You all got a brief introduction to who Dana is and what she does in the post I put up unboxing her Beneath Your Mask skin and hair products, which I absolutely adore. Dana is a Chicago native that I was a fan of before I ever met her solely based off of her style, flawless skin and perfect natural curls. Beyond her physical beauty, Dana is a legitimate Boss Lady, who’s always lived without limits while going after what she wanted. I had the pleasure of getting some behind the scenes insight on what it took to put Beneath Your Mask together prior to its launch. Her incredibly inspiring personal story of how battling Lupus lead her to creating her own luxury beauty brand is one everyone should hear. She’s been mentioned by some of your favorite natural beauty bloggers and featured in major publications. Her latest accomplishment? Selling her Beneath Your Mask products in Neiman Marcus while sharing the story of what made her look beneath hers. Read more about how Dana’s life changing diagnosis changed her life for the better.
Women like us always have a vision for how we imagine our lives to go. As a young woman, how did you envision your future and what motivated you to go after those things?
I honestly didn’t have a clear vision of my life when I was younger. I knew what I didn’t want to be, but I didn’t know exactly what I did want to be. I always did well in school and loved to read and knew I didn’t want to be a product of my environment. I knew I wanted more for myself. I knew I didn’t want to have kids young. I knew I wanted to experience going away to college. But everyone around me was going to jail or being killed. My older brother was killed when I was 15. He always wanted the best for me. Always treated me like I was different than everyone around us, always had expectations of me. I wanted to make him proud. I identified the women I did and didn’t want to be like. I remember like it was yesterday. I was 11, my mother told me my father was on drugs. He came home, they argued, he came upstairs and asked me for $20. Everybody knew I always kept a stash, I’d always get and save money. It was at that moment though, that I knew I was never going to be without and that I was always going to have to be able to depend on myself.
You are such a naturally stunning woman. Within a couple months after your diagnosis, most of your hair had fallen out, your joints had locked up, you had a severe rash all over your body, your eyes were swollen shut, and you retained so much water you had gained over 100 additional pounds. How difficult was it to cope with not recognizing yourself and finding the strength to not let it get the best of you?
It absolutely got the best of me. It was probably the most difficult part of it. I would’ve stayed in denial had the visual side effects not been so drastic. I completely shut down when my hair fell out. When my eyes were swollen shut, I would get out of the bed, look in the mirror and just get back in the bed and cry. I didn’t come out of my place for two weeks. I ordered room service everyday (my building had a hotel on the 1st 7 floors). If not for the physical changes, I would have probably stayed in denial much longer. That was my rock bottom and what caused me to finally accept help. I always used to tell my niece that she was more than her looks, but when I lost mine, I was devastated. I don’t even think I realized how superficial I was. But the reality is, I was more concerned with how I looked than the fact that my kidneys were shutting down. Over time, I let it go because I figured it would be my new normal. Not the swelling and the weight gain, but the round face and swollen stomach from the steroids. I had to let it go, I think God was taking everything I valued too much away, one by one.
While you were in Atlanta, you were doing what so many young women would describe as an ideal life. You were an entertainment business manager for some of the most popular celebrities in the music industry, constantly attending events, rubbing shoulders with celebrities, taking trips, while wearing your favorite designers and switching out Chanel’s. What about that was unsatisfying?
Don’t get me wrong, all that was amazing. But what you just described was probably 5% of my job, if that! The other 95% was literally revolving my life around not only the entertainers I worked for, but their parents, children, spouses, managers, assistants, attorneys, friends, chefs, band, crew, DJ, etc. all having around-the-clock access to me. And to each of these people, they’re a star in their own mind. It’s a lot of personalities to deal with especially when money doesn’t move around without you facilitating it. Everyone has their hand out, they think the money is endless, and in all the excitement of the entertainment industry, you’re the bad guy saying what they can and can’t afford, doing tour budgets and deciding salaries for band/crew, finding a tour bus, scaling back their production budget when they have a creative vision for their show, telling the production manager why he doesn’t deserve a raise when the artist already promised it, why they can’t loan their lifelong friend money again this month when the artist already promised it, waking up at 4 am because their credit card didn’t go through at the Balmain store in Paris. My life was not my own. I never went to the movies in peace, let alone took a vacation. I had to be available around the clock. Entertainers are so used to everybody jumping at their every request, and you feel the need to as well. I lived for it at one point and absolutely LOVED it, but it does get old and it can burn you out. I wasn’t choosing my clients and it’s really hard to dedicate your life to someone you may not believe in.
What was the toughest lesson that suffering from Lupus taught you? What was the greatest thing to come from your suffering?
The toughest lesson was learning who my friends were. I was already not the most open or trusting person, and lupus caused me to change what I considered a friend. I no longer have “fun-time only” friends. The ones that are just around when life is good and you have access to events, concerts, parties, etc. I don’t have space in my life for those type of friends anymore. I had people that came to ATL for my birthday in November, then I got sick a few months later and didn’t hear from them again until I started getting better and back to myself. I took it very personal at first, but I realize they would have done that to anyone. But regardless, I don’t make room for those type of people in my life. The greatest thing to come from it was losing my sense of entitlement. This world doesn’t owe me anything. I used to think that because I went through traumatic experiences growing up that life was supposed to always be good for me going forward. It’s made me a much more thankful person. I don’t take ANYTHING for granted.
You initially created your first product “Heal” to suit your own needs, after not being able to find what you were looking for on store shelves. At what point did you recognize not only a business opportunity, but the chance to serve others with the same needs as you?
I realized there was a business opportunity as soon as I started gifting it, I just didn’t really want to dive into it as a business. But people OBSESSED over Heal. It was the only thing that worked for their eczema amongst other things. It was expensive to make and I didn’t have time to make it. I’d try to find something similar when I would run out, but I could never find anything to compare. People harassed me about Heal for years. I also realized that God hadn’t helped me overcome my health issues just for me. He didn’t put people in my life to help me just for me. I knew it was bigger than me, but I didn’t want to revolve my life around lupus so to speak. I kept being led in that direction and my guru kept telling me I needed to write my story out. That’s why Beneath Your Mask is so much bigger than the products for me. It’s more about sharing my journey.
When you decided to turn your products into Beneath Your Mask, a business, what were some of the first steps you took?
I came up with the name, got my EIN number, formed an LLC, opened a bank account so that I could keep of all my business expenses separate from my personal expenses, I contacted an attorney that worked with some of my former clients to file the trademark for me, and then I started having the logo designed.
You say that your true healing began when you started to let go of everything superficial that you’d placed way too much value on, including the persona or elements of the mask that I wore on a daily basis. Why is this type of freedom necessary for women?
As women, there’s so much pressure on what life, success, career and family should look like for us. And even if we aren’t there, we’re trying to portray that to the world. Or at least I was. I turned 30 a few months before I got diagnosed and I was going through the “this-is-where-I’m-supposed-to-be in-my-life-by-the-time-I’m-30” blues that I swore would never happen to me. We put so much pressure on ourselves. I wasn’t on social media at the time, but even more so on social media because we’re always comparing our journey and our individual life timeline to the next persons. Removing that mask and beating to your own drum and what you want for your life is beyond freeing. Living your authentic life also attracts authentic people. Most importantly, God can’t work on your representative. He can only work on you. That’s where the name Beneath Your Mask comes from and why is was so important for me to remove the mask I was wearing. So much of my identity and value was placed on what I looked like and my career, but who was I without those things? That is the Dana I needed to get to, that God needed to get to.
Going from a business manager to creating, packaging and shipping your own handmade products is a significant change. Were you ever discouraged because you were embarking on something entirely unfamiliar, and how did you overcome doubt?
I was absolutely discouraged! I knew most wouldn’t see my vision because I was creating a luxury brand. I’d tell people that I was going to be in Neimans and Saks and people would look at me like I was crazy. Everybody wanted to know what was taking so long. But I obsess over the details, and I wasn’t putting it out until I was in love with it. I went through 2 logo designers, 2 packaging designers, all my savings, I pushed my launch date back so many times, and all the people that were excited for my brand didn’t buy my products when I launched. I’d been running my client’s businesses for years and I’ve always been able to get to an answer or end result, so I knew I could do it if I just made it past the moments when I wanted to throw everything out of the window and give up.
What’s been the most rewarding part of having your own brand and doing it your own way?
We recently did a pop-up shop at Neiman Marcus Northpark in Dallas and launched on NeimanMarcus.com. That was a huge validation for me because a lot of people wondered why I had the audacity to be a black woman creating a luxury brand. To prove that our dollar can not only buy luxury, but create luxury, was extremely rewarding. I had a vision and was uncompromising on it. I did that with my own money that I’d saved, no investments, no loans. Day to day, not knowing how I was going to make it through the next day. We get discouraged sometimes when everybody doesn’t believe in our vision, but everybody doesn’t need to. The right people need to and most importantly, you need to.
Can you describe how much more fulfilling life is now that you know you’re walking in your purpose?
I‘ve had the sound and vibration turned off on my phone for the last 3 years, just because I can. I used to get anxiety when I got an email, now I love when an email comes through for my business. When someone reaches out to me to thank me for being so transparent because they can relate or how one of my products has helped them, it means the world to me. It lets me know that no matter how difficult, I’m doing the right thing. I fought this for a very long time because I didn’t necessarily want the responsibility. But God kept pushing me in this direction.
What is your B Werd?
I didn’t choose a word that describes women, I chose something we should all do. Believe resonates with me the most – Believe that you can have whatever it is you want for yourself and your life. Believe there are no limitations set on you. When I worked in entertainment, I realized these were normal people with massive success. That was the moment I realized I could absolutely have whatever life I wanted to have. Believe that God loves you enough to give you the world. My faith has been strengthened throughout this process. I used to rely solely on myself and now I rely on God. To have that pressure off of me is amazing. I’m normally the person that plans everything and has to know exactly what and how the next things is happening. Believing that God will handle it has taken a huge weight off of me.
Her best seller Heal is sold out on her website, but you can add it to your beauty routine by purchasing it from Neiman Marcus. All other products and more of Dana’s story can be found on BeneathYourMask.com. Follow Dana on Instagram to see what her brand is up to next!