With over 20K Instagram followers, Nikki Brooks — or Dr. Nikki as she is known on the social media platform — has become an influencer in addition to a beauty entrepreneur. 

The Washington, D.C. native is the creator of Zen in a Jar — luxury experiences for the mind, body and space via fragrant home and body care products. And if you’ve ever tried to purchase one of her sold out product drops, then you know she’s reaping the sweet smells of success.

The brand, which started out as a hobby of Brooks, later became a way to pay for her doctoral degree and now — her full time passion. Her goal was to create the sweet spot between aromatherapy and the power of body chemistry. In this interview with ESSENCE, Brooks shares why Black women should spend more time practicing self-care, how her business took off during the pandemic and why we should all “respect our magic.”

ESSENCE: Black women are the heads of households, running businesses and running the C-suite, though historically, have not prioritized themselves on a long list of things to do. Tell me about the importance of Black women indulging in self-care and really why it’s important now more than ever.

Nikki Brooks: My products are for everyone, but I specifically have Black women in mind, because I love that we’re getting to a space where we can put ourselves first. Self care doesn’t just mean spending a day at the Ritz or anything like that anymore. What we’re providing at Zen in a Jar, are small pockets of self-care through the power of the olfactory sense, like how you can tie a smell to a positive experience. Even just sitting in your car and smelling shea butter can remind you of the first time you smelled it, or how people compliment you when you have it on. It is really important to find those small pockets of self-care, because social media, while it unites us, in a lot of ways, it also affects our psyche.

I read something where you said your mantra that you live by is, “Respect your magic.” Can you talk more about that mantra and why that resonates and speaks to you so much?

We deny our magic so many times when we don’t walk in our power. But every time we walk in our power, we nail it. We make everything so much better. I like to consider my superpower pulling someone’s magic out of them. I have so many girlfriends in my tribe, most of us are entrepreneurs now, and it’s because we pulled that skill out of ourselves. So I feel like my responsibility, knowing that I did it for myself is to ensure that everybody around me knows that if I feel your magic, I’m going to pull it out and make you respect it too. There’s nothing better than that.

Has your business been impacted at all by the pandemic?

It did, in two ways. First, my facility had to close down. So I had to shift operations right back to my mom’s basement, where I started. It threw me for a loop, but I’m really solution-oriented. I always give myself maybe an hour or two to cry, but then I’m like, “Okay, so what’s the plan. How are we going to pivot?” So I had a team of people, I had about eight women working for me, and we were functioning. We were a well-oiled machine. So now I’m like, “Okay, we’re going down to one person out of a basement. Okay.”

Second, a lot of my containers, my label, and the supply chain were cut. A lot of the bottles that I was getting regularly that were somewhat of a signature, I had to figure out something else to put the products in, and that was a challenge. I’m so grateful that my customer base, they just rolled with me through those changes. Despite them, I really experienced a lot of success. I was apprehensive at first like, “Okay, maybe I shouldn’t even be selling self-care right now, because the world is so serious, is anybody even interested in shea butter? Is it weird to sell this right now?”

You found tremendous marketing yourself and your business on social media. Can you share your advice for other entrepreneurs looking to get their product to the masses?

Authenticity, transparency, and organic relationship building — that’s all it took. When you are your authentic self, it attracts the relationships that are right for you. There are so many entities that I partnered with years ago before either of us really blew up in any way, and we still work hand-in-hand today because we build those relationships and establish trust and things like that. Also being open and willing to help the person coming up next to, or beside you — it truly doesn’t hurt anybody.

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