The sunny beachside city of Santa Barbara is like an unofficial capital for California’s wellness industry — you can’t go more than a block without encountering a yoga class, mindfulness retreat, salt cave or holistic skincare studio. In a city of homogenous wellness offerings, it’s hard not to gravitate to the warm, welcoming and decidedly different Pura Luna Apothecary.
The store’s shelves are lined with plant-based tinctures, herbal teas and oracle cards, but you’ll also be able to pick up 14K jewelry, cards for your loved ones and celebrity prayer candles — choose from Saints Ru Paul, Michelle Obama and Her Majesty Queen Bey. What has truly made the storefront a community gathering place are its owners, wife duo Ashe and Christin, and their four-year-old daughter, Quest. Inspired by her own life-long healing journey, Ashe is creating a place where women can learn to better understand and care for themselves, all while continuing to honor the lessons she’s faced in pursuing her dreams.
As told to SeaVees. Photography by Johnie Gall.
“They found out I had cancer and the next day I had surgery. I was four years old. That’s the same age my daughter Quest is right now and I often think about how she might process life and death and what being strong for your family looks like at such a young age. I remember telling my mom to bring a bucket to my bed and shut the door because I didn’t want her to have to see me throwing up after my chemotherapy shots. I attended a camp for children with cancer and every year a few of my friends wouldn’t come back. That experience has allowed me to understand not only how fleeting life can be, but also how precious it is. That’s how I became a nurturer at four years old. My wife Christin will tell you that I’ve always been a mama bear — we’d go to a party as teenagers and I’d be the one outside consoling the drunk girl who’s crying over some loser [laughs].
I was still in high school when I met my wife. I was a Starbucks barista and she worked across the street, and the first thing I noticed about her was her eye makeup. I thought to myself, ‘This woman is gorgeous and if I didn’t have a girlfriend, she’d be the one.’ Turns out she’d seen me a year before and had said to herself, ‘That’s my future wife right there.’ It was always going to happen, it was like divinity had laid it out for us. On one of our first dates, Christin asked me what I wanted to do when I got older and I told her I wanted to own a wellness center where people could come and heal themselves. She was like, ‘Who the hell is this girl, knowing what she wants at 17?’ [laughs].
We did the typical lesbian thing where we moved in together right away. I pushed my wife to go to Le Cordon Bleu because she loved to cook. Meanwhile, I tried going to college for business and then for photography, but neither felt right. I ended up working myself up the corporate ladder as a MAC makeup artist to a point where, unless I was willing to move to Los Angeles, there was nowhere left for me to grow. I looked at my wife and said, ‘Babe, I’m a makeup artist. You’re a makeup artist. Let’s start our own business.'
I didn’t know it at the time, but where we live in Santa Barbara is the number-one wedding destination outside of Hawaii, so we were instantly busy and successful. This was in 2009 during an economic crisis and people thought we were crazy to leave our stable jobs and guaranteed health insurance, but we knew that we were doing this so our future wouldn’t be dependent on some corporation. Customers started asking if we also offered wedding hair, and I got another download from the universe — I convinced Christin to start doing hair and to go to school for it. She decided to specialize in curly hair and now she’s a world-renowned hair stylist. I think I can hold a bigger vision for people than they are sometimes able to see for themselves. When I see the light in someone but then I see them getting in their own way, I can get really impatient. I’m still learning to let people do things in their own time.
“We made a conscious decision not to put photos of ourselves on our website in the beginning because we didn’t look like everyone else.”
We made a conscious decision not to put photos of ourselves on our website in the beginning because we didn’t look like everyone else. My wife has blue hair; we’re fully tattooed. We were working on high-end weddings and we didn’t want to be judged before we even got a chance to show what we could do. When we’d show up to some weddings, people would say, ‘Oh, my God. We’re having Black people touch us? Do they even know how to do white hair?’ We’d get rude brides, people sitting in our chairs just gripping the armrests with their eyes closed — I realized some of them had never been so close to a Black woman before. We felt like the ‘help’ and not the highly qualified artists we were. So we decided to take a leap of faith and show the world who we were right up front and the most amazing thing happened: we began to attract the most beautiful, aligned clients. People who would show up and hug us and tell us they’d been following our work for years. The minute we were willing to embrace who we were and command respect, we got it.
We got married while it was legal in California for six months because we had a feeling our rights were going to get taken away — a month later, they made gay marriage illegal again. I was 26 and ready to start our family. I was young, I was fertile, and I figured it was going to be easy. It took seven years later before I realized my body was never meant to hold children, so I told my wife it was her turn. She got pregnant on the first try.
“We’re always healing. I knew my purpose was to help people find joy and community in that process so we don’t live a life of suffering.”
We’re both moms now, but without that whole tumultuous journey, I wouldn’t have had the spiritual awakening I had. I wouldn’t have the ability to walk through depression and to heal myself, nor would I have discovered herbalism. It’s when I had my next download from the universe about opening Pura Luna Apothecary in Santa Barbara. There were great holistic doctors, but not everyone could afford to go to them. I knew people like me needed a place where they could access herbs and medicinal plants — but they also just needed community. I have been in Santa Barbara for 17 years and it has never been that welcoming to queer women of color, but I didn’t want to have to move away to find that when maybe I could create it. People would always tell me I was wise beyond my years but, even at 38 years old, I am always acquiring more wisdom because healing is an eternal process. We’ll always be healing, and I knew my purpose was to help people find joy and community in that process so we don’t live a life of suffering.
My first attempt at opening something was a failure. I ran a crowd-funding campaign for a wellness center in Costa Rica and raised nearly $15,000. Running a GoFundMe is emotionally taxing and when it doesn’t work out, it’s embarrassing, so I pushed myself to the edge every single day to get people pumped about the contribution they had made, only for it not to work out. I felt so much shame about having these people’s money and I knew I had to pivot. So I stopped swimming upstream for that dream and literally within a week I found the beautiful retail space that would become Pura Luna.
“If you don’t learn from a lesson, you’re going to keep being faced with it.”
Now I had a new business siphoning all my energy and a new baby siphoning even more and I was like, ‘Who even am I anymore? I can’t keep up.’ For three years I burned the candle from both ends showing up for my wife, my baby, my community, and I sacrificed my health in a terrible way to where, by the time the pandemic hit, I was inflamed and had tumors in my womb that had to be removed. I ended up having a hysterectomy. It became clear to me that I have patterns in life and one of them is to go too far trying to fulfill a dream at the detriment of myself. And if you don’t learn from a lesson, you’re going to keep being faced with it.
The last few years have become a portal of time meant for getting clear and holding myself accountable for self-care. For saying no. For creating boundaries. I decided to close the shop for nine months during the pandemic and heal myself, and in doing that I remembered my ‘why.’ I used to look at these women sitting in my makeup chair being self-deprecating, asking me to change everything about their faces, and I would think, ‘She’s in need of healing, not makeup. How can I switch this?’ I’m not an expert in anything, but I do know enough to support you and hold your hand and give you the tools so you are in control of your own healing. I want to get you back into your body so you can trust your own intuition.
“There’s no shame in selling a business you created. You have to hold your dreams with a loose hand.”
There’s no boss telling me to get up and answer emails or do inventory or help me figure out accounting and how to hire the right people. There have been moments in the last five years of owning Pura Luna and our salon, Luna Bella, where I have felt unfilled. I don’t love the constant turnover in employees and always needing to train people. I don’t like having to do virtual gatherings. I held my first in-person retreat in July because I knew we needed that intensive reconnection and now I’m worried I’ll have another whole year of feeling unfilled by this business. But that’s okay, right? It’s letting me know I birthed this beautiful thing and maybe I need to pass the baton to someone else or sell it one day. There’s no shame in selling a business you created. You have to hold your dreams with a loose hand.
Fear is a dream killer. I only have one kidney, and fear lives in the kidneys, so if I operate out of a place of fear it will literally kill me [laughs]. I now see a wellness center in Costa Rica, with a restaurant run by my wife. I want you to see that for me, too. You can show up and spend money at my shop, but you can also spend energy on believing in a bigger vision for me. I want to be inspired by my dreams, not held accountable to them.
“I want to be inspired by my dreams, not held accountable to them.”
No matter where you are in your journey, whether that’s building a business or just trying to be a better version of yourself, there is no one else on this planet that is you. You may see someone else living the dream you want, but they aren’t doing it the way you’re going to do it. Can you imagine if we all showed up as authentically as we could and stopped getting in our own way? How much greater and grander the world would be? You are a mirror and a torch for everyone else around you. If you heal yourself, everyone around you will see that and want to do the same. Don’t underestimate that power.”