At New E-Commerce Site Ode To Self, Mental Health And Beauty Are Inextricably Linked
Five years ago, Kimberlee Keitt was lying in bed and contemplating her circumstances as a 19-year-old studying aesthetics at the Aveda Institute in Charlotte, N.C., worrying about finances and figuring out life as an adult away from Orangeburg, S.C., her historic hometown nearly 40 miles from Columbia. Suddenly, she was gasping for air and her left arm went completely numb.
“It felt like my chest was caving in. I thought to myself, ‘What’s going on? Oh, shoot, I’m dying.’ I didn’t know what it was,” she remembers. “I had some bergamot oil, and I thought that, if I breathed in the oil, it would help me calm down. After probably two to three minutes, I felt a little better.”
Keitt was experiencing her first panic attack. She’d go on to have panic attacks two to three times a week, a rate that’s diminished considerably of late as she’s developed coping mechanisms. Self-care and skincare play key roles in Keitt’s wellbeing, and they’re central to her new venture Ode to Self, an e-commerce website intertwining beauty and mental health.
“The whole idea behind Ode to Self is for it to serve as initiative for mental health awareness,” she says. “I want people to really pay attention to themselves. I want to help women and men be really attuned to their minds. Your mental health sets the tone for your overall wellness. If you’re not taking care of that, you’re not taking care of yourself, period.”
“The whole idea behind Ode to Self is for it to serve as initiative for mental health awareness. I want people to really pay attention to themselves. I want to help women and men be really attuned to their minds. Your mental health sets the tone for your overall wellness.”
At Ode to Self, Keitt focuses heavily on serums and oils because she believes they compel people to slow down, consider their mental and physical states, and provide moments for pampering. Since the site launched in June, Terrene Naturals’ Éclat Serum has been a bestseller. In addition to Terrene Naturals, Ode to Self carries the brands Well Told, Teaspressa, Klei Beauty and Énamour Skincare.
Keitt is operating Ode to Self on a tight budget and schedule. She’s currently employed full time as an administrative assistant in the psychiatry department at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and dedicates herself to the site on her off-hours. Keitt has plowed under $1,000 to get it off the ground and tries to stick to brands’ minimum orders of six pieces per stockkeeping unit to keep her inventory lean at the outset.
“We can’t start out with $5,000 worth of goods,” she says. “In most cases, I’m finding brands are happy to work with the minimum orders, especially once I give them the backstory, tell them what we are about and the impact we want to make.”
“My struggle right now is turning the views into sales. I didn’t realize how much marketing effort you have to put into it. You need to work at getting people to know about the brand every single day.”
To assemble Ode to Self’s assortment, which is expected to expand into body care, baby and home, Keitt scoured Instagram and Etsy. She’s contacted about 30 brands and is phasing in ones she brings on incrementally. Noto Botanics, Svati Organics and Aster & Bay are due to hit the site by winter. Keitt gravitates to brands, especially those led by women and minorities, with formulas not loaded with fillers. Suiting their stripped-down approaches, Ode to Self has a clean, minimalist design.
Getting the message out about the platform has been challenging. Keitt has dabbled in Facebook and Instagram ads, but she’s largely relying on the spread of word of mouth to attract Ode to Self’s target audience of 22- to 45-year-olds interested in affordable luxuries. Discussing social media advertising, Keitt says, “It leads people to the website, and that’s a good thing. People are paying attention, but my struggle right now is turning the views into sales.” She elaborates, “I didn’t realize how much marketing effort you have to put into it. You need to work at getting people to know about the brand every single day.”
Outside of the products, Ode to Self attempts to draw people with content and live programs. The site’s blog, The OTS Edit, delves into mental health, nutrition and beauty, and shares stories from fitness and wellness entrepreneurs. Ode to Self also hosts monthly meet-ups in Nashville, where it’s based, with 15 to 20 attendees called Well Gathered. The meet-ups are intended to foster a community for people with mental health concerns. Keitt says, “I want to create a brotherhood and sisterhood where they feel supported.”
Keitt has ambitions to grow Ode to Self beyond its present business. Extensions into product lines featuring body oils, home fragrances, supplements, elixirs and more are in the plans. Eventually, Ode to Self could have a brick-and-mortar offshoot. Keitt envisions a hub for mental health outreach with a café, and a selection of clean beauty and wellness items. She says, “I want to get everyone involved in mental health awareness.”