black community as we speak.
ROCHELLE: How did you get to this point? Where you’re like, “Forget it. I’m putting my foot down. This is the product. This is what I care about. This is what is needed in this world.”
ALTHEA: I knew I wanted to start a line. I have started lines before. I’m a soap maker. I sold handmade soap. I sold it to anybody who would just give me money for it, to be perfectly honest.
ROCHELLE: That’s the first iteration of anything that we’re interested in, right?
ALTHEA: That’s what it comes down to. “Here is a bar of soap. It smells really pretty. Give me $8.00 for it. Thank you. Bye. Here’s a pretty bag.”
When it came down to it, I thought, “You know what? It hasn’t been that long since I have been identifying myself as a queer person of color.” It had been some time since the queer community saved my life. They saved my life, and I wanted to give back to this community for saving my life. Also, to take up space in this community as well.
The best way that I know how to do that is to use my knowledge and skill and – let’s be real – talent in creating skincare products. It’s because of the divisiveness and because the black community is so divided. I don’t know if this is something that people actually know, but it is very, very divided.
There is a very strong anti-queer sentiment. It’s a very religious-based anti-queer sentiment. I respect that and honor that, and I want my customers to know that you are loved, you are appreciated, and the biggest radical act that anybody can do who has ever been a “victim” of colonialization as a victim of white supremacy—
Yes, you can march on the street. Yes, you can donate to organizations that combat this. Let’s be real. As I am Canadian, Canada is waking up to the very real fact that we have treated our indigenous peoples horrifically, and we have been doing it for centuries.
The biggest thing that any one of us can do is to reclaim our own selves. It’s to wake up and understand that the messaging is there. In colonialism and in white supremacy, the messaging is there that you are less than, but if you know within yourself that you are not, that is the biggest thing you can do because it means that all of that messaging and all of those systems that have been put in place aren’t going to work.
ROCHELLE: I think it’s important for you to take up space and to have this message and to show people that there are different ways to fight back. There are different ways to show up and take up space as all of your multihyphenate personalities and identities. You’re allowed to be all of it.
ROCHELLE: That’s probably another conversation when it comes to marketing and business.
You can be a lot of things. You don’t have to only be the one thing.
ALTHEA: It’s funny that you mention marketing and business because, as I’m embarking on this journey, those traditional methods of marketing and putting my business out there come from a very capitalist place, and it’s just not my jam.
I’m doing the research. Of course, I can’t find anything—
ROCHELLE: That’s the idea!
ALTHEA: I can’t find anything on queer people of color spending habits. This research has been a rainbow-farting unicorn for the most part. I just can’t find it.
But when I do run across marketing info or branding info, it is very, very, very capitalist. It’s very like, “At all costs, you’ve got to do this and get paid!” I’m like, “Whoa! Come on now.”
ROCHELLE: What’s one of the latest things you’ve found?
ALTHEA: My brand is digitally native, so it’s exclusively online. That’s motivated mostly by the pandemic because – let’s be real – this shit isn’t going away any time soon. We’re going to have to stay home again because somebody sneezed, and they sneezed and farted another variant and here we go.
It’s all about “how can I convert?” and “how do I tap into the psychological feelings of my customer?” I’m sitting here thinking, “Look, my customer can’t even go outside because (a) there’s disease; (b) if they are transitioning, if they are in drag, if they are in something that doesn’t conform to a cis hetero normative standard, they are going to get in trouble. They literally fear for their life.”
That’s where I’m coming from, right?
ALTHEA: I was going to do an MBA, but I thought, “Oh, no, we won’t do that.”
ROCHELLE: We don’t have time for you to hide in an MBA program that was designed by a white person for white people to market to white people and all of that. We need you out here now.
ALTHEA: Rochelle, that’s a hard pass.
ROCHELLE: That’s how I kind of feel about coaching, to be honest.
I was like, “I get that there are different conversations and different levels of certification. Some people consider it a big deal, and some people don’t.” I don’t know. It’s kind of different for me because I don’t know if I want to get certified.
Do I care about the certification process of a panel of white people deciding that this product, this process designed by a person will help more white people? I’m like, “No.”
ALTHEA: Here’s my mini rant about the coaching industry.
I am a certified strategic intervention coach. I have been certified now for a couple of years. I had a coaching practice. I coached people. I didn’t charge them $100,000 as some coaches tend to do because – I don’t know – their coaching makes you blast off to the moon or some shit like that.
I didn’t enjoy it, but the thing that got me out of coaching – actually, there were two things. One, I didn’t enjoy it. Two, it was this notion that, if I wasn’t pulling in five-figure months, I was a shit coach, right? The only way for me to coach was to go after the big ticket.
I actually read a book on this. Somebody wrote a book about how to charge people $180,000 a pop. When you do that, you’re only targeting a certain group of people.
ALTHEA: You’re only targeting a certain group of people, and you’re promising them the moon, stars, the sky, and the Milky Way in exchange for your backside living the “laptop lifestyle.” To me, there’s something wrong with that. There’s something wrong with the messaging.
I was on a call once. Somebody said to me that I could sell my car for this coaching. I’m like, “Then I can’t drive my child to daycare? We’re going to have a problem here if I hawk my car for a 12-week program. That’s insane.”
ROCHELLE: Was that someone selling you something?
ROCHELLE: Giving you options, right?
ALTHEA: Right! Options. I could get rid of my house and live in my car with my child behind.
ROCHELLE: See the opportunities!
ALTHEA: Life-changing opportunities. It’s always lifechanging. Everything is lifechanging.
ROCHELLE: You’ve got to have some skin in the game.
ALTHEA: Right? “If you don’t invest in yourself and you don’t choose yourself…”
The best was, apparently, I took this program. I didn’t get the results – the home skill it was promising. You know why I didn’t get the results? This is amazing. I was not in alignment with the universe. I needed to go and clear my chakras because I had money blocks and energy blocks and wounds. Everybody says you’ve got wounds! Jesus Christ.
ROCHELLE: Wait. Maybe I’m digging too deep here, but the person with that program, at the end of it, was it like you went back to them and said that it didn’t quite work?
ALTHEA: I totally went back to them and said, “I can’t even give you a review.” I did everything they said. It was so inconsistent. The PDFs didn’t work. How do you not make a PDF work?
I got nothing out of it – absolutely nothing. I just said, “Listen, I’m letting you know that I’m not going to give you a review for this.” I paid money – pounds even – for a pile of shite. Of course, that’s when they said that I wasn’t aligned. If I was aligned enough, I would manifest all these clients.
The long and the short of it is I no longer coach, but I do believe that there is a lot of spiritually influenced capitalism in the coaching industry. It is very, very, very difficult to find coaches that generally just want to coach and help people.
This help should be accessible to all – not just a select few that can drop $180,000 at the drop of a hat. I remember when I started my practice, I coached somebody for $20.00. They were in a situation. They really just needed some guidance and really needed a step in the right direction. I said, “Listen, I’m not a dick. I’m going to help you out.”
ROCHELLE: How do you make the transition from coaching and then realizing what coaching is like and then going to beauty? How do you do that?
ALTHEA: My coaching practice dried up because of COVID. I lost my last client in April of last year.
I found myself drifting – like, “Oh, well, that’s done. Now, what?” Beauty and skincare was always something I loved to do. Again, I was listening to those messages from family and friends that were just like, “You know, just do it on the side. Just go to a craft show on the weekend. It’s fine. You won’t make a living off that.” I’m like, “Okay.”
ROCHELLE: Not if you rely on craft shows!
ALTHEA: No. See, when I made soap and would sell it to anybody who would give me money, then yes, I would do the craft shows. I even had a market stall at one point.
But something in me said, “You know what? This is beyond that. I want to create something that is more than just me going into a church basement and setting up a table.” In fact, I still have my table. Literally, selling it to whoever would buy it.
I want to be focused and intentional. I want this to be a purpose. I want this to be a movement. I want to stir up some shit in this industry.
ROCHELLE: Yeah, and you definitely cannot do that behind a table in a basement with other people behind a table in a basement.
ALTHEA: No, because the people that are going to stir up the shit ain’t going into church basements. They’re not even going to church. That’s not happening. That’s when I started to sit there and really go into the depths of my soul and say to myself, “Self, what is it that I want to do?”
It just came back to serving the queer community. I wanted to give back because it gave me my life back. In doing that, that’s when it kind of started to take place. Then, I went on this endless Google search, and no one should go on Google. It’s like massive rabbit hole and you can’t get out.
I started googling gender-neutral skincare lines. I thought, “Well, I want my skincare line to be gender neutral.” I was like, “This is a bit masc, isn’t it? A lot of these skincare lines are a little bit masc.”
I thought, “No, I don’t want it to be gender-neutral. I want it to be gender-fluid.” I was like, “Oh. Snap. That’s it. I’m done. I’m creating this gender-fluid line that is a little on the fem side.” I ain’t going to lie. It’s a little fem, but it’s just more fun that way.
It is very specific, very focused, very intentional.
I said, “You know what? I’m going to stick with this.” Then, I started designing it. I took some courses in actual skincare design. I’ve taken seven in total. I’m giving myself a high-five because, as a solo parent with a child in virtual kindergarten, yeah, I did that.
ROCHELLE: That’s a big deal.
ALTHEA: I’m high fiving myself right now.
In creating that, I thought, “I want to create these products. I want them to be functional. I want them to work, but I also want them to be an experience.”
When I was in the thick of creating this, everybody’s backsides are at home, wondering, “Are we going to get out of lockdown?” because, in Canada, it’s been a long time. We’re just getting out of it now, but there are a couple of variants on the horizon that are just threatening to say, “Hey everybody! Let’s lock it all down again!”
ROCHELLE: But people still need you. Just because we’re all locked down – you know, some are out, and some are not, and kind of unpredictable for the next year – how do you serve the people? You’re like, “No, this is for you. This is it.”
ALTHEA: Yeah, this is it because we still have to – for the love of everything green and holy, everybody who’s listening – wash your hands. We still need to wash ourselves, hopefully. We still need skincare, but we also need skincare that works.
ROCHELLE: Skincare that stands for something too.
ALTHEA: Yes, and it does.
My line is really about, even though being queer and being a person of color because, in whatever community you find yourself in, you’re going to find that hate. Never mind from the outside world, but you will find that hate.
My line is about having that strength to say, “This is who I am. You all are going to have to deal, and that’s it. I’m going to look great doing it. I’m going to have glowing skin. I’m going to have all the things, and I can be all the things despite all the shit that is thrown at me on a fucking daily basis about how I need to present, how I need to look, who is going to be offended, and I’m going to hell. Why Is everybody hating on Lil Nas X? He’s just being himself. Everybody, cool the fuck out.” You know what I mean?
There is a lot to show up as a queer person. There is a lot. My line is just about “fuck everybody.” Just be you and be amazing and look amazing.
ROCHELLE: Yeah, and your product directly addresses that. You’re like, “No, this is what it’s like to be centered and be the intended recipient and have this feeling of having the spotlight because you totally can and that’s totally okay.”
It is okay to step outside. It is okay to be trans. It is okay to do drag. It is okay.
Who the fuck cares who you love? It’s nobody’s business besides you and that person. Who gives a shit? Love whoever the fuck you want. That’s actually a central message of my brand. It’s literally “love whoever the fuck you want.”
ROCHELLE: I want to ask you. There are lots of reasons, but why is it so hard for us to just show up and love whoever the fuck we want? Even if we don’t fit those Eurocentric standards of beauty, why is it hard? What would you say?
ALTHEA: It’s hard because it’s not even the Eurocentric standards of beauty that we’re concerned about. It’s our own community. It’s our own families. It’s our own friends. That is the real pain point. It’s not even going out into the world and going down the street.
“What is my family going to think? Am I still going to be loved by the people closest to me?” That’s why it’s so hard. Because, above all else, we’re still human beings. We are hardwired for connection.
We have primal actual physiological and biological needs to be loved and accepted by other people. When those needs go unmet, especially if you get rejected by your own family members – the people who are supposed to love and care and nurture for you – that’s really hard which is why, in the queer community, the notion of “chosen family” is so powerful because it has literally saved lives.
It’s super hard, especially if you’re someone like me who grew up in a very strict, religious household where God was some white guy in the sky who was going to smite you for farting in church. It’s super difficult.
ROCHELLE: I can totally see and hear how you just feel this gratitude toward your community. It’s beyond just friends and nice people and “finding your community” or “finding your people” and stuff which is totally a thing.
When you hit that level with someone who really gets you, we can do some amazing things. I’m so glad that you’re infusing that into your product because there are a lot of skincare and beauty lines, but there’s only this one message that you have, and you’re clearly really showing it – even before the line is out there.
I’m really excited about this because my love language is gifts – receiving and giving gifts. I’m like, “Cool product!”
ALTHEA: I love products.
One of the things when I was doing this deep soul-searching as to how I’m going to show up with this line was just me reconciling the fact that I have loved products from the time I was a teenager.
This is going to date me, but that’s okay. I look fine for my age. I remember The Body Shop and going into The Body Shop when it first came to Canada and buying this dewberry lip balm. It was $4.00 which was astronomical at the time because I had to save up to buy it, but all the cool kids at school had the dewberry lip balm.
I remember when I bought my first pot, I was like, “This stuff is amazing!” I had only ever used Chapstick, and Chapstick will only get you so far, but this stuff? This stuff was liquid gold! It was amazing! I was like, “I need more. I need more stuff. I need more to put on my skin.”
With my afterschool 15-hours-a-week part-time job, I would buy products upon products upon products, and that was my thing. There was something about it that I just absolutely adored.
ROCHELLE: Do you find that any part of that from your past and your youth kind of comes into your designing your own line now?
When I was younger, there was a lot of messaging that I got from relatives and from the world at large about how I was supposed to look. Rochelle, hair is a whole other conversation. The messages I got about hair were that it was never good enough. It never looked how it was supposed to. It was always straightened to tame it. It was unruly. It was bad.
It was just never encouraged to be vain because, as I said, in this religious household I grew up in, vanity was a sin. Anything beyond general cleansing and having a shower every day or something to that effect, anything over and above that was considered vain, so it took a while to unlearn all of those messages and say, “You know what? I deserve and I am worthy.”
I am worthy of going into Holt Renfrew and being like, “I want a sample of Crème de la Mer.” You know, the $400 cream? Why not?
ALTHEA: Why not me? Why can’t I have a product that’s well-made? Why can’t I have something that makes me feel amazing? Not only that, why can’t I have something that works for my skin that actually does what it’s supposed to do? It actually works. Why can’t I have that?
There were elements of that where it was me unpacking and unlearning all the nonsense that I received when I was younger to say, “No, not today. That’s not part of where I’m going and who I am.”
ROCHELLE: I love it. I think that speaks so much to what you’re bringing just through these products. I can’t even say “just.” We all come up with an offer or a service or a product, even if you’re not creating the product yourself from scratch like you are, even if you’re reselling things, it’s not really about the actual object. It’s about what’s behind it.
It’s about what it stands for, how it pinpoints a point on your journey as the creator. This is a major milestone for you. It’s like a marker. It’s like a milestone. At this point, now that you’ve done the hard work and you’ve learned the things, the fact that you came out of it saying, “No. Actually, I can have more, and I can provide this for people who need it,” and you’re very, very connected with them, I think that’s just wonderful that you’re coming up with this.
I’m actually curious. Do you feel comfortable sharing what’s coming up for you?
I’m still in product development. There’s a lot of buzz in the beauty industry about testing on animals. I am the animal that’s being tested. Everything gets tested on my face or my body and has been for the better part of the year.
My line is intentionally as green as possible.
This is where some of the capitalist marketing comes in because it’s very easy to say, “I started this line because I didn’t have any beauty products for myself, and I had eczema and I wanted something that was super good for the earth and that used all-natural ingredients.”
To me, these aren’t things that make your line stand out because every motherfucker on the planet does this shit. This is the standard. You shouldn’t put shit in your products to begin with. Just don’t.
ROCHELLE: Don’t call it out as something you don’t do that no one should be doing.
ALTHEA: Yeah, exactly.
It’s the same kind of rhetoric. It’s the same kind of story. There’s a lot of buzz about zero-waste, but what people don’t understand is, when it comes to these initiatives, corporations want us to feel like we’re the problem for the climate crisis, but we’re not actually the problem.
Me putting an aluminum can in a recycling bin – yes, that is a good thing, but there are corporations who are just spewing all kinds of shite all over the planet and sucking out the planet’s resources far more than my backside putting a banana peel in my compost.
ROCHELLE: Yeah, your product is not part of that. For sure.
ALTHEA: It is. I am very conscious about what I put in my stuff, so it is considered “green” I guess. You could say it is considered clean beauty, but I don’t lead with that. To me, it’s just the standard. You should just be doing this anyway.
This is not like “I’m buying this because it’s fairly-traded.” It’s supposed to be fairly traded. You’re not supposed to go to other people’s countries and take all their shit. You know what I mean? You’re supposed to fairly trade stuff. This is not something extraneous. It’s not something that makes me super special. It’s not what makes me “stand out.”
ROCHELLE: I love how you just lay it out there. Let’s just say the thing. Is everyone okay with that? Just say it.
ALTHEA: I’m all about truth. I think my integrity and my brutal honesty may ruffle some feathers, but just me existing is going to ruffle feathers, so I’m going to ruffle feathers.
ROCHELLE: I love it. Keep doing it.
ALTHEA: Thank you. I will.
ROCHELLE: As we wrap up today, is there anything that you wanted to share as a closing thought or something that you definitely want people to keep in mind?
ALTHEA: Yes, my line is called Althea Branton. It is named after me. It sounds like a designer handbag, so I’m totally running with that. My line is skincare designed specifically for queer, trans, black, brown, and indigenous people of color. It is good. It works.
ROCHELLE: I can tell! I want some!
ALTHEA: It works. It is a work in progress.
I don’t have a launch date. I’m going to be totally honest. All of that bro marketing that’s out there like, “You’ve got to crush the funnel!” kind of jazz. I don’t have a launch date. I will launch when I’m ready.
For all of you who are hearing me – and hopefully when this airs, it will actually be launched – go to my Instagram page @althea.branton and check me out there. I will post when I launch. It is exclusively online. This is not stuff in stores. I don’t want my products sitting on a shelf. All of our backsides are in lockdown. You can’t go out and get your stuff. No, it will be exclusively online.
It’s coming. It’s beautiful. The stuff is beautiful stuff. It works. It’s for people who are transitioning – female to male, male to female. It’s for folks who have trouble showing up in the world.
This is just my way of saying, “I know. I know what that’s like. I know what that’s like to get those messages that you’re never going to be good enough. I know what that’s like to get that rejection from the people who are supposed to care. I also know what it’s like to find a chosen family and really feel at home.”
My brand is that home. I hope that anyone who purchases my products will become part of my chosen family at some point.
ROCHELLE: I love it. Thank you so much for doing this.
ALTHEA: It’s my pleasure.
ROCHELLE: Thank you. Thank you for doing this. We need it!
ALTHEA: Thank you!
Thank you for holding this space for me to rant and curse and lay it all out there!
ROCHELLE: Oh, yes, let’s keep ruffling feathers, okay?
ROCHELLE: All right. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?
ALTHEA: Thank you so much. Take care.