Vashtie Kola

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"I’m originally from Albany, but my parents are from Trinidad. It was really weird being a Trinidadian in Albany. I grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood and there were a lot of other families from islands, like Jamaica or wherever, but they all looked very African American and I didn’t. So I got those kids saying like, ‘You kind of look like us, but you don’t,’ and then the Indian kids were like, ‘You kind of look like us, but you don’t.’ Then they were like, ‘But you act really white,’ and then I got a scholarship to a really nice, pretty much all-white Catholic high school, and to them I was really black. It was very weird; I guess it's what mixed people go through in America. But I always found my crew of friends.

I worked at a tattoo shop in high school called Lark Tattoo. I was 12 or 13 when my sister got her navel pierced there, and they had all of these art books and flash sheets. I was obsessed with art, so every day after school I would just go hang out at the shop. They eventually gave me a job just doing stuff that nobody liked to do like scrubbing grips and tubes and sterilizing. It was funny because I looked like I was 12 and I was there after classes in my Catholic school uniform working. People would come in and assume that I was Bruce’s [Kaplan]—the owner’s—daughter. I worked there for probably 7 years, and I never got a tattoo. [Laughs] But it was really nice how all the guys at the shop really exposed me to a lot of cool art and music.

I still worked for Bruce later on at a shop on Canal Street when I was in the city going to the School of Visual Arts. I studied film, and probably the reason why I’ve been able to maneuver around other art worlds is because I started directing music videos and people kind of knew me from that. I was also known as the tomboy who wore Jordans all the time, and a couple of years ago I got the opportunity to be the first woman ever to design a pair with Nike. Now I’m working on a collaboration with Cam’ron to sort of replicate that famous photo of him wearing the pink fur hoodie and holding the pink phone—it’s called Violette Haze because he had an album called Purple Haze and my own label is Violette.

My style has always been really boyish, I’ve pretty much always been tomboy. I like to flip it, though, so during the day I’m definitely more of a dude, but at night I dress up. Like if I’m DJing I’m really girly in a pleated mini skirt and a crop top, but always in sneakers—crazy shoes I can’t really do. But my approach to beauty is how I am with food and everything else. I’m super organic and green, I’m all about it. I’ll do research for products on Safe Cosmetics Database. They rate everything on a scale from 1-10 from least to most toxins. For example, I wear contact lenses so I looked up the most toxic brands of contact solution and actually the drugstore brand is the one that ranked the lowest. Sometimes you think, ‘Oh I have to get some boutique line in order to not have all the bad chemicals,’ but you’d be surprised.

A lot of it is about being green, but it’s a health-conscious thing, too, because I think that you should ideally be able to eat whatever you’re putting on your skin. I’ve been really conscious of this kind of stuff for probably the past 10 years, but I feel like I’ve only been super committed to the entire lifestyle—diet, beauty, whatever—over the past five years because it’s pricey. Raw food is so expensive, so I like to just make salads and soups at home. I would say I’m not 100 percent raw, probably closer to 80 percent.

I go to a raw facialist—she’s amazing! Her name is Monica Watters, her studio is on Grand Street in Soho. She’s a holistic healer and does Reiki; I just found her through Google! I started seeing her because I was breaking out on my forehead and she was like, ‘Oh that’s the digestion sector of your face,’ and she had me start taking these digestive enzymes which help break down your food, and my skin cleared up. My friend went to see her about all this bruising after a scooter accident and Monica just massaged her and did some drainage and all of her bruises went away.

I also see another holistic doctor, Dr. Gabrielle Francis, who’s like my general practitioner. I started seeing her because I was really tired all the time and had low energy. She had me do a hormone test, which was basically a box of all these tubes that you just spit into every hour before they're sent off to a lab. She went through all of my results and told me that my cortisol levels were out of whack. She said that cortisol is what regulates your energy and most people have it as soon as they wake up, but I had zero during the day but all of it at night, which explains why I was an insomniac. And my hair was falling out and my skin was really dry all the time. So she put me on these herbal pills to help balance it. Sometimes it’s not just, ‘Oh I just need to use a better moisturizer,’ you know what I mean?

So about my products, I love Luzern, which is based out of Switzerland—my facialist recommended it. Their Radiance Skin Brightening Serum is good for getting rid of marks and scars. It has a certain kind of mushroom that helps with pigmentation. I also like their Absolut Firming Collagen Booster Serum. This cream that they have is the bomb—the Luzern Force De Vie Pure Oxygen Cream. It’s really good. I realized that these things go bad though, so I get tongue depressors to dip it out of the jar. I do it every time; it’s so annoying. I’m obsessed with the Dr. Alkaitis line, which is super organic—you could eat it if you really wanted to. Both their Organic Enzyme Exfoliating Mask and their Organic Cellular Repair Mask are really good. All that’s in it are things like raspberry, blueberry, and oat buds—and it’s powder, so it doesn’t go bad and you can mix it in with water or yogurt or honey. RMS products are amazing; I love the Raw Coconut Cream. Then Weleda for deodorant, and EO has a really good breath spray that I use every single day because I’m trying not to chew gum anymore—I chew a lot of gum.

I wear makeup for certain events, but not every day. For my face, I’ve been using this company Afterglow, I love their Fawn Organic Infused Foundation. And I’m obsessed with this eyeliner—which is another healthy product that I use—Rejuva Minerals Eye Crayon in Black Sapphire. I also love the RMS Uncover Up in 44. It’s the darkest one they have; they really need to make darker shades. I use NARS for lipstick even though it’s probably really full of chemicals I try to avoid—Jungle Red, I like a red lip. I try to stay away from mineral oils and petroleum because from what I know, they’re pore-clogging and not great for your skin.

My facialist uses these sponges from Prosana, which I’ll use to take makeup off even though I have this Clarisonic thing—I always forget to charge it. And I always try to clean up my eyebrows, but I’m just too afraid. A long time ago, when I was in high school, I used to pluck them really thin—who didn’t? Now I’m just letting go.

For my hair I was using Giovanni Hair Tea Tree Triple Treat Invigorating Shampoo and Conditioner, and it was great. But then I was like, ‘I want to do a clarifying shampoo!’ And so I googled it and found a recipe for baking soda and water shampoo, and I haven’t stopped using it since. They also say to condition it with apple cider vinegar, but I hate the smell so I never put it in. The baking soda and water shampoo will feel a little bit soapy, but it doesn’t lather. It just feels so clean and it lets my curl kind of breathe because sometimes when I use a shampoo and conditioner it can weigh it down. This is my natural hair—it’s a nice curl, so I can’t complain."

—as told to ITG

Vastie Kola photographed by Emily Weiss on April 16, 2014 in New York.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Q

    beautiful girl... I am so in love with her hair!.x

  • Dana

    Yassss! I'm so happy to see Vashtie on this site. The girl is beyond amazIng!

  • http://www.atdorsia.com/ Eliza

    Loved this Top Shelf--partly because I live really close to Lark Tattoo, but mostly because she is a "green" girl like me who uses more than just sunshine and coconut oil as products. (But contacts can be toxic?! Why did no one tell me this!)

  • K

    Love this interview! And I totally agree on the fact that you should be able to eat whatever you put on your skin! That's why I'm sooo addicted to pure coconut oïl... I would love to have the recipe of the all natural clarifying shampoo!

  • http://insertwth.com/ Denisse

    You know, I never thought to look up the toxicity of the contacts I use. I'm going to have to check it out. Wonderful story! I like her style/attitude.

    • lenny

      i think she meant the contact solution?

      • http://insertwth.com/ Denisse

        Haha right! Thanks! Makes a lot more sense now.

  • Sabah

    Thank you ITG. Patiently been waiting for this Topshelf :)

  • janet

    Does anyone know if baking soda will strip hair dye?

    • Alice

      Given that when you google ways to remove hair dye from your hair baking soda is one of the first suggestions, I would go for a yes.

  • http://aesthetic-li.com/ Aliya

    From one Catholic school girl second-generation West Indian who "acted white" to African Americans to another, I can totally relate.

  • H

    I'm also big on doing the all-natural stuff, but I don't use any creams or anything at night. I just use an oatmeal soap bar to wash every off and then put rose hip oil on my skin and almond oil under my eyes. I've learned that hormones pretty much dictate breakouts, and in response to those, either apple cider vinegar or zinc oxide helps. And I'll do facials with Greek yogurt, bananas, lemon, honey, etc. I never understood spending too much on products...but that's just me.

    It was nice to see this post because I haven't managed to find good cosmetics. I agree that it's really hard to find good lipstick (for now, I just use Burt's Bees lip shimmers or Hurraw! vegan chapsticks). I'll probably invest in 100% pure fruit cosmetics soon.

    • Caroline

      I like the 100% Pure Black Tea mascara!

  • Lizzy

    Nice article, but I'm pretty sure that putting baking soda in your hair can be terrible for it in the long run.

  • Bertiebeetle

    What a beautiful woman. I love her brows, clean up not required!

  • s

    she is really sweet and likable, and i enjoyed reading this, but whenever anyone references ewg i just feel utter despair. chemicals ≠ bad. however, baking soda = bad. also, mineral oil is non-comedogenic. as in, it doesn't clog your pores. i use pure mineral oil to take my make up off. super affordable, super effective, makes my (clog-prone) skin so smooth and clear. my skin is also prone to dehydration so in the winter i usually put on a thin layer of vaseline or aquaphor over my moisturizer before i go to bed. wake up to beautiful and soft skin. ~i just really love mineral oil~

    • Mady

      Vashtie seems like a cool girl, and the following comment is in no way meant to be critical of her: it would be great to see more Top Shelves from scientists. It would be interesting to see what beauty products some, say, cosmetic chemists use!

      • bluesky557

        Oh, cosmetic chemists top shelf! That would be amazing.SCIENCE!

      • ikillplants

        Women in science! This x 1000!

      • eastvillagesiren

        Excellent idea! I would also love to learn the science and research behind products and ingredients.

    • http://www.atdorsia.com/ Eliza

      If it works for you that is awesome, but a lot of people (like myself) believe that because so much of what goes on your skin is absorbed into your body, certain chemicals (not mineral oil specifically! Speaking generally here) are bad. Just like certain natural products are bad (lavender oil can cause cell death--sounds pretty bad to me). I think that's why the Top Shelves just show that individual's view towards beauty and self-care, which is why they are so great--because different stuff works for everyone :)

      • Mady

        The concern is that sometimes people's beauty-regimen decisions are guided more by fear than legit evidence. There's just so much fear mongering in the natural beauty world, it's actually scary. But most people can't distinguish between the good advice and the crap, largely because they don't have the background to do so, but mostly because the people propagating these fears can be excellent, persuasive writers who likely have more time on their hands than those who know a thing or two about toxicology and what not.

        • http://www.atdorsia.com/ Eliza

          That's definitely true (in all aspects of the "organic" world--if one more person tells me I can't eat gluten I'm going to scream)--I do my own research and stay away from any "data" that is too dramatic or overreaching, and have drawn my own conclusions from that. I choose to use more natural products, but still use lots of conventional stuff as well, based on the specific ingredients of each product. I just saw your comment about getting scientists to do a Top Shelf and completely agree! I would love to see that perspective (and see if maybe I am buying into anything that isn't quite true?). Yet another reason I love ITG--the smart commentors with good ideas :)

          • eastvillagesiren

            Love your balanced approach.

          • http://www.atdorsia.com/ Eliza

            Thank you :)

    • eastvillagesiren

      I'm on the aquaphor bandwagon also. Sometimes it's the only thing that doesn't irritate my hyper-sensitive skin. And S is right, on the comedogenic scale, it rates low, along with Rose Hip, Argan, Tamanu and Squalene. Higher on the scale? Coconut Oil.

  • Jill

    What products does she use for her curl?

  • cocoralcara

    Haha, I completely relate to the end of that first paragraph! My parents are originally from South East Asia and where we've settled in England, there are quite a lot of Asian immigrants. I managed to get a scholarship into a very white (I can count the number of non Caucasian girls in my year on one hand), Catholic, all girls secondary school and to them, I'm *so* Asian but whenever I meet any Asians, I'm *so* white.

  • Nik

    She's wearing the Nike x Supreme collab released a couple months ago. You can try mltd.com for jerseys or sites like Stussy or 10Deep.

  • holydances

    her outfit is by nike x supreme!

  • Bee

    It's Supreme.

  • http://clemenceconsiders.blogspot.com/ Clémence

    That Weleda deo is truly beyond - the rose version is my favorite.

  • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

    Thank you for this Top Shelf, ITG. What a singular and strong woman. Her perspectives on growing up with identification ambiguity were really Interesting, and I think in the long run those types of experiences are what shape the best things in life.

    Sometimes I think fashion and music and anything creative just all feel so stale because we keep selecting people from a relatively similar pool of different criteria, and Vashtie's words lend themselves to this greater sentiment of both integrating and celebrating various backgrounds. This could be anything from hometown to race to socioeconomic background, but I think one unique element that America at large should really take advantage of is the sheer melting pot we have here. Sometimes you wouldn't even know we are one of the most diverse and progressive nations in the world. And that to me is just a waste of unlocked advancement and potential.

  • icedbergs

    I think there's a typo in the last line! (Vasthie Kola vs Vashtie..)

  • Uma

    Thank you for the comments re: RMS. I went to try out their products yesterday and while I *LOVE* the idea of them, they just don't work with my skin tone, except the luminzer. Please please think of products for women with different skin tones and move beyond being a white/whitish women's line.

  • Evelyn Beagle

    Another great ITG - I'm loving the ones featuring green beauty products! For non-toxic lipsticks, try Beautycounter: they're made purely with plant-based ingredients and come in 6 universally flattering shades https://evelynbeagle.beautycounter.com

  • fm

    love vash! great article. good info about the herbal doctor. i need to look into that.

  • tootifrooti

    She sounds so awesome!! Love her hair and eyebrows.

  • kneelbeforetigers

    Yaaasssss! Va$htie is the best; the queen of downtown NYC!

  • http://www.clevergirlreviews.com/ Clever Girl Reviews

    While I really like her routine and products, I was surprised by what she said about Nike. As someone who used to work at the Swoosh, I knew (and still know) quite a few ladies who work for the Jordan Brand who design the clothes, shoes, and color palettes for the line. I'm guessing that she meant the first female celebrity. Make no mistake my friends, Nike is may have it's problems but diversity in their hiring practices is not one of them! *A shout out to all my ladies keepin' it fresh out at Swoosh central!*

  • eastvillagesiren

    Well said; thank you!

  • Karen F

    Please tell me what kind of herbal pills did you take to balance your hormones?

  • Niya

    I'm not into organic skincare at all but this girl has such gorgeous skin I might buy into it now.

  • Tajna

    For great pure skin: Manuka honey mask for at least one hour once a week.Also Aztec Secret clay mask to unclog pores,Kaolin clay mask to balance oils https://www.etsy.com/listing/167994074/kaolin-clay-mask-with-pure-dead-sea-mud?ref=shop_home_active_9, do a soft exfoliant like rapadura sugar (mmm!),for inflamed skin just wash gently with pure lavender oil diluted in water,spray with a great toner http://images.iherb.com/l/HGO-33468-3.jpg, use this gentle cream http://www.islandthyme.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Session_ID=3b0f0829f86248619b5614473bde1a31&Screen=PROD&Product_Code=C-CC.
    These are ALL natural products! Don't fall for Proactiv/Accutane/Minocycline/anything chemical.Those chemicals are POISON for your body and your hormones.Since getting off Minocycline a month ago my skin is a complete miracle story.
    Trust your intuition when it comes to beauty!

  • anonie

    just my opinion, some of you commenters are patronizing and shady! reminds me of the comments from hannah bronfman's top shelf

  • Jazz

    I love your eyebrows exactly as they are, full natural brows always look far more youthful. I love your approach to organic skin care it's great.

  • marie

    Who wrote this article??!!! They looked "african american"?!?! How about just "African" - since they are NOT from America, or better yet, just black?? Is being black such a bad thing that you can't say the word? Am a bit (a lot) outraged.

PRODUCTS MENTIONED

Luzern Laboratories
Radiance Skin Brightening Serum
Luzern Laboratories
Serum Absolut Firming Collagen Booster
Luzern Laboratories
Force De Vie Pure Oxygen Creme Luxe
Dr. Alkaitis
Organic Enzyme Exfoliating Mask
Dr. Alkaitis
Organic Cellular Repair Mask
RMS
RMS Raw Coconut Cream
Weleda
Weleda Sage Deodorant Spray
EO
EO Organic reFresh Breath Spray
Afterglow
Afterglow Organic Infused Foundation
Rejuva Minerals
Rejuva Minerals Eye Liner Crayon
RMS Beauty
RMS Un Coverup
NARS
NARS Lipstick
Prosana
Prosana Compressed Sponges
CLARISONIC
Clarisonic Mia Travel Sonic Skin Cleansing System
Giovanni
Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat Shampoo
Giovanni
Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat Conditioner
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