By Jason Fontelieu
Walking into her body care shop, you might find Thea Browne-Dennis plopped on her plush brown leather couch watching Netflix’s medieval drama, “The Last Kingdom.” She’s gravitated toward shows and films in that genre, like “Conan the Barbarian,” for as long as she can remember, enjoying their “primal” nature.
“I love being modern, but I also appreciate being ancient,” Browne-Dennis said. “I think that the best way for humanity to get to where it needs to be is to still be modern, but don’t forget these ancient traditions.”
Browne-Dennis, a California native, owns Asli Pure Natural Body Care in Mount Rainier, where she sells her own soaps, body nectars, body oils and body scrubs. She started her business in 2005 but opened her own store in May 2017. She said her brand is known for its signature scents, like Oshun or Pure Love.
“I tease people,” she said, “I’m like: ‘You’re so hesitant to buy this soap, but once you buy it, you’re going to be mad at yourself that you only bought one bar.’”
Oshun, a scent that mixes pineapple and vanilla, is based on the river goddess of the Yoruba tradition.
“She’s known to be very beautiful. She’s also the deity that taught how to utilize herbs and the earth and the moon and the stars,” Browne-Dennis said.
Pure Love, a mixture of tuberose, frankincense and peppermint, is inspired by Browne-Dennis’ idea of what love should have.
“No one can love you as much as you can love yourself,” she said. “The act of bathing is loving yourself. Oiling yourself, anointing yourself with oils — it makes you feel better.”
Asli Pure also sells an array of clothing and jewelry, from places like Ghana or Senegal or Mali.
Browne-Dennis engages in cheerful chatter with nearly every customer that walks in the store. One passerby may even pop their head in the door just to yell: “Hey beautiful!”
Farah Lawal Harris drops by every time she has a dance class at the studio next door to Asli Pure.
“For me, it’s really important to support black business,” Lawal Harris, 34, said. “[Browne-Dennis is] so warm and kind. Her product is quality also. I’m always referring people.”
Adwoa Muhammad, a farmer, is another frequent visitor of Asli Pure and provides Browne-Dennis with stinging nettle to use in her products.
“As soon as I realized what [the plant] was, I thought about [Browne-Dennis] because I was like, ‘she’s the only one who will want it,’” Muhammad said, chuckling.
Beyond her business, Browne-Dennis loves bright colors and the changing of the seasons. She identifies as part of the Rastafari faith. She travels when she can, having recently returned from a trip to Mexico. She has three daughters: Aini, 17, Jahkai, 13, and Ama, 11, who occasionally help out in the store. She doesn’t care for wearing shoes.
But one of the more surprising aspects about Browne-Dennis is that her business is simply a “hobby” for her. She holds a master’s degree in chemical engineering and works full-time managing the water infrastructure of Washington, D.C.
She says compared to making her body care products and running her store, the full-time job is her easiest priority because of how “linear” it is.
“It basically is a repetition of the same thing,” she said. “I might be in a different section of the city, but the principles are the same. I’m using the same modality of thinking.”
Having recently turned 44, Browne-Dennis is especially cognizant of the future of her career. At age 21, she told herself that she would be retired from working for anyone else by age 45.
“When I say retire, it doesn’t mean that I stop working, but it’s a sense of empowerment and freedom that I’m really looking forward to,” she said. “Forty-four marks me with that time, like, okay, I have one year left until my goal. And I’m okay, because I think goals are meant to be modified.”
Browne-Dennis has other goals, like making her own lotions or liquid soaps, or teaching entrepreneurship skills to high schoolers. But for now, her focus is on her store.
“It’s really critical in this day age that we take time to just be and honor ourselves,” she said. “This space allows me to do that.”
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jason Fontelieu/Bloc Reporter.
Jason Fontelieu is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.