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SELFMADE founder Stephanie Lee on the power of beauty beyond self-expression

SELFMADE is a different kind of beauty brand when it comes to purpose.

These days, the emotional connection we feel with the brands we buy from and the content we consume is very important to us. It’s what keeps us coming back to the website or championing the content creator. Of course, that emotional connection has us telling our friends about brands, too.

With social media evolving as quickly as it does, brands are starting to offer more personal approaches when connecting with customers. SELFMADE is a new beauty brand doing just that, showing us that we can all learn from each other through our shared experiences. It teaches us that we’re not so different from one another, and one thing that unites us all is our journeys of self-care.

Attachment styles and resilence

Each product from SELFMADE is tied to a different mental health concept. With the Secure Attachment Comfort Serum ($36), SELFMADE provided customers tools to explore and understand their own attachment styles. And their newest launch, the True Grit Resilience Scrub ($34) ties into themes of resilience in their lives. The “Common Room” is a digital platform that provides mental health tools and resources on the brand’s website.

With their digital zine, the brand hopes to amplify the voices of marginalized communities and shatter industry norms that do not center their experiences.  The first issue took a dive into what attachment styles are and showcased personal essays like, “3 Common Taboos About Therapy,” and “Radical Self-Love, One Liner Look at a Time.”

SELFMADE’s fierce leader, Stephanie Lee

Growing up, Stephanie says she spent a lot of time listening to the world tell her she wasn’t beautiful. She recalls she was desperately trying to fit into whatever box was trending at the moment.

‘This doesn’t work so well as a first-generation Chinese and Vietnamese tomboy striving to fit a mold that was never made for people like me. It definitely doesn’t work well when the actual reason you don’t feel worthy has nothing to do with the way that you look on the outside,” says Stephanie.

SELFMADE started off as a little voice inside Stephanie’s head; a little voice reminding her that we are worthy as we are and it doesn’t matter what anyone else says.

As Stephanie grew throughout her life, the little voice inside her head was still there, but was now able to tackle bigger themes of self-acceptance. She chatted with friends about wanting a collective space where people could share their stories about building self-worth. She wanted a community that would stand at the intersection of the politics of beauty and mental health.

Growing up Asian in America

“My experience as an Asian in America has primarily been living in the binary, and my deepest unknown desire was just to belong,” says Stephanie. “I’m the kid of immigrants from Vietnam who escaped during the war by boat and spent time in refugee camps in Korea and Malaysia. Their trauma and experiences trying to make a comfortable life in the U.S. was the difference between surviving or dying.”

Growing up in the south, she lived in a world that was very Black and white. She says she stuck out like a sore thumb, and people were constantly telling her what she should and shouldn’t look like. In middle school, she experienced cruel bullying.

In college, Stephanie was dying to fit in just like everyone else. She decided to join an all-white sorority. “I was exotic and sexualized for my slant eyes and easily tanned skin,” she says. “I suppressed my individuality when I donned pearl necklaces and tied ribbons in my hair – just like everyone else. I was proud to be in. And by doing so I started losing the ability and space to discover who I truly was and needed.”

Asians in America have always been made to feel like they need to assimilate into white culture. Made to feel like they’re not American enough, or that we live in a world where racism is binary.

“All these experiences, in the name of vanity and belonging, never brought me closer to who I was. In the last year, I’ve learned to make space for my needs, especially as an Asian American where our community is based on honor, duty, and obedience.”

“We suffer silently in the binary. By speaking up, I have been living amongst the spectrum, which brings me closer to my humanness,” says Stephanie.

What this AAPI Month means to her

In a time where there is so much violence and hatred towards Asian Americans, Stephanie isn’t letting this stop her from celebrating her culture and being unapologetically herself. She notes that society has done so much to rob Asian American voices and experiences, yet hearing fellow AAPI folx share their stories have helped her move forward.

It’s critical for the storytelling to never end; for rituals and rites of passage passed down from ancestors to be shouted from the rooftops.

“I feel like for the first time in a really long time, our voices and stories matter,” says Stephanie. “We have been quiet for so long, and that solemn tradition has passed from generation to generation in a way that removed our humanity from conversations that are critical to our future.”

“In the face of it, we are showing up and building power, and we are doing it together. We are showing up to vote and tipping elections. We are changing the way we take care of our skin based on our oldest cultural practices. We are shifting the way people see us – and that is a powerful indication of the path forward for all of us.”

It’s clear Stephanie has always had fierce energy inside her. From the little voice inside her head reminding her that she was worthy, to the confidence to build a brand that holds space and has the ability to connect us all, her fierce energy knows no bounds.

“I feel most fierce working to completely upend conventional societal concepts of beauty and emotional well-being at SELFMADE,” says Stephanie. “This brand has been intentionally built to lift up those who don’t see themselves in the current systems that govern what we define as worthy.”

“Anything that affects the way you love yourself and how you show up in the world has a direct relationship with your mental health,” she continues. “So much in the consumer and beauty world has conditioned us to have a deficit mindset and exploits our self-worth in the name of transactionality. I feel my fiercest when I embrace my inherent worthiness. I feel my most alive when I am speaking with others in our community who are in the journey to believe that their worthiness is undeniable.”