Formally known as Skin By Jem, self-care brand SBJ Esntls promotes wellness above all while remaining rooted in Latinx culture and taking a mindful approach to growth and care. The brand is often symbolized through its signature logo, a butterfly, which represents your transformative self-care journey.
The label was founded by makeup artist and esthetician, Jessica Monzalvo, who has previously worked with the likes of Nike, Poppy, and Adidas amongst numerous other notable names. Through SBJ Esntls, she aims to reconnect with her Latin American roots while creating a safe, inclusive space for others to practice self-care. “My personal beauty journey was so intense from just the standard to not feeling represented to then understanding that beauty goes beyond how you look,” she tells us. “I think that’s what’s cool about the new brands that are coming out. I think that they’re really opening up this space for more people of color to showcase what we would have liked to have seen.”
SBJ Esntl’s skincare product lineup is comprised of a clay mask, face oil, facial steam, and ultra balm. The sensitive skin-friendly Rosa Clay Mask is formulated using rose petal powder, kaolin clay, and colloidal oatmeal to extract impurities, while the Papaya Glow Oil seals moisture using jojoba and vitamin E oil, and of course, papaya oil. Meanwhile, SBJ’s Ulta Balm is a multifunctional balm—boasting a scent of orange—that can be used not only to revive your lips, but give your skin a glossy touch wherever applied.
Elsewhere, the Strawberry Dreams facial steam promotes blood circulation and loosens buildup for a deep pore detox with ingredients such as hibiscus flowers. Each of the products, which have garnered praise from the likes of Byrdie and Maire Claire over the past several years, was created with the goal of diversifying self-care. The products serve as a predecessor to SBJ Esntl’s “Intential Merch” drop, comprised of uplifting messages on streetwear that serve as a tangible reminder for you to look at throughout the day.
To learn more about the label, we spoke with founder Jessica Monzalvo in regards to self-care, uplifting the Latinx community, introducing new products, and more. Read on for our conversation.
How has everything been since the re-launch?
It’s been going really great! We relaunched on April 11th as SBJ Esntls, adding the essentials part because we really want to foster self-care in its entirety. Not just the physical aspect of self-care which is what the majority of people kind of correlate it. We really want to help our community understand that self-care is so much more than that-It’s taking care of yourself spiritually, taking care of yourself mentally, and taking care of yourself financially.
What has your relationship with beauty and skincare been like over these past several years?
I’ve been in the entertainment industry for over ten years as a makeup artist working with companies like Victoria’s Secret, BET, Adidas x Beyonce—so you know I’ve seen it all. When conceptualizing the visuals for SBJ I want to see something different, I want to see some personality you know. I wanted everybody that was in the campaign to really be themselves so if you saw this person walking outside, they wouldn’t be any different and I think that’s what’s unique about what we’re doing.
I did some influencing earlier on and they would always be like, “okay, we love you but we want you to do this” and I was like but that’s not me. Do you really love me or do you just love checking the box off that we have Latina? For us, it was like we don’t just want to check off boxes. We want to actually like be excited about the people who are representing the brand overall, we want them to be themselves.
Prior to SBJ Esntls, the label was known as Skin By Jem, what was the pivotal moment that led you to change the name?
I felt like it was one of those crazy times where your kingdom is either gonna go through the hurdle or it’s going to fall apart. I felt like this is what the Greeks and Romans were feeling like when they were under attack because I started this as a passion project and the beauty industry really took it in with open arms. We had you know beautiful features in publications like Byrdie, Maire Claire, and Vogue, and then I was like “okay, this could be a real business, what do real businesses need?!”
When it came to trademarking the name-It was a 50/50 chance that SKIN by Jem couldn’t be trademarked and as a small business, you want to take the least risk possible. So, when I was talking to my lawyer she suggested I change it.
I literally sat on my couch and was like wow this is over. My husband was like, “everything is a blessing in disguise, why don’t you branch out to more than just skincare like you have always wanted? Why don’t you add Esntls.” And that was that, it felt right. I know SBJ Esntls is going to be something big, we’re here to build a community that really wants to see everybody do good. It’s a wellness above all type of mentality. We want you to look good, inside and out.
Talk to me about the butterfly which appears across the label’s branding, what is its significance of it as well as what it means to you?
We picked the butterfly as our totem and I’m really happy we did because, although it’s a trendy icon at the moment, for us, the butterfly is really timeless. It really teaches you so much about life in the sense that everybody starts off as a caterpillar. We’re all just trying to find our way through life.
We’re trying to find our way through life and you know when the caterpillar becomes a cacoon, it goes into a self-destruct mode where it literally turns into liquid. It doesn’t know what it’s about the be but it just has to trust the process and be like, “okay, here I go.” When it flourishes, it’s this amazing insect but even then the butterfly can’t see it can’t see its own wings. To me, that’s deep because I think as individuals, we’re always looking for like these things to make us feel beautiful whether it’s makeup, what we wear, or whatever it is, and sometimes like the butterfly we miss our own beauty. All those things are great to have if we use them as tools and understand that ultimately it’s how you feel on the inside and accepting that everyone’s self-care journey is different.
In that regard, what was your definition of beauty growing up?
As a person of color, specifically as a Latina, I remember being 10 years old searching for beauty products and I would never see myself in the advertisement. I would always say, “I mean I guess it’ll work for me.” Growing up beauty standards for women specifically were always so European. So for me, beauty was always a topic that was traumatic because I never really felt represented until I saw Tyra Banks in an ad and belong like, “oh my god, we do have a place.” She was one of the first black supermodels that I remember seeing alongside Naomi Campbell. I think the definition of beauty has transformed so much for me in the sense of it not being something that you do physically, to more of a philosophy—beauty truly is skin deep. I’m just happy we’re taking up space representing what I would have liked to see.
Tell us about the brand’s current lineup—clay mask, face oil, facial steam, and ultra balm—how did you land on these products to start off with?
Being a makeup artist, I learned early on that one thing can be used for many things. My kit was always so compact so when I was thinking about creating our products, I wanted to incorporate this level of thinking and create products that were as multi-use as possible. I want to make skincare simple for everyone so you won’t catch us with 100+ SKUs, we’re giving you just what you need—you know the Esntls. All of our products are formulated with melanin-rich skin in mind, vegan, and multi-use.
Were there any particular formulations or ingredients that either you loved using on your own skin or are prominent in Latinx culture that you knew you wanted to incorporate into your own brand?
I pride myself in formulating all of our skincare and pay homage to my roots through the use of all-natural ingredients beloved in Latin America. All of our products have one ingredient or another that’s special to our culture like Hibiscus Flowers found in Strawberry Dreams.
Is it really important for you to incorporate your Latin heritage in the brand as well?
A thousand percent! The fruits, flowers, and vibrant colors throughout our products emanate the feeling of walking through the Mercado, a place my grandparents and I frequented. When I go back to Mexico, there is a huge sense of connection because of the relationship I had with them. I love that our products connect our community with their culture and although we’re a brand that’s rooted in Latinx culture It’s important for our community to know that we want to share those special aspects of Latinx culture with everybody because at the end of the day, what’s the point of having a self-care brand if it’s not inclusive?
I believe, especially nowadays, it’s become a lot easier for brands to promote inclusivity and activism without necessarily staying true to their word. How can customers not only support but inform themselves on other rising Latinx brands in the community?
Honestly, reading publications like yours. I think that you’re doing a great job with putting special stories in the forefront and I think that that’s the most important part. I feel that everything is capitalism at the end of the day and some publications care more about some things than others so it’s really cool when you run into a publication that shines a light on companies like SBJ Esntls.
Also, take the time to do your research because a lot of times people are so driven by what’s in trend that they forget about everything else. I love sharing our story because it helps our community also know like this is why we do what we do. You can put a face to our company and I think that’s important. Everyone’s not going to be perfect and we’re all individuals at the end of the day, but I think as long as we have a greater mission in mind, that’s what really matters.