The historic Route 66 is home to a plethora of treasure trove destinations. The sea of open roads and fantastical landscapes create the perfect arena for adventurers to discover the dreams of the Wild West. Among these destinations is the storefront of Ah-Shi Beauty, a brand that caters to and champions Indigenous beauty, tucked away in the historic town of Gallup, New Mexico... "and right across from Jerry's, the iconic comfort food restaurant," founder Ahsaki Chachere tells me with a laugh. "So when people are waiting, they come over to us."
Being a border town that “was actually [a Navajo] reservation before they took it,” Gallup seemed like the perfect place to establish one out of the two Ah-Shí Beauty storefronts. Contradicting their greasy counterparts from across the road, organically formulated foundations, eyeshadows, and lipsticks align the storefront’s contemporary interior, and clients, both returning and new, are offered one-on-one consultations. Paying homage to her half-Navajo, half-Black heritage, images of curly-haired and Indigenous women illustrate the store’s main wall. This makeshift mood board serves as a focal point of inspiration for her clients when deciding what should be included in their custom beauty packages curated by Chachere and her team. Perhaps this personalized beauty routine nods to the brand’s name, “Ah-Shí” which, in Navajo, translates to this is me, this is mine.
Chachere’s love for beauty began as a young girl when she and her mother would drive five hours from their reservation in search of beauty products at the nearest mall. Big beauty names like Dior and Estée Lauder would soon influence her. But through the mist of excitement came a sudden realization: “I noticed how these brands would discontinue the products that best matched my mother’s skin tone and she would constantly have to stock up double or eventually switch to another brand,” she says. “My mother was my beauty icon. And I saw all these gorgeous Native women around me and none of them were represented in these big conglomerates.” Fast forward to 2012, when Chachere learned the chemical elements of her love for beauty while studying biochemistry at the University of Arizona. After teaming up with her colleague, Hung Do, to master natural extracts used to formulate her products, Chachere finally took her father’s advice. “You’re either going to sit here and complain, or get up and do something about it.
Both her parents insisted that Chachere remain intact with her Indigenous traditions. For adolescent Chachere, this meant living in a Hogan — an eight-sided dwelling that has no running water and no electricity, but is used as a spiritual space for the Navajo. For six years (that also “felt like forever") she learned the ways of her people, from farming and harvesting to participating in transitional womanhood rituals while her parents built a contemporary home on the reservation. “I thought they were crazy!" she says. "But it was a learning experience. It was a discipline. It was not taking anything in our lives for granted. It’s molded me into the woman I am today. My poor babies are gonna have to go through it, too,” the future mother, who has been married for five years, says playfully.
While living in the Hogan, Chachere learned the importance of inner beauty, too. In Navajo tradition, there is an emphasis on what you eat, drinking a lot of water, and exercising daily. Since a lot of time was spent outside, the Navajo aim to protect their skin from the sun, oftentimes with a clay-like mask worn during the day while farming. And although these elements all contribute to great skin, perhaps the most important lesson taught to Chachere is sustainable harvesting and organic ingredients. According to her, the Navajo, like many Indigenous communities, have sacred ties and immense respect for Mother Nature. No matter what it may be — beauty, food, living — all things are done with the natural world in mind. “Our creator provided these resources, and we have to protect what’s sacred,” she says. “I’m a business owner, but there are just some things you can’t do. You should only harvest to a certain extent.”
As mentioned earlier, Ah-Shi Beauty has two storefronts: One in Gallup, New Mexico, where tourists from around the country oftentimes visit, and the second at the capital of the Navajo reservation in Windrock, Arizona. “The Navajo reservation is the size of West Virginia, yet we have an extremely high unemployment rate," she reveals. "I felt that I needed to step up and create an opportunity for my people.” On the other end of the business, the beauty guru notes that she hopes that placing a beauty store on the reservation will also attract visiting tourists to hopefully gain a more truthful experience. “People think of reservations as being run-down and that’s not the case. We, too, are rich. We are rich in culture, community, and tradition.”
Further extending beyond the mission of Ah-Shí Beauty, Chachere notes how rampant colorism is in some Native communities. Her “pretty melanated” skin and curly hair oftentimes confuses others who in return, discredit her Indigenous identity until she exemplifies her skill with the Navajo language. As her business continues to grow, Chachere hopes to also offer a safe haven for those who may feel as if they’re stuck in the in between. "If I could take all the little girls who feel like misfits, put them in front of a mirror, and tell them that they're beautiful, I would." Beauty products are the most tangible element to Chachere’s business. But it’s bridging her Black and Navajo heritage, and building community with those who are willing to learn truthfully about native traditions that keep her going. “We, as Indigenous people, are diverse," she says. "And we aren’t stuck in history books.”
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