As a Black and Indigenous woman, this beauty founder is 'feeling the pain' of COVID-19

Dana Oliver
·4 min read

My Beauty, My Way is a video series hosted by Yahoo Life beauty director Dana Oliver, where women of different ages and backgrounds break down their beauty routines to explain what beauty truly means to them and how it represents their cultural identity.

Ahsaki Chachere was raised on a Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona, in the “very valley in the canyon where my ancestors are from.” She had a very traditional upbringing living in a hogan (one-room dwelling with a dirt floor) with no running water or electricity. As a young girl, Chachere learned how to chop wood, haul her own water and cook over an open fire.

“Having my mom have us relive how she lived, at first I thought she was crazy and I thought, ‘Dad save us.’ But it was very, very important,” she tells Yahoo Life. “I don’t take turning on a light switch for granted. It was things that really strengthened me for life.”

In spite of growing up in a region where there were no makeup stores in sight, Chachere went on to build the beauty brand that she had been waiting for forever. Founded in 2012 and publicly launched in 2018, Ah-Shí Beauty is the first Indigenous- and Black-owned cosmetics company from the Navajo Nation in the U.S. The line has over 300 products, including foundations, contour powders, eyeshadows, concealers, lipsticks and a 98 percent botanical base skincare collection.

When formulating Ah-Shí beauty products, perfecting the foundation shades were a top priority for Chachere. “I needed the pigment to be on point! The Indigenous pigment is so diverse — we are fair to the deepest color,” she says.

We are not forgotten. We are not stuck in history books. We’re here living and breathing and thriving. Ahsaki Chachere

The beauty entrepreneur admits that the process “was really, really hard at first because of the trial and error,” but she is proud of the 35 (and counting) foundation shades she’s created. “I’m from a family full of women and in my own family, we have different ranges of beautiful browns. So I was able to really concentrate on that,” explains Chachere. “While major beauty brands have all the shades, [Ah-Shí Beauty] has all those in-between shades.”

Back in December 2019, Chachere opened the Ah-Shí Beauty Studio in Gallup, New Mexico, complete with a showroom, multimedia set, gift shop and the brand’s main distribution center. The beauty founder made history on March 7, 2020, when she opened the doors to the country’s first Native American beauty brand storefront in Window Rock, Ariz. But then, COVID-19 happened.

“It was hard financially and it really made me sick to my stomach because I had to close down,” says Chachere. “But I knew that I had to because I had to protect my staff and I had to protect my community.”

A strict Navajo Nation stay-at-home order and 57-hour weekend curfew forced Chachere to shift her business back online and conduct meetings virtually through video chat. And even though she is doing her best to create job opportunities on and off the reservation, Chachere can’t overlook how the coronavirus outbreak has impacted everyday life for her people.

“Our hospitals are not equipped for COVID-19 or anything pandemic,” she explains. “We do not have the luxury of driving five minutes to a local Walmart or grocery store. My family and others travel an average of an hour or more to get to a grocery store.” And with limited or no access to water or power lines, it makes it even more challenging for Chachere’s community to protect themselves from the coronavirus by simply washing their hands frequently.

I feel the pain of being a Native Indigenous woman. I feel the pain of being a Black woman. And everything that’s happening in our world, I feel both. Ahsaki Chachere

Chachere tells Yahoo Life: “As a brand that is for the people (Nihi Dine’é Bá), I truly see that this brand is bigger than selling product. When you say ‘Ah-Shí,’ not only are you speaking my native language, you are telling yourself, ‘This is me!’”

In spite of this minor setback, Chachere is pressing forward, expanding her beauty brand and building connections between Indigenous and Black people. “We are not forgotten. We are not stuck in history books. We’re here living and breathing and thriving,” she says.

Follow Ah-Shí Beauty on Instagram and keep up with the brand at ashibeauty.com.

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