Behind the scenes:
An interview with the Hrblgy crew
A record of our first company kiki
Photo credit: Barbara Darko
19 NOVEMBER 2020 │ 10 min. read
This virtual kiki took place on Sunday afternoon, September 17, 2020, over Zoom and has been edited for clarity, readability, and maximum enjoyment.
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Barbara Darko: What’s your role at Hrblgy, and what does that mean?
Mariah Emerson: Founder, which means I created this. But also, I’m the herbalist, so I come up with all of the formulas and work on the sourcing for the herbs that we use and sell. I am a healer, so I offer different healing services, whether that is sound healing or herbalism or ancestral healing or whatever. Those are the hats that I wear. [to G] How ’bout you?
Gabrielle Williams: Founding partner and operations lead. What that means is any operations things that you ask me to do, like coming up with prices, running ads on social media. I do marketing, I do shipping, and packaging. I figure out what to buy, for the cheapest. You find the buy, I find the price — we do that together.
M: Yeah, you are all things operational, from our packaging process to our business practices — you manage it.
B: All the logistic stuff.
M: And how are you a founding partner?
G: I am a founding partner because I am here, from the trenches to the rise.
M: Barbara, what’s your role?
B: Founding partner — wow, that sounds so wild to me, to say.
[G & M laugh]
B: And editor of Hrblgy. [laughs]
[B & M do choirs of angels singing]
B: It makes me happy to say that out loud like that . . . I remember we were talking about calling it “Herbology” — of course, Harry Potter — and you were like, “I looked it up and it was already taken,” and I was like, “Take the vowels out, and you can call it ‘Hrblgy.’”
[B & G laugh]
M: Yesss. Barbara is the person behind the name, people.
B: [laughs] And I was like, “I want a percent of your proceeds,” or something. And now I’m in the company.
M: I got’chu, girl.
M: So what does your role mean?
B: My role means that I’m in charge of making everything look good in terms of how it’s said and how it’s presented — what we’re saying, how we’re saying it, making sure that it’s clear, that it’s accurate, that it’s interesting, that it’s welcoming.
M: Yeah, you also manage two journals. [laughs]
B: Oh yeah, that’s right, I manage two journals, wow!
G: “Oh yeah!”
B: It’s weird ’cause I don’t think of it as like, “work,” I think of it as like, fun . . . I mean, that’s true of my “day job” too, but this feels — it’s just like, a thing that I’m doing to make me happy.
B: And like, help other people, and educate . . . And give people the space to be creative.
M: Mm-hmm. Yeah, very much so. This business is fun.
B: It’s nice ’cause we’re all doing it for ourselves too, as well as other people. And for the people who really need it — people like us.
B: Ugh, I’m so excited for this website, and for The Sage, and to see the herb monographs? I’m really excited to see those. I’ve never really gone that deeply into them outside of rosemary, because I did the zine, and like, lavender, so I’m excited to learn more. Wow, this is some real nerdy sh❁t, dude.
M: Some real nerdy sh❁t. [in Megan Thee Stallion voice] Real nerd sh❁t.
B: All right, let’s take it back: Tell us your roots in herbalism, before Hrblgy happened.
G: Okay, that's a great question. I took like, supplements and vitamins — that's about it as deep as my knowledge went. [to M] But now I know more ’cause of you. [laughs]
B: I can’t remember anything specific, but my mom would say a lot about how people use such and such when cooking or this thing is supposed to be good for whatever. And like, stuff back home [in Ghana]. I was gonna say taking supplements for my sinuses, but Mariah, you put me onto that.
M: But I think that still counts.
B: Then I guess just trying to find like, alternative remedies for chronic issues — that's probably one of the first ways that I turned to herbalism. And aromatherapy.
G: Ooh, yeah, aromatherapy. I guess — does that count?
M: Yeah! I mean, aromatherapy comes from plants.
G: I used to use that in college. I always had — what are those little aromatherapy things? A diffuser! Yeah, I guess aromatherapy was probably my intro.
B: Yeah, aromatherapy and using essential oils . . . And in cooking, and tea, of course.
M: Cooking, yeah — herbs in cooking. And we love tea!
G & M: True.
M: Yeah. My connection to herbalism . . . I remember hearing my mother talk about growing up in Mississippi and having to take a teaspoon or a tablespoon of castor oil — her grandmother would make all of them take it — and how nasty it was and saying, "I'm never going to make y'all do that, it was so disgusting!" And then learning later that there were so many benefits, like being able to sustain yourself and taking it as a diuretic, or like a supplement, really, just to make sure you're cleansing your body and ridding it of different toxins and pathogens that might be coming your way. So now that I have more knowledge about that, I'm like, dang, our grandparents, our ancestors, were so tapped in!
B: Yeah. I mean, it wasn't that long ago that they were — they're still doing it now.
B: I feel like my mom is like, at a point in her life where she wants to tell me stuff more? Or maybe she's just realizing that I'm interested? Maybe she never thought I would be. But talking about this stuff, I'm like, yes, please, tell me more! Give me the information.
M: Aww. Yes, get the stories, get the info. You should start recording or writing it down. ’Cause you're gonna want the memories later.
B: Yeah. That's so funny — castor oil, I feel like I must've read about it in a lot of novels where people talked about it as a horrible remedy they were forced to take as well, so that’s all I used to know about it. But now I use it in my haircare and on my brows; we're all using herbalism in our natural hair routines these days. Okay, looping back to aromatherapy: What's a scent that helps you feel rooted or at home these days?
M: Mmm. Lately, I have this pyramid one — yeah, that's my favorite scent right now. It's a stick incense. I'm pretty sure it has frankincense and amber, and maybe some nag champa in it. It's a blend of different scents and it just makes me feel so connected and grounded, and like, feel good.
G: I think mine is that strawberry champagne candle.
G: Her candles are fire.
B: You guys have posted her stuff, that's your friend? So cool.
M: Some of her stuff is in Hrblgy's recent shoot, too.
G: They smell good. I hate when you buy candles and you just don't smell that sh❁t and it’s like, why did I even get this? But hers, you can smell it as soon you walk into a room.
B: Mmm. I think, honestly, the Sacred Soak is my favorite scent right now.
B: Sometimes I open it and just smell it, and it smells so good.
G: Right, it does smell good. Sometimes in the bathroom — I don't even really take baths — I just open it and I'm like, it smells so good!
B & M: Yeah.
B: I've taken two baths with it and it's really nice. I really enjoy it.
M: Thank you.
B: Speaking of feeling rooted: What’s on your mental altar right now?
M: [to G] Do you know what that means?
M: So like, think of an altar as a space for you to feel good, for you to feel connected to yourself, grounded. It’s like a little meditation space. On an altar, you would put some of your favorite pictures, some of your favorite good luck charms, whatever crystals make you feel good, nice notes to yourself. And that can actually physically be a thing, but I started thinking about this idea of what’s on my mental altar — what can I tap into mentally that will make me feel most connected? So, for example, on my mental altar right now are flower essences, ’cause I’ve been fiddling with them lately and loving them; a cannabis plant; Smoke Blend; and a good book. Ooh, and a candle. [to G] What’s on your mental altar right now?
G: I’m gonna say my phone, because you gotta stay connected.
G: And it makes me feel safe. It could be off, but it’s there.
B: I think that’s a great thing to have on your altar — your phone, but it’s turned off.
G: Yeah, it’s there, just in case. I would say a book too, probably something by Octavia Butler. I’d probably also have little plant. Maybe like a little Monstera vibes — you know, those are kinda big but . . .
B: We know the vibes.
G: A little small one — they’re a little vibe.
G: What else would I have on my altar? I don’t know, maybe some tennis shoes.
M: Okay! Some fresh sneaks.
G: And a notebook, just in case. ’Cause if I ain’t got the phone to write, I gotta write with something, so.
[B & G laugh]
M: What about you, Barbara, what’s on your mental altar?
B: Hmm. I think a cowrie shell; it’s a symbol of the beach, the ancestors, of Ghana and the diaspora. I would have a plant, too; the one that I really enjoy having in my room is the anthurium, which is this one. [shows plant to camera]
G & M: Ooh!
B: Yeah, it’s so pretty. It’s the only thing that I have here that’s flowering, but I found out that apparently those flowers aren’t actually flowers, they’re like, another kind of leaf. [The actual flowers are on the spikes attached to them.] But I think they’re really beautiful and they brighten up the places they’re in, and I think it’s nice, the idea of a flower that’s not really a flower. I would put this mood oil that Grace [Lul] got me from BFree Organics. She sent it to me in December, but I was in Ghana, and she told me about it, so that was something that I was actually really excited to come back to this country for during a trip that I was like, “Ugh, I wish I didn’t have to go back to America,” but at least like, you know —
B: I’ll have this waiting for me.
M: Silver lining.
B: Yeah, and more aromatherapy stuff — it smells really nice. Back to the altar: I’d probably have a crystal there, maybe tourmaline because that’s supposed to like, ward off bad energy and negativity. And I would probably also have a book, maybe also something by Octavia Butler — I wanna read her book Mind of My Mind, I have a copy here. Either that or Beloved by Toni Morrison. It’s . . . maybe the most beautiful book I’ve ever read.
M: Yeah. It’s such a good book.
B: Okay, I think that’s enough things to go on there.
[G & M laugh]
B: I like that question, I think I’m gonna think about this from now on. Next one: What’s a place rooted in healing or spirituality that you really wanna visit?
B: Ooh, what’s Sedona’s connection?
M: There’s these energy vaults there and, I think, healing waters.
B: Interesting. I’ve been to some fountains in a place in Colorado — Manitou. They had all these fountains that were natural mineral spring waters and they all tasted different. You know, like, the iron one tasted very much like pennies. They were all supposed to have specific properties due to whatever mineral was in high concentration.
M: Ooh. That’s very cool.
B: Sedona — I had no idea. I’ve never been to Arizona.
M: Arizona’s dope. It’s beautiful.
B: It seems really lovely . . . I wanna go to New Orleans.
G: You’ve never been to New Orleans?
B: I’ve never been there. It’s the place in America that I wanna go the most right now, that I’ve never been to, because: a) I wanna eat all of their food.
B: And b) I want to drink in the streets. And maybe have a parade? I’m not a parade person but I wanna have a parade there, just because you can do it? Like, that seems awesome.
G: Yeah, you know they just be havin’ parades.
B: For no reason.
G: [laughs] Yeah, for no reason! They be like, “Hmm, let’s have a parade today.”
B: And then third because of the connection to like, the Spirit world, which seems so creepy and so haunted and so fun and weird, and I wanna experience it. And they seem like they have such a strong folklore/cultural history. It seems like it’ll be super different, like it’ll feel like something I’ve never felt, when I go there.
M: Yeah, definitely.
G: New Orleans is a little spooky.
B: Yeah, that’s what it seems like. I’m ready to go over there. How about you, Mariah?
G: Yeah, you’ve been talking about Egypt a lot, lately.
M: I wanna go to Egypt. I am discovering a spiritual lineage that I feel to be a part of, in sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt. I just . . . there’s so much I wanna learn and I wanna soak up some of the energy, ’cause I feel that some of my energy is there, too.
B: Waiting for you to tap into. That’s a really interesting idea.I’ve also wanted to go there, too, because of Egyptian mythology. I mean, I feel like everyone is into in it — maybe it’s cliché — but I find it so interesting. This is a nice segue into talking about this home we’re building together and our roots in it: How did you come to be a part of Hrblgy?
M: I think the two of y’all should talk about that.
B: Well, Mariah and I met working at Hanahana, and I think I had left like, two years ago, almost exactly. And you were telling me about making your own company . . . So funny. No wait, I think it was in November, actually, it was a little bit later in the year.
M: I think it was two years ago, ’cause I think I’ve been off the Hanahana team for at least a year.
B: So that was . . . 2018?
G: Yeah, it’s probably been about two years.
B: Whoaaa — time. And then, I think it was the end of last year you asked me to edit for you.
M: Mm-hmm, ’cause I started picking things up, really, in October, and, yeah, it was probably like, November or December of last year.
B: And now it’s already September — what!
M: Yeah, it’s already September. We’re almost at a year.
B: Yeah, and now we’re doing it. This is super awesome.
M: Yep. We are about to launch two journals; we have two products launched, single herbs sales, an entire website revamp . . . Yeah, we been working! [laughs] It’s interesting to talk about it in this way, ’cause I feel like I’m just thinking about all the things I want to do with Hrblgy.
B: Not even thinking about the things that you’ve done?
M: Yes! I’m like damn, we actually have done quite a bit. I mean: workshops; there’s been in-person events and meditations. Like, we’ve been doing stuff.
B: Yeah, it’s just a time when you feel like you haven’t got it if you don’t have the website for it.
M: Exactly. I’m so eager for this website.
M: It’ll happen.
B: Yeah. It’s also gonna be really nice when it comes out. I was so excited when Tanya [Vulfson] was showing us all of the pages mocked up? Actually, even before, when she was showing us just the ideas of it, I was like, oh, it’s gonna look real nice, it’s gonna look good.
M: Yeah, you can tell by even the work she’s done thus far. It’s gon’ be good.
B: And it’s been a lot in a short time, too. Gabs, how did you come to be a part of Hrblgy?
G: I became a part of Hrbgly [to M] ’cause I am your partner.
M: B❁tch, you could’ve been my partner and not been a part of Hrblgy.
G: You bad at numbers.
B: She was like, “You can’t do math, so I had to do it.”
G: Nah, I’m just playin’.
B: I hate math, so I get it.
G: I’m part of Hrblgy because—
G & M: Mariah hates numbers.
M: And because you love me, and because you know this is good sh❁t!
G: I decided to join Hrblgy because [to M] you are my partner and I think it’s a good experience for us to build something. As a Collective. Everyone wears their different hats, you know?
M: We do, we all wear our different hats, and I am . . .
B: You’re wearing yours right now. [M is indeed wearing a cap]
M: I don’t think I’m the type of leader who needs to have my hand in all the pots. Like, I’m so comfortable with being like, “You’re the boss of this,” and I will just do what you say, because I trust y’all, you know? I trust you, so I’m not gonna bring someone on the team and then try to micromanage them, because if I’m gonna do that, I could just do everything myself and be extra stressed, and not have it as polished as I’d hope. Or, I could collaborate with amazing-❁ss people, and trust them. And that’s what I’m doing, and it’s working out.
B: Aww. It’s working out so well.
M: [laughs] Y’all are great.
B: Aww, you’re great. That was very sweet.
[G wipes a fake tear]
B: What’s your answer, Mariah?
M: Hrblgy became a thing, and I became a part of Hrblgy, after getting out of grad school and realizing that there is a need for BIPOC to be centered in well. But even more than that—not even just centering us—educating everyone, people from all walks of life, of the full picture of what wellness looks like. And I very much so care about the science-y stuff that I learned in school and that I’m going to continue learning, but I also was deepening my own spiritual practice, and the more that I was going deeper in each of those, the harder it was for me to separate them.
B: Yeah, you feel that they’re actually really connected. Makes sense.
M: So connected, and I felt moved by that, and I feel that sometimes we don’t get that narrative. We get that [motions] this is the super spiritual business, and they can’t talk about geeky, science, nerdy stuff. Or, that this is the super geeky, nerdy science-y stuff that thinks any idea of Spirit should be left outside of the room ‘cause you can’t touch it. So I wanted to combine the two things that I really, really love and make it queer, and make it Black, and make it fun, and make it different, and watch it grow, as I grow.
B: It’s so nice making connections and letting them work and grow together. We've been sowing the seeds, and now they're taking root.