Hustle, health and happiness — can entrepreneurs truly have their cake and eat it, too? According to self-care entrepreneur and style influencer, Nikisha Brunson, a lifestyle re-design and a problem-solving mindset can get you a long way.
Brunson’s creative career has been nothing short of inspiring. As a self-made media maven, the Toronto, Canada native has done it all; in 2011, she launched Urban Bush Babes, a collaborative lifestyle project with blogger Cipriana Quann. She was also living in Brooklyn, NY, working with some of the nation’s largest influencers, including Glamour Mag, Cosmopolitan and Vogue. But, despite the conventional success, something was missing and Brunson’s anxiety was at an all-time high. As someone living with ADHD, GAD and depression, she knew it was time for a change. “After a few nervous breakdowns, I just realized it was too overstimulating at the time, and I was navigating how I could control that and set boundaries,” Brunson says.
In search of a calmer pace, she moved to Austin, Texas, along with her teenage son. The decision paid off; since the move, Brunson has opened her own small-batch skincare line Folie Apothecary, continued to cultivate her creative career (working with brands like Saint Heron and Outdoor Voices) and become a well-known advocate for mental health and holistic wellness. I chatted with Brunson about her unique business journey and narrowed in on a few tips for creating your own lifestyle, setting boundaries and advocating for yourself.
Jane Claire Hervey: Creating a lifestyle and a professional environment that works for you requires just that—creation. What’s important to you in a working environment? How do you engineer a personal work “culture” that works for you?
Nikisha Brunson: I need natural light and windows. Especially if you deal with depression, lighting is very important. I prefer to work alone, because working with people and on their schedules heightens my anxieties. That’s what I love about being an entrepreneur and owning my own business, I get to set my schedules and determine my environment. It prevents me from getting distracted, too. When I’m working by myself, I don’t have someone else to pay attention to or someone who is going to take my focus away—I don’t have those environmental distractions… It’s basically navigating through that and staying away from allowing things to pile up on my plate. I also have a morning routine and ritual where I let my mind meander around and procrastinate.
Hervey: What is your morning routine? How do you start your day?
Brunson: I usually wake up around 7 AM; I like to give myself about one to two hours of free-flowing time, and this is the time I use to not be in a rush with myself and the things that I need to get done. I allow myself to procrastinate and go at my own pace. I meditate for a few minutes using the SimpleHabit app; I then make a fruit/veggie smoothie and go through my messages, then I go to the gym or dance in my home and then after that I go to work.When you have ADHD, you already want to procrastinate, so I’m going to give myself permission to do that and not shame myself and be hard on myself, because that’s part of what I need as a person who has ADHD. The procrastination is going to come anyway, and that’s that time I can do it without shame.
Hervey: What have been some major influences on your career designs throughout the last few years? What inspired you to start Folie Apothecary?
Brunson: I’m a minimalist, so I’ve always loved a very clean and minimalist aesthetic, and I’ve also loved designs that are classic (and I do not do trends). I’ve also been a creative person since I was a little girl, so I love to combine the art world with my holistic world. So, think Calvin Klein from the 90s and Parisian style—that’s the kind of aesthetic that has influenced me greatly over the years. Parisians have this classic style, and they don’t ever overdo it. It’s a careful approach, and it’s not trendy. Americans make certain things trendy, but Parisian stuff is forever.
Hervey: What does setting boundaries like look to you and how do you maintain these boundaries in a healthy way on a day-to-day basis?
Brunson: I didn’t know when I started my business at the time, but women love beauty products. I had a large following when I started, so it took off really great, but that has also changed the pace at which I handle my business. I stopped making a lot of products that I used to make, because I couldn’t keep up with the demand. I was making soaps, shampoo bars, salt soaps and bath soaps and I had to stop and minimize it so I could focus on the few bestsellers. I also never know when I’m going to get an influx of buyers, which happened over this last weekend, so when I see something like that happen, I try to clear my plate for a couple of days so I can work on my orders and focus on my customers. I look at what my orders look like and what my life outside of my Folie Apothecary looks like [when scheduling my time]. I like writing lists that I can visually see and check off, because then it doesn’t seem so overwhelming and it’s not swirling around in my head, because I don’t have it written down.
Hervey: You’re an advocate for self-care, and healthy living—how do you incorporate this education into your daily life and what motivates you to share the knowledge with others?
Brunson: “I’ve always been a student and a teacher, so I have a natural passion for studying things that intrigue me, like psychology and holistic health. So I’m constantly reading or listening to podcasts, and I will always share what I learn and what works for me. Everything I study, I end up using in my own life, like yoga routines, natural supplements, beauty DIYs and healthy recipes. I’ve created a world that works for me, and what’s so crazy is that I believe self-care should be 24/7, but it seems like we’ve only turned it into something we squeeze into the day. When you have disorders like I do, it’s either you live your life just feeling crazy and overwhelmed or you make your life work for you and your body work for you and that’s what I’ve done. That’s where the boundaries come in. To me, boundaries are everything and it’s how you tell others what you need. Everything is communication and you have to understand that boundaries will always get crossed. The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves, and we need to have a way to tell people when they’re acting in a way that’s not acceptable to us. We have the right to protect and defend ourselves and the duty to take responsibility for how others treat us. If I’m not comfortable with something, I communicate it. If something doesn’t align with who I am or how much is on my plate, I communicate it.”
Hervey: What advice do you have for other creative entrepreneurs in the beginning stages of designing a work/life “balance” that works best for them?
Brunson: “Don’t to look at what anyone else is doing, because your grind is not going to look the same as someone else’s—nor should it. Everyone is going to need their own things to get their best work done. Learn your boundaries and stick to them; be kind to yourself in the process because there will be mistakes and errors, and things won’t always work out in the best way. You need to figure out that self-talk and push through those moments. You keep going even when you’re ready to throw in the towel, because you’ll figure out how to do it differently. Whether you hire someone or do more research, you keep going… I’m a firm believer that if you’re not an expert in something, reach out. It saves time and trouble and figure out the cost-benefit, go with that route.”
Hervey: What’s your favorite form of self-care?
Brunson: “Meditation is huge for me. If you wake up in the morning, and you get a bad phone call, that’s it—it could throw off your whole day. So, it’s about re-shifting your thinking and focusing on something positive. You could have a mantra or find a meditation app that sends reminders. You want to be positive, because the more positive are the better the results. You’re ready to work and putting that good mood out there and people want to work with you. Meditation is also great for my anxiety and ADHD. My other favorite form of self-care is dance; I put on music and I get pumped and I get my body going. Sometimes, I incorporate yoga moves or moves that I’ve learned from Afrobeats class or just my Jamaican culture growing up, like dance hall moves… and it feels good. It’s a great relief for me and great meditative state for me to be in.”
Hervey: How do you tune out negative self-take and center in on the strategies that work best for you?
Brunson: “I think it’s really harmful when you have these standards of, like, ‘This is what you need to do to be successful,” or, “Read these five things, and you will,” etcetera. You end up comparing your process to others’ processes, and that keeps a lot of people from moving forward or being successful with their businesses. We’re human—we’re not robots. We don’t just upload and do the same things everyday. There’s events that happen, disorders we’re dealing with, life stuff that throws you off, etc. and it will take you out of being that perfect mold of being a business-savvy woman or man. It’s about finding a process that works for you and not comparing yourself to anybody else, so be OK with switching things up and continue to explore with your craft and your business. Expect failure and expect mistakes—that’s definitely going to happen and it’s part of the process.”