In The PathTM, we spotlight different women making a difference in the fashion, beauty, wellness, and medical aesthetics industries. Here, beauty blogger, Patrice Grell Yursik (a.k.a. Afrobella) shares her road to success.
Before there were beauty influencers, or even Instagram®, there was Afrobella®. Yet, in many ways, Patrice Grell Yursik, the personality behind the beauty blog, can be considered one of the original influencers. When she began Afrobella in 2006, it was a simple side project meant to help celebrate the beauty of black women in a budding internet space. What it became was an online destination that helped set the stage for the digital-first beauty landscape we know today.
For the 40-year-old content creator, influence is synonymous with inspiration. “An influencer can inspire others to do what they do, to wear what they wear, or buy something they say is worth buying,” Yursik explains. “I have been doing that work for 13 years now — before the rise of social networks.” It’s been her goal since her first post, and the reason she has been able to embrace the ever-changing online community that she helped build.
Afrobella started at a unique time online — when Yursik and a handful of women, who were all on a mission to figure out their curls and exchange makeup tips for brown skin, began digitally documenting their techniques. (This all took place before natural hair tutorials blew up in popularity.) Online communities began forming around the successes and struggles of their routines. Essentially, she and a small collective of peers with similar goals were pioneers of the beauty blogging movement.
The Trinidad native, who now lives in Chicago with her husband and two cats, was even given the nickname “The Godmother of Brown Beauty Blogging” by some of those early blogger colleagues and friends. Even as the beauty world has evolved to be supercharged by social media, Yursik hasn’t shifted her message to fit in. “I pay attention to trends, but I always stay true to myself,” she says of her personal brand. As a result, Afrobella has managed to maintain a top spot in the now influencer-centric internet space. Yursik is still writing new content for Afrobella and maintains an Instagram account with nearly 50,000 followers, as well as Facebook®, Twitter®, Pinterest®, and YouTube® channels. “I play to my strengths and try to give my audience what they want,” she says. She is as devoted as ever to using her power as one of the first beauty influencers to inspire women of color. Here, she shares how and why she started, how the tides continue to turn in favor of her authentic digital beauty brand, and the biggest challenges that women of color are facing right now in the beauty landscape.
Spotlyte: Tell us a bit about your career history and your journey as a beauty blogger. When did you start Afrobella? What were you doing before that?
Patrice Grell Yursik: I started working at the Miami New TimesTM as assistant calendar editor in 2003, and while I worked there, I started Afrobella.com in 2006. When I was promoted to calendar editor, it made blogging quite a bit more challenging. I made the decision to leave my day job in 2009, and I have been a full-time beauty blogger and freelance writer ever since.
Spotlyte: When you started Afrobella, did you see a need for community in the black beauty space? What was the environment like then versus now?
PGY: When I started Afrobella, there were small pockets of communities emerging all over the internet. Back in 2006, the field was wide open to create what you wanted to see. This was before Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, and we were hungry for reflections of our beauty. Forums like NappturalityTM and FotkiTM were thriving, and full of women beginning to exchange beauty tips and information. Back then, it was more focused on just hair, or just makeup and beauty, or just style, rather than one source for multiple things. I miss some of that old sense of building a like-minded community. It’s so different now.
Spotlyte: You've been given the name the "Godmother of Brown Beauty Blogging." Is that because you were one of the firsts?
PGY: Yes, I was one of the firsts — and what a blessing that has been! I believe my peer in the beauty world, Erin Baynham, who had a site called Scandalous BeautyTM, was the first person to refer to me as such. Then, other colleagues in the space agreed with her, and it caught on from there. I started Afrobella.com in 2006, and there were a few other brown beauty bloggers at the time, but the difference is the way I embraced the community and showcased not just what worked for me, but the beauty of others and the pioneers who inspired us all. I kept the conversation going specifically around our particular beauty in terms of skin tone, hair texture, and always celebrating our color.
Spotlyte: What has your experience been like with the rise of the "influencer?"
PGY: It’s been such a fascinating shift. So many of my peers, who were originally beauty bloggers, have quit their sites or pivoted into something else completely. Many of the brands I had wonderful relationships with are now exclusively looking for video content, or Instagram-only [content]. In some ways, the rise of the influencer has meant the fall of the traditional blogger, but it also means that you have to stay flexible, humble, and brave in a place of creativity, [with a] willingness to rise to the occasion.
Spotlyte: Do you consider yourself an influencer? What does the term mean to you?
PGY: I do consider myself an influencer, because I can easily see the power of my influence in terms of inspiring the careers of others, and inspiring my followers to support the brands or try the products I recommend. To me, an influencer is someone who can inspire people to do something. They can inspire others to do what they do, to wear what they wear, or buy something they say is worth buying. I have been doing that work for 13 years now — before the rise of social networks. I continue to do so, on Afrobella.com, as well as on all of my platforms.
Spotlyte: How have you evolved the Afrobella brand with the ever-changing social media landscape?
PGY: I play to my strengths and try to give my audience what they want. I’ve realized that I have to be part of the social media landscape to survive — but I also have to keep my own garden tended. I try to find a balance between social and my site, because it can be easy to be completely consumed by social media.
Spotlyte: Has there been one story that you've done that you're most proud of?
PGY: Having done this for 13 years, that’s a tough question! There are so many posts I’m proud of. I love so many of my past interviews and also my Beauty Brand HistoryTM series. I am proud that I tell stories that others may overlook.
Spotlyte: What has your experience been like as a woman of color in the beauty business?
PGY: From the beginning, I celebrated my color, my heritage, my hair texture, and size as an asset — despite the industry not recognizing our beauty yet. Being a woman of color in the beauty business and taking my approach led me to become who I am today. Even if it’s been challenging at times, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Spotlyte: What would you say is the biggest challenge for a woman of color in the beauty business at the moment?
PGY: Right now, we’re in a beautiful place, where we are setting the pace in the beauty business. Brands are clamoring to increase their foundation ranges, or to add curly or natural hair product lines, because our buying power is undeniable. The challenge now is to make sure they understand we aren’t a trend. We are here to stay. The challenge now is to build our own platforms, and support indie stores and brands, so that we aren’t just throwing our dollars away from our community.
Spotlyte: In the crowded beauty landscape, and in such an influencer-centric world, how do you stay relevant?
PGY: I pay attention to trends, but I always stay true to myself.
Spotlyte: How do you feel the beauty landscape has evolved regarding diversity since you first started Afrobella? And where would you like to see things go?
PGY: It’s been amazing to see brands that functioned for years with a bare minimum of foundation shades change their strategy to stay competitive in a world where Fenty® changed the game. It has been fascinating to see drugstore brands — that never offered products specific to Afro-textured hair before — suddenly pivot to create product lines that may emulate existing natural hair brands. The beauty landscape has evolved so much since 2006, and I’ve been so fortunate to watch it grow. Now, I want to see us move from being consumers and influencers in front of the scenes to see us making changes behind the scenes. I love the direction of beauty brands hiring us as executives and decision makers. More of that, please!
Spotlyte: Which women of color in the industry are you most inspired by and why?
PGY: Here are five women of color in the industry I find inspiring: Jackie Aina, because she’s just so unapologetically herself, and she’s leading the vlogging industry. Karla Davis is head of Integrated Marketing and Media at Ulta® — it’s awesome to have seen her in action. I’ve been friends with Felicia Walker-Benson and Danielle Gray for years, and I think they’re both old school bloggers who are doing wonderful work as influencers, leading the pack in terms of content. Erica Douglas is better known as Sister Scientist, and behind the scenes, she’s an amazing cosmetic chemist working with brands to create their own formulations.
Spotlyte: Have you seen any stories about how you've inspired others? Any moments that have made you feel like you've “made it?” Or any “pinch me” moments?
PGY: I have had many moments like this, where I am delighted and amazed at where my journey has taken me. The red carpet at the Academy Awards® comes to mind — I was lucky enough to experience that twice. The EssenceTM magazine upfronts, where I participated on a panel with Gabrielle Union, Iman, and Bethann Hardison. Doing red carpet interviews at Essence Black Women in HollywoodTM with Lupita Nyong’o and Ava DuVernay was definitely a highlight. Visiting the Miraval® spa with Clarins®, and Tahiti with Be Kekoa®, and London with Beautiful Textures® all come to mind.
Spotlyte: Of all the beauty topics you cover, is there anything that you feel most passionate about?
PGY: I love telling real stories of brand history from venerable beauty brands that shaped the industry and are still here. I love sharing new, up-and-coming beauty and hair brands, and supporting upcoming entrepreneurs.
Spotlyte: Tell us about your hair routine. What do you, what do you use, and how often?
PGY: I am a true wash-and-go pro — I love a low-maintenance style. There are so many brands I try, but the ones I come back to again and again are OyinTM, TGIN®, Alikay NaturalsTM, Soultanicals®, Shea Moisture®, Hair Rules®, and Miss Jessie’s®. New brands I’m loving are HoneyBaby Naturals®, Pattern BeautyTM, and Naturalicious®.
Spotlyte: What's your skincare routine?
PGY: It’s a work in progress, especially now with this sharp transition to cold weather in Chicago! I generally cleanse or double cleanse daily — I often use an oil cleanser, and then a creamy face wash to tackle oily skin. I like a light exfoliant, like Paula’s Choice® BHA, or Urban Skin Rx® LacticGlowTM. Once a week, I use a mask. It depends on what my skin needs at the time — I love a classic clay mask like Aztec Healing ClayTM, or the clay masks by From Molly With Love®, but I also need moisturizing masks like the avocado mask by Kiehl’s® or the honey mask by Bliss® to balance it out during colder weather.
I use SPF moisturizer every day. Lately I love Paula’s Choice, Supergoop!®, La Roche-Posay®, or Black GirlTM Sunscreen. At night, I use serums by The Ordinary®, Drunk Elephant®, or PCA Skin®, and I have a battalion of little vials I switch between for beauty oils. [Skincare has] been one thing I’m more focused on — taking better care of my skin and trying to have a good night routine.
Spotlyte: What's your anti-aging philosophy?
PGY: I don’t think of it as anti-aging, because I’m totally pro-aging. I want to grow older, wiser, and step into my joy and purpose. So, instead of anti-aging, I think of it as aging beautifully. I am in a position to see the women in my tribe — my mom, my aunts, my sister — all grow older, and I see in them the health and beauty issues that could lie ahead for me. Because of that, I’m trying to be more intentional about my health by being more active, drinking water, eating healthier, going to therapy to deal with my stress and anxiety, and being proactive about skincare. I’m also embracing the changes as my hair turns grey and my style evolves.
Spotlyte: Do you have a makeup routine? If so, tell us about it.
PGY: I work from home and for myself, so my makeup routine is . . . I don’t wear it until I have to leave the house. My super basic makeup look is all about perfecting my base and not doing too much. I start with my SPF moisturizer, then use a primer (lately it’s been The Ordinary, Becca®, Milk MakeupTM, or COVERGIRL®). Then I get my foundation together — I go between Becca Cosmetics, Fenty Beauty, Urban Decay Naked®, or Flesh BeautyTM. I also love IT Cosmetics® CC creamTM — it’s a perfect match for me!
Then, I use a setting powder. Lately, I use Black Opal® or Urban Decay’s® new powder, which comes with a built-in brush. Then, I apply black eyeliner — I like MAC® Cosmetics, Eyeko®, and Urban Decay. If I feel fancy or am trying to step up the game, I’ll get into eyeshadow, blush, a little highlight, a bold lip. If I’m just going to the supermarket, then it’s mascara and a moisturizing lip balm with a little color, and I’m done.
Spotlyte: Are there any destinations in Chicago that you love for self-care?
PGY: Yes! I love Allyu Spa℠ and I love the Pearnova Salon℠! There are so many spas here that I would love to experience.
Spotlyte: Have you tried aesthetic injectables?
PGY: I have never tried [an aesthetic] injectable before, but I’m not totally closed to the idea. As long as they’re done in a clean place by a licensed professional and the results look [subtle].
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Spotlyte: When do you feel most beautiful?
PGY: When I’m fresh out of the shower — the after-shower process of lotioning and oiling my skin, applying fresh hair products to lock in moisture, putting on my skincare to keep my face looking its best — the process of beautification before even putting on makeup. I love it all!