I caught up with Brooklyn-based creative powerhouse Abi Ishola, the Founder and Editor-In-Chief over at Beyond Classically Beautiful, “the acclaimed photo series turned multimedia platform” that she recently launched. I came up with five questions to help Abi highlight some of the background and inspiration behind the website.
What incident lead to you creating Beyond Classically Beautiful, and what do you expect your audience to come away from your website with?
Last year, The New York Times published an article that referred to Viola Davis as “less classically beautiful” than lighter skinned black actresses. It wasn’t long before black women logged on to Twitter and other social media platforms to voice their disgust with the publication. Many began posting their photos with the hashtag #LessClassicallyBeautiful in solidarity with Viola Davis.
As I was sitting at my desk at work scrolling through that Twitter feed of beautiful black women, I thought to myself, it would be great to produce a photo story to celebrate black women. I called my husband, Kunle Ayodeji, who is a photographer, my cousin Yetty Bames, who is a beauty artist, and my colleague Duane Ferguson who can work a video camera to perfection. I also called on a few beautiful women and together we put together the first Beyond Classically Beautiful photo story.
I had no idea what the response would be. At one point I thought it would just be great content for the style blog I had at the time. But once The Huffington Post featured the project, it took off from there. As far as the website goes, I want black women to feel empowered, represented, celebrated, and valued when they visit BeyondClassicallyBeautiful.com. The majority of the photographs we use are shot by us, and we’re also making it a point to publish stories that really touch on all we represent as black women.
What and whom do you consider beautiful, and why? How do you define beautiful?
Over the years I’ve learned that beauty is not about what people see. It’s about how you show up. It’s about your aura, your essence, and how you feel inside. It’s about the ability to love yourself despite what others think of you. It’s about being confident in your abilities. I think we get so caught up in what other people think that it’s really hard to completely liberate yourself from society’s beauty constraints. And the more I push toward liberating myself from those constraints, the more comfortable I feel with myself. I’m also finding that beauty is the ability to recognize the beauty in others.
How does living in Brooklyn, being a mom and an entrepreneur, and staying happily married all play into your business concept? Do they mesh and inform each other, or are they all separate in your life?
Wow, what a question! I’m originally from Miami, but to this day I feel like Brooklyn helped to raise me. I look back on my days here, and I’m almost in awe of what I’ve experienced since I moved to this city and to this borough in particular. The amazing women I’ve met along the way, meeting my husband, having my daughter, the losses I’ve endured, my biggest accomplishments, and my many setbacks are all a part of my Brooklyn story. With what I do with Beyond Classically Beautiful, living in Brooklyn is ideal. I feel it’s almost necessary. But as the borough changes and as my life changes, I’m not sure where life will take me. However, I do plan to plant my roots in Brooklyn, Bed Stuy in particular, in some way. We’ll see.
To fully answer your question, having a family and working to build a brand is no joke! I’m lucky though; my husband is such a joy because he supports and believes in everything I do. Whenever I have an idea, he’s right there with me to see it through, and helps make sure I’m doing my best to accomplish the goals I set. Being a mom is challenging when you’re trying to build a brand because above everything, parenting comes first. Sometimes it’s hard to balance everything, but I make it work, especially since I believe having my daughter is what led to me create my street style blog, then eventually Beyond Classically Beautiful.
Essentially, this brand and being a mom have become two of the greatest gifts in my life. My goal is to make Beyond Classically Beautiful something my daughter will be proud of, or at least appreciate. I hope she’ll see how she was the inspiration behind me creating a platform that encourages women like me to heal from past wounds regarding self-image.
What has been your favorite part of launching Beyond Classically Beautiful?
My favorite part of launching this brand is the interaction I have with other women. Just being able to stop women on the street, explain what I’m doing, then take their photograph is amazing. I’ve made some wonderful connections with people through shooting street photos. My favorite part is also knowing that there are infinite possibilities when it comes to building something of your own.
What other creative endeavors do you have cooking? Where and how can we follow Beyond Classically Beautiful?
We have one project in the works that will be coming to BeyondClassicallyBeautiful.com very soon! I will keep the details under wraps for now, but just know that we will be celebrating black women using different media. I’m really excited about what we have cooking!
Please visit the website, BeyondClassicallyBeautiful.com
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A big thanks to the beautiful Abi Ishola for showing us love here at Mona Jean. Don’t forget to comment in the section below to leave your support and ask questions, and visit BCB on the web!