We had the good fortune of connecting with Marquita Gill and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Marquita, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was born and raised in beautiful Barbados, in the West Indies. It is the most easterly island in the Caribbean and is known as the gem of the region. My first 18 years of life in Barbados, before moving to America in 2009, were filled with sweet soca and spouge, morning beach trips before school, picking fresh fruit, enjoying ridiculously delicious Bajan cuisine, Crop Over, Kadooment, tuk bands and in general, living a very laid-back, calm and positive life. I have been blessed to have grown up closely around both parents, my 2 sisters, 3 grandparents, 2 great-grandparents, and a host of aunts and cousins. While growing up in a relatively close-knit family, the bonds that I have cultivated with my father, sister, and maternal grandmother have greatly impacted who I am today.
My father has modeled how to be a provider, hard worker, and loving person. While he isn’t the most talkative, his quirkiness, warm spirit and dedication to his family and Manchester United have thankfully been passed down to me. Thanks to my father, I know the importance of independence and laughter. Anyone who knows Mark, loves to be around him, and I am proud to be his daughter and to be named after him. I am still waiting to inherit his rum punch making skills though!
My older sister Takara is like my second mother, yet she is also my twin sister. I always forget that we are 8 years apart because of how close we are, despite our distance. Takara is the epitome of a successful multitasker: she is a wife, mother of 4, Life Coach, Florist, Wedding/Event Planner, Nutrition teacher AND our Creative Consultant & Wellness Counsellor. My sister’s warmth, generosity and passion inspire me to be my best, and she confirms that balance is possible.
My grandmother, my sweet girl, Elma, possibly holds the biggest piece of my heart (don’t tell the others). She passed away in 2019 and I have strived to keep her alive in my daily life. She is the reason why Empress Naturals exists. Although she lived in New York, our grandmother was very present in our lives. She raised us on local plants and herbs which support our hair, skin and overall health. She was the only grandmother I knew in Brooklyn with a lush garden and active gym membership. Elma worked in nursing, loved to travel, made the best food, and always made sure we engaged in self-care. Empress Naturals is a way to honor and grieve our grandmother, and I know she would have been extremely proud. I just wish I had thought to launch this venture while she was still alive.
In short, these individuals have shaped me immensely to be who I am. I am Marquita Gill: an educator and small business owner. I promote self-care, social change agents, black luxury and wanderlust. I carry the spirit and pride of the Caribbean with me wherever I go, and I plan to continue honoring my ancestors by inculcating those values within future generations. I am unapologetically Bajan, unrepentantly West Indian. and undeniably Black.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Empress Naturals is a Black, West Indian & female-owned company, providing affordable access to natural skin care with key ingredients from Caribbean culture. We are focused on building community through ancestral stories and networking. There are four main pillars which drive Empress Naturals: Access, Representation, Natural/Holistic Care, and Community. While I believe our field is quite saturated, I’m most proud of the fact that my sister and I use this platform as a way to pay homage to our grandmother. It is a form of therapy for us and our motives are not embedded in greed. As an educator, I have witnessed students struggle to find affordable and suitable hygienic products to meet their needs. I have come to realize that, like equity in education, hygiene access is another area of growth. In addition to celebrating Elma, Empress Naturals is also here to provide affordable products so that people of color have access to natural body, hair and skin products without feeling guilty or judged for wanting luxury.
Building Empress Naturals was not easy. First of all, the business was launched in the heat of a pandemic AND it happened while I was in Houston and my sister was in Barbados, so naturally, we had to do everything virtually. However, remembering our pillars and mission helped to push us through to launch on time, and it continues to aid in our success. Additionally, our manager, Breeya Harrison, has been absolutely amazing in making our visions come to life.
Throughout this process, I have learned that celebrating my grandmother and seeing the joy and results from our clients is worth everything that we have endured in launching. I have learned to be kind to myself and to encourage myself to indulge in self-care in the same way I promote it for our Imperial Tribe.
I want the world to know that Empress Naturals will remain true to its roots. We want the world to see and understand the beauty in our region. We are all about building awareness and connecting the Caribbean Diaspora and beyond. Come hangout with us and learn how to build your best self with us!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Honestly, Houston is extremely diverse with a multitude of options! Most of my best friends are absolute foodies, so we would be doing restaurant trips and wine stops! In Houston, some favorites would be: Lost and Found, Simone’s, Thaicoon, Chapman and Kirby, Amahle, Empire Cafe, Prey, Joey’s Uptown. Island 1515, and Trez Art and Wine Bar. We would also check out the Museum District to visit any available exhibits, and enjoy the luscious parks of Houston (e.g. Hermann- Miller Outdoor Theatre too or Buffalo Bayou). Some other highlights are anywhere in Chinatown for food, tea or massages, and bar hopping in Midtown. Another great day spa spot is Gangnam Spa on Highway 6, and for DIY workshops- Love & Make!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to dedicate my shoutout to my sisters, Takara Browne and Marissa Gill, my grandmother, Saint Elma Smith, and my parents Angela & Mark Gill. Credit is also due to my Empresses: Samoy Levers, Tahirah Smith and Breeya Harrison, who is our social media manager and a true boss at branding! Finally, I want to thank the amazing group of Black and Caribbean entrepreneurs:
Takara Browne- Healistic Tribe
Erika Walker- LEX XEI
Ayesha Ibrahim- ASMI Designs
Johanna Iyalekhue- Dear Son My Sun
Damarys- The Bight Swim/The Bight The Label
Vicky Dilbert- SYM Brazen
Tifani Donovan – Von Cosmetics
Maurissa Handfield- Island Where
Chinya Bully- Uni Taste
Joanne Espejo- Skye’s Squeeze
Marquita Gill Breeya Harrison