Art, culture, history, beauty, fashion, and storytelling collide seamlessly in Jaé Joseph’s world. As a Black queer cultural producer, art director, and creator of the Black Apothecary Office (BAO), Joseph is intent on connecting tradition with experimental art. BAO is the latest byproduct of this marriage, and under this Caribbean-American’s watchful eye, the budding beauty empire is designed to create a space in the beauty industry for all consumers.
What started as an incubator to support other Black and Brown-owned beauty brands, birthed an opportunity to further disrupt the beauty industry. Joseph decided to launch BAO Essentials in 2021, a four-piece skincare line that pays homage to “bodega beauty”, his Caribbean roots, and his mother, the inspiration behind the beauty brand.
Aside from launching new beauty products and supporting up-and-coming brands, Joseph is busy developing cultural programming and creating brand collaborations that represent his clients’ interests and promotes their work through his artistic flair. Additionally, his philanthropic efforts, an interest developed from his grandparents, extend to his collaboration with TooD Beauty, whose nail polish proceeds go the Human Rights Campaign, and helping to fundraise over $500,000 for New York City’s LGBT Center and Housing Works.
And his work is being noticed. He has been recognized by the Ford Foundation, NAACP, American Express’ Minority Corporate Counsel, and the Parsons School of Design.
INTO spoke with Joseph about his family’s rich history and heritage, the need for inclusive beauty brands, and how he’s shaping his budding beauty empire.
Your budding empire consists of mixing different artistic mediums paired with collaborations with various brands. What’s the story behind your work?
You know what? I think that these are all the things that have been inherent in my DNA. From my parents, to my grandparents, to other family members, and to the many elements of art, film, and design that I feel that I was influenced by at an early age. So I think that knowing that I could have a career out of it, I didn’t know that, but did I know that I have something that was special? Yes, I knew that from a young age. And I think that it was sort of like nurtured in me from my grandparents, from their friends, to boards that they were on, community centers, and activism – they were huge philanthropists. My grandmother, she always said that her philanthropy is her life. I think that collaboration came from just conversation at the dinner table, [my grandparents] nurturing culture, art, history, heritage, and also legacy, which I think is truly important to the DNA of a Black person.
Speaking of family, yours has a rich history and connection to the art world. Which part of their legacy had the greatest impact on your work?
A few years back, when the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture in D.C. opened up, we were already in the works of sharing some recorded audio and visual content of history about the Civil Rights movement from various members in the family, but specifically, [from] my older uncle. I want to say my great uncle, if that’s what you say, who was like a grandfather to me. His stories about post-Civil Rights versus pre-Civil Rights, as well as my grandfather’s stories on my mother’s side. He’s Caribbean. So I’m Caribbean like through and through. It’s in my DNA.
So hearing those stories and blending those stories with the experience of coming to the U.S. from the Caribbean from my grandfather, and then also hearing my uncle’s stories about the Civil Rights movements and then also our family history…we have a strong lineage that my aunt, she is a historian, takes care of and manages, and there’s just archives of stories and photos.
I think that our sort of claim to arts and culture has been through preserving our family legacy through artifacts and through stories, poems, cookbooks, photographs, and artwork. There were several people in our family that painted or that built things by hand. So, yeah, that’s where the claim that fame came from. And then we were able to collaborate with StoryCorps. They house actual visual stories. There’s a new thing they do now, where you’re able to come into the booth and share your immigrant stories about how your family came over with your first generation. But we collaborated with them, and then it unknowingly became a permanent part of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.
What has been your favorite collaboration?
I would say [StoryCorps] has been my favorite and honestly it’s like [I am] a spokesperson for this particular initiative, as I call it. It’s more of an initiative than a collaboration, but I think it’s my favorite because it’s a reflection of who I truly am. I think that when I think about that and I think about our history being preserved through stories, through audio, visual assets, and content, I think that that is really who we are and that is really what makes me what I am. That’s what brought me to this point of being able to nurture a career and a trajectory for myself that is centered around arts, beauty, culture, and fashion.
And all of that is cultivated in BAO. What was the journey like to get it to where it is now?
So BAO was created out of a need to see Black and Brown created products on a shelf, but not only Black and Brown consumed. We want to dispel that rumor that Black and Brown brands don’t have to be specifically created just for Black and Brown folk or just consumed by Black and Brown folk, but we are at the head of it. We are Black-owned and Black-ran and we wanted that to be the voice, but we also wanted to make sure that we’re seen as a viable product in anyone’s home.
I love hearing that. We need more Black-owned companies showing how beauty is universal.
Absolutely. 1000%. It absolutely should have been like that. So in starting the Black Apothecary Office, it was first built as a platform to highlight Black and Brown makers, doers, creators, and entrepreneurs in the beauty, wellness, and telehealth space. Beyond that, after we launched the platform and realized how effective it could be, having this platform and the business model that we were building not only for ourselves, but to be a template for other young entrepreneurs in the beauty, wellness, and telehealth space, we decided to launch our own products. Within that, launching the Black Apothecary Office, we launched BAO Essentials.
BAO Essentials is the actual four piece collection. It’s a toner, a cleanser enzyme lotion, and a night cream. Each one of them is named after a Caribbean woman, or deity, I should say, because the night cream is called the Empress, and all of them are infused with papaya. And I think that papaya is one of those things that when you think about the Caribbean or you think about natural, sort of like fruits or elements that people use, from coconuts to mangoes, papaya is sometimes not often seen as being able to be used for natural healing, but it actually has so many healing agents in it, from being able to help with discoloration and hydration. It’s great for acne and it’s infused in all four of the products.
When we launched, the platform was really just a template for us to be this voice for other brands. We helped launch like four or five other brands, and then we came up with our own products. We partner with a local R&D lab in Brooklyn because we want to monitor our carbon footprint. So everything is made locally and we put a lot of care into our consumer audience.
I would say we’ve built more of a social beauty brand, and that’s because a lot of our consumers came from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. That has allowed us to have a voice in a space that not only isn’t friendly to Black and Brown voices, but also to queer voices as well. Which we are all always, even though I hate using this word all the time, but we’re always inclusive in any way that we market ourselves. We always make sure that we’re warm in our tone. And I think that has allowed us to build this community of people that support the brand. It’s definitely “for us, by us, for sure”.
I recognize you not wanting to use the word inclusive because, again, it feels like it should be redundant, but, in this day and age, it still isn’t. So, for your brand to still consider everyone, it’s important to let it be known that other brands should be doing the same.
Absolutely. We are community-led, and I think that at the core of everything we’re doing is community. I think even who we align with, collaborate with, everything goes back to the core of the DNA of who I am and how it was reared and that’s community. So we want to appeal to Black and Brown folk. We also want to make sure that we’re open to our white counterparts as well. We also are inclusive of queer, trans, and gender-expansive youth. Gender-expansive youth are at the forefront of the brand’s ethos.
What do you hope to accomplish this year with your budding empire?
Right now, one of our main focuses is expanding in the UK and the EU market. We have a large audience there in terms of social media and consumer base so I think that our goal, just internally, our goal with the expansion there this summer is to also launch a new product that I’m super excited about. It’s something really cool that everyone, I feel, will love that’s right in line with the four products that we already have, but a little bit different in terms of the formulation. ♦