WORDS: BENJAMIN ROMERO '16
IMAGES: ANI ACOPIAN '16
You know the feeling when you order soy instead of cream or stay in on a Friday to "rest"? The feeling that you too could be the type of person who gets eight hours of sleep and does not need four cups of coffee to get through the morning and is not five minutes late to their Admissions shift? Well, that’s the feeling sitting with Sadasia McCutchen ‘17 and Camila Recalde ‘16 gives you. You can be better.
And that’s exactly what how they want you to feel. Founders of Cocobee, an all-natural lifestyle start-up, Sadasia and Camila breathe self-empowerment. “Agency is the key word here,” Camila says, Sadasia humming in agreement. “Cocobee is doing is about making yourself stronger. Practicing self-care so we don’t go to the breaking point.” Say like the moment I woke up that morning five minutes late for a shift at Admissions and found a housemate had mistakenly poured gin & tonic in my Keurig.
Meeting with the pair in Espwesso late Friday afternoon, they tell me how they came to all-natural body care through routes as close to opposite as one can get. An American Studies major, Camila spent the summer studying under different holistic practitioners in Bushwick, investigating her Taino indigenous roots. “I was always fascinated by how much simpler bathing rituals were for my grandmother,” Camila says. “The women I met were twice and three-times my age, but physically fitter than me and glowing. They were on a different level.” She began experimenting in making her own products, utilizing all the experience she had gained from herbalists and other practitioners. She recalls getting poison ivy and realizing how potent lavender could be to soothe her skin.
Sadasia, meanwhile, used nair on her arm. “It was devastating,” she laughs. “I had the worst burns, and everything irritated me.” Seeing as a gay friend once told me to ‘nair everything in and out sight,’ I thank God, my mother, and the judgmental eyes of the CVS clerk that led me elsewhere. The trauma led her to oatmeal, shea, and brown sugar, and she began making products for herself. Slowly, she began to see what made her too dry and too moist, what products she needed, and what she didn't.
Once, at school, they discovered each making their own products and Cocobee was born. Sadasia handles much of the business logistics while Camila handles much of the creative vision, though friendship clearly came before partnership. As collaborators, they riff on each other, completing each other’s sentences, a duet of ‘do you have…?’ and ‘of course, anything for you!’ The love and respect they have for each other is palpable.
“We became friends during difficult points in both of our lives. Both bad break-ups,” Sadasia says. “We both wanted to be intentional, creating lives that we wanted to live, like 'I want to go to bed early' or 'I want to see the sunrise.' We talk about these things." Camila agrees. “You want to make me accountable. You check in on me; I check in on you. That’s what makes it work.”
As the two explain, it’s the culture of modification that haunts them, the idea that you have to change, alter, and artificially enhance your skin for others. “We’re socialized into an ideology of changing and modifying our bodies,” Camila says. “This company is about reclaiming my body. Showing women that they can be seen, and they don’t have to continually hide themselves behind layers and layers of makeup.”
Sadasia interrupts, “Though I love make-up. We both do.” Camila laughs and nods as her cofounder continues. “We both engage in this practice for ourselves. It’s about having the agency to claim your authentic self.”
And both Sadasia and Camila profoundly agree that skin has so much to do with our identity, of how and why and who we are. Growing up, Sadasia hated her skin. ”People threw pennies at me and told me I was dark as dirt, " she says, “So, for me to be at a place in my life, where I love my skin, where I love my glow, where I spent all of the summer outside the sun saying, ‘I’m dark anyway, why should I care if I get darker?' feels so good.”
One month into the company, the pair makes body butter, body scrubs, chapsticks, hand sanitizers, body mist and other ‘skinfood’ out of all-natural ingredients. And no, not the way Sephora makes lipstick; we’re talking measuring bowls, spatulas, and oatmeal. After giving samples to their Moms and friends, they began to sell them, though “I’d do it for free, I just love it,” Sadasia assures me.
They hope to see the company grow into more than just products. "It's taking on a life of its own. We're not going stop it," Camila says excitedly. Considering how passionately they speak about it, I believe it.
Not too mention, they practice the self-care they preach. “At Wesleyan, you list all the things you have to do, and ‘you’ never appears on the list,” says Sadasia, quoting Toni Cade Bambara, ‘The revolution begins in and for the self.’ “You deserve to create the life you want to live in, to demand what you want from the universe,” finishes Camila, and they both hope to incorporate this into their company, into the products and into the brand.
As I meander out of Albritton, I feel somehow lighter than I did when I walked in, stopping by the bike rack to take a huge breath in and out. Even now, as I write this, I remember feeling like I woke up from a deep slumber, or went for a run, or I don’t know- just felt myself feeling good?
I stare back through the window into Espwesso Camila and Sadasia. They seemed to glow, radiate something my oversleeping, coffee chugging, 'busy to the point of insanity' self had lost. Did I fall in love? Am I hallucinating? Was it a light-show by performance artist and general dare devil Wyatt Krutsch? All I know is a few days later discussing Cocobee with a friend, she turns to me and says, “Oh, those two? They’re just goddesses.”