Meet TERRA-TORY

In advance of Ethels Club’s first location opening in Brooklyn, New York, we are shining a spotlight on the brown excellence we find in and around our communities. Our space will consist of art, programming, events and products created by people of color.

This is a taste of the collective we are building for our members.

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TERRA-TORY is a small soap company based in Long Island, New York that creates natural handmade products. Their mission is to become the hypoallergenic, environmentally responsible soap brand that the whole family can use. TERRA-TORY hopes to expand and grow consumer’s choices towards ethical brands that combine true holistic principles with style.

What was the impetus for starting your company?

I spent six years as a Technical Designer in the garment industry. I was the only black woman primarily working for white, Jewish men while being severely underpaid. I felt like I had so much creativity buried deep inside me and I never had the ability to put it to meaningful use. In November of 2017 I told myself that my skills were too valuable and that I had too much to offer. I put all of the energy I had used for this other business and instead directed it towards restoring my mother’s old apothecary business she closed 20 years ago.

What is the background of the name of your company?

TERRA = Earth, TERRITORY = Your land, Your space, Your body

TERRA-TORY was born.

What do you think sets your company apart?

I personally practice a clean, vegan and eco-friendly lifestyle. It’s important to me that we use only healthy, toxic-free and sustainable ingredients as well. Most soap companies use palm oil and coconut oil in their products. We stay far away from those two ingredients for one main reason. These kinds of ingredients tend to make customers suffer from intense dry, itchy and irritated skin, especially when high percentages are used.

TERRA-TORY soap is formulated to heal, soothe, nourish, protect, and gently cleanse without using palm and coconut oil. Since we don’t use coconut oil we are also free from nut oils which makes our products safe for those who suffer from peanut allergies.

We also take huge pride in using skin loving fruit and veggie purees — no derivatives or preservatives necessary due to a cold-pressing technique I use.

Right now what are your main sources of inspiration from social media and culture?

Still life photography and typography is currently inspiring me. I use things I find as inspiration for my brand visuals, product shots, packaging and digital marketing. I love how culture shifts and changes and I want TERRA-TORY to always shift and change with it. Soap is something we all need in life; it’s a consumer staple and a necessity. I want to create an ever changing, ever shifting company so that it transcends through and with all cultures.

What keeps you up at night?

I am constantly thinking about how to help my generation see the style and beauty in all natural skincare. It’s so important to be aware of the ingredients in skincare products.

I want to help people think about how to align all walks of their life to TERRA-TORY and I want to help relate it to their lifestyle.

How do you center yourself when things get difficult?

I take a break and make time for myself. When things get difficult, I tend to get emotional because I care deeply for what I do. The the best thing for me to do is walk away from the stress and do something else until I can think clearly about the solution. I also pray. I pray on everything.

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What has been the biggest struggle you’ve faced as a POC in your industry?

I feel that there is a lot of “shade” as a person of color entrepreneur. It seems like cliques are made and exist on social media and brown entrepreneurs only help and support each other if your following is 10k or better. I worry that we can be too selfish sometimes. We claim to be “supportive” and “empowering” but we sometimes chase the hype ONLY. I would love to see that change and for POC entrepreneurs to feel comfortable supporting each other from the bottom up.

What advice would you give an up-and-coming POC entrepreneur?

Invest in branding and understanding who your market is. I still research and keep myself in the know about everything in my industry. It’s important to ask yourself what makes your company different and to be completely realistic and honest with yourself about what you are actually capable of doing. A mistake I see too often is wanting to be too big too soon, especially with zero experience in business. But, we’re all learning, including me.

What are three brands or influencers you love or admire?

FE NOEL — This brand is Brooklyn-based with made-to-order designs created for leading women. Their pieces are to die for, allowing customers to feel comfortable and chic while standing out in a crowd tastefully. I’ve worked in the garment industry for six years and brands like FE NOEL are ones I’ve always wanted to work for. That time has passed but I love what they’re doing and I’ve been obsessed since 2017!

Rosebudcbd — I’ve met the founder a few times, Alexis, and she’s so sweet and a force to be reckoned with. Our TED talks are amazing and she’s helped mentor me about business while keeping me pumped and excited each time we speak.  

Melanin & Sustainable Style — Dominique brings sustainability and fashion together as a real lifestyle. The black community doesn’t really talk about the environmental influence that exists in the fashion industry. Dominique does a beautiful job of translating that to her consumers so they can be mindful and environmentally responsible as they shop.

What are your favorite pieces of content right now? Listening? Reading? Watching?

I’m a big coffee table book reader and collector. I’ve also found myself diving into Kinfolk & Gossamer Magazine recently.

I listen to plenty of Soulection. I LOVE house music.

I listen to a lot of design and marketing podcasts (way too many to list).

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What do you think has been the secret sauce to your success thus far?

My secret sauce has been the quality of my products. Due to the amount of love, attention and science put into them, our customers come back and they refer many of their friends. If my soap bars were low-quality and didn’t hold up to the standards I’ve created then I would be automatically discredited. I also keep my audience and customers educated on the ingredients I use and why they are beneficial.

What kind of spaces do you seek out to work, network and connect with your community?

I seek out clean neutral spaces and I tend to work alone with just music but I network everywhere I go. I’m passionate about what I’m building and it often comes up in conversation which has created a very specific community that I’m proud of.

What do you think is missing from the entrepreneurial landscape for people of color?

The most important thing missing in the landscape for people of color entrepreneurs is financial assistance. We need more black and brown investors helping brands and companies grow.

It’s time for your Oscar’s speech — who would you like to thank?

I want to thank GOD and my momma. All my friends that have helped keep me sane along the way. Michelene of Soul Elevated, Fly of The Most Fly and Jasmine of Creative Women Build. I couldn’t have done it without you!

Interested in learning more about TERRA-TORY?

Follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

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Ethels Club is the first private membership club for people of color. We provide a dedicated physical space to build community that inspires, empowers and connects. There are very few things that were created with people of color in mind.

This is one of them.

Najla Austin