Nia Baucke: Self-Care and the City
We sat down with Nia Baucke outside Clark Montessori in Hyde Park in March and kept our fingers crossed that it would be one of the rare sunny days of spring. It was a quiet morning as a nearby lacrosse practice was ending and we settled down on a bench to get our conversation started. It quickly became clear that the founder of Cypress Beauty was passionate about that project, but Nia refuses to be defined solely by her work.
Tell us about yourself.
I'm Nia. I grew up all over the place. I'm not from Cincinnati originally. I spent most of my time in Michigan and graduated high school in Nebraska and New York. I chose to go to Xavier and found myself here in this weird little city that I thought was the Midwest, but Cincinnati is not the Midwest. I wanted to clear that up.
I fell in love with Cincinnati and the people here. I ended up working at a nonprofit downtown and got really involved with social justice issues – education, in particular. That has been my life's work thus far.
Then, to remove myself from the intensity of nonprofit and social justice work, I decided to do something different and express myself through creating Cypress, which is a skincare company that I launched last summer. It's my passion project, and it's a nice way to express myself creatively without feeling the pressure of having to know, "I'm going to do this and this is what's right for Cincinnati." It's skincare, and I love it.
I also coach track at Clark Montessori, which is why we're here. I ran track at Xavier, so I'm pretty much obsessed with the sport and obsessed with my kids. I think they're the coolest kids on planet Earth. I wouldn't want to do anything else in the spring besides hang out with them every day for three months straight. In my free time, I'm an outdoorsy person. I like to be outside and be active. Once it finally gets nice out, my friends and I will get a hammock and head to Ault Park.
As women, we get this idea that we're not supposed to care about how we look if we're "really cool." And that's not true. I care about how I look because I take pride in who I am. I love myself.
I'm really interested in Cypress and your products, if you want to talk a bit more on that.
I launched Cypress with the tagline, "Skin Care as Self-Care," so the idea is around products that are meaningful when it comes to taking time for yourself. We don't have a cleanser or a toner or what you would consider to be routine products. They're products that require you to take time for yourself. Our mask is one of those things. You have to leave it on – you should leave it on – for 10 minutes and relax and enjoy that moment. It's a way to check in with yourself mentally and also to take care of your skin. Follow that up with the other product we have, the beauty elixir, which is a facial oil that has a lot of great essential oils that are good for your skin. They also serve as aromatherapy with lavender in there; it's really relaxing. My thought was, "If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do something different and offer unique products that come from the heart."
The stuff I created is stuff that I use and that I love using with my friends. I have people over all the time and we do a whole skin care routine, light some candles, play some music, and de-stress. That's what Cypress is about. That's the same with our events: We've had a mask and meditation event. It's really about relaxing, taking care of yourself, being intentional about your skin and your life. It's been really fun. All of our products are organic, they're ethically sourced, and I work with all Ohio-based companies for pretty much everything that's in our products. I've been really fortunate to find people who care about the environment. I sit in my office and make some fun stuff up. You can find it downtown in Spruce Nail Shop; they carry the most products in their store, which is cool because they have the same mission of taking care of oneself and they're all about a non-toxic environment.
Would you say there was a specific moment when you realized you wanted to start this?
No pun intended, it was really organic; it was really natural. Like I mentioned, I had friends over a lot and I would consult them about their skin. Actually before Cypress, I created an Instagram page that got a really big following by reviewing different products and how they work with people's skin types. It was really just something that I did in my spare time. Eventually, someone said they would pay to come and do this in a formal setting. I don't want to say I was in a weird place in my life, but I was in a good place to do something that was me. This has absolutely nothing to do with work; this has nothing to do with anything on my LinkedIn or my resume. It was natural and it was the right time. I got into creating really good products and hosting really great events. Luckily, the first event I hosted sold out within a week. That's when I knew that Cincinnati still needs a spa/skin care scene; we're kind of lacking in that area. We could do more when it comes to skin care, other than high-end salons.
The most successful women in Cincinnati are not intimidated at all by the idea of someone new coming in and trying something. In fact, they're rooting for you...
Did you formally learn about skin care or was it self-taught?
Actually, UC has a cosmetic pharmaceutical degree, and I'm not in the program, but I'll be taking classes in the fall. There's a lot of resources online that talk about formulations and how to create a product that isn't irritating to the skin. Some of it was informal. Some of the folks I work with who carry my ingredients taught me about which essential oils are good for skin and what makes the most sense to put in my products. I did a lot of research – a lot of research – in my spare time. In the future, I hope to have formal post-secondary credentials of some sort.
It's interesting that you emphasize skin care and self-care when a lot of people can see these as vain.
The thing is, it's okay to be vain. There's this idea that we have to find a balance in all things. As women, we get this idea that we're not supposed to care about how we look if we're "really cool." And that's not true. I care about how I look because I take pride in who I am. I love myself. A part of that is having good skin and feeling like my skin is clear and vibrant so that I don't have to wear makeup. That's just who I am and there's nothing wrong with that.
Vanity for the sake of comparing yourself to another person is where it gets dangerous. But vanity so that you can wake up in the morning and be like "Damn, I look great today," developing that self-confidence, is really important. When you're doing it for yourself, it becomes self care. The pressure of doing it for another person or because you're going out and want to get picked up or whatever it is, that's where it becomes something more stressful. I always think of the Neutrogena commercials when I was a kid. I remember the acne wash that was this staple when I was 12. The way that they talked about it, if you read Teen Vogue: "You have to get rid of your acne; it's horrible." I approach it from a completely different perspective, like, "I love myself. I really don't like this pimple today, but that's okay." I like myself in all forms and I like to take care of myself.
What role has Cincinnati played as you’ve formed this passion project?
It's fun because the cities where I've lived are all in this startup space. I grew up mainly in Michigan, like I mentioned, and Detroit is going through a similar kind of vibe. It's really cool because, in Detroit in particular, there's a lot of black women getting involved, and I don't see that as much in Cincinnati quite yet. Hopefully, there will be more of that.
The cool thing about Cincinnati, there are some other amazing women, female entrepreneurs who have been willing to sit down with me and give me a lot of advice. It's very intimidating. When you're first starting out you're like, "I'm going to start a business and it's going to be so great," and then all of a sudden you realize there's so much more. There were so many women that were willing to have 30 minute conversations with me, willing to let me host my first pop-up for free, let me do something at their store, introduce my products to their clients. Cincinnati is a good place because it's small enough that there's a sense of collaboration.
My experience has made me really love women in a unique way. The most successful women in Cincinnati are not intimidated at all by the idea of someone new coming in and trying something. In fact, they're rooting for you; they want to see you succeed. That's been an amazing experience, to not have folks competing with me or trying to pull me down. I think I also have a really good product and I work really hard, so that helps, too. [Laughs.] Overall, Cincinnati does have this unique, entrepreneurial vibe throughout the city. There's the energy right now of, "Pursue your dreams!" Because there is not a lot of skin care stuff going on, Cypress filled a gap.
My thought was, "If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do something different and offer unique products that come from the heart."
Tell us about an influential woman in your life.
I'll tell you about my mom, which is very cliche, but I have to. She passed away when I was 21. She was probably one of the most incredible human beings that I've ever interacted with, and I think many people would say that who knew my mom. I’m an introvert, and she was not. She had the ability to make anyone feel at ease and feel comfortable. She was a very confident woman; she did not care what people thought about her. She always wore red lipstick and had a sense of pride. Her focus and dedication of being a mother, being an amazing person, being a kind person, was always at the forefront. That showed because so many people were attracted to her energy.
That theme is coming up again, but the idea that she wasn't defined by her degree or the work that she did, she was just defined by being kind to people. When she became sick and couldn't leave the house, pretty much everywhere we would go as kids someone would ask how she was. I remember going to the dollar store and the clerk at the dollar store asked me where my mom was. That's the kind of person she was. She cared about everyone and they knew it. That care and nurturing was returned. I aspire to be that person, I am not as a nice as her [Laughs]. I wish that I was, but I really try to be a good person. At the end of the day, at the funeral, no one talked about the work that she did; they talked about her being a wonderful human being. She taught me a lot about life and her passing taught me a lot about what's important in life.