BA Spotlight - Natalie Wright

Photo by Julien Tell

Photo by Julien Tell

Meet Natalie Wright.  At 26, Natalie resides in Chicago, IL  and is the owner of a creative and digital marketing agency called By Grace. A quick scan of her Instagram @girlnatalie, Natalie appears as the quintessential millennial media connoisseur: a stylish personal page showcasing perfectly coiffed hair, a blossoming career in media based out of a progressive city, a self-started women's organization, influential friends, and a surprising knack for baking pies that deserve spreads in renowned food magazines. However, behind her enviable photos is a refreshingly vulnerable and humble individual who serves as a gentle reminder that there is no one path to get to where you’re going.  

Beauty Anthropology founder Victoria Wright chatted with Natalie to discuss everything from her current hair routine to her path to genuine vulnerability and self-love.

VW: What's your morning routine like?

NW: Do you want the ideal answer or the realistic one? [laughs]. It really varies from season to season, in transparency. I’d say my most productive morning routine begins with a lot of peace and solitude. Like, let me gather my thoughts and kind of clear my mind. I think it's really easy if you have an alarm on, you swipe open, open your apps, and you're just immediately bombarded with things that aren't original thoughts. And so for me, that's something that I try my hardest to shy away from because it tends dictate my thoughts in the morning. I just like to try to keep my mind as clear as possible in the beginning of the day.

I try to spend some time in solitude and in prayer. If I’m rushing– I just kind of say a quick prayer and say thank you and just express gratitude, but really just kind of clear my mind. 

I like to take my vitamins, set up, and try to go the gym.  I work remotely. I'm self-employed and I have a small business. I don't have an office yet. One of the challenges with freelancers or independent contractors and small business owners who don't have office space is, "Where am I going to work today?". Oftentimes I'll work at a coffee shop or I'll go to Soho House or something like that. But in the case that I want to work from home, it's really important for me to get up and get ready in the same way that I would if I was walking into my dream office. It just makes me more productive and I feel more confident and I'm also much more focused.

VW: Is this morning routine something you developed working as a freelancer or something that you've always practiced? 

NW: Oh, absolutely not.  This one [routine] has been probably like, the biggest learning curve that I've had as I’ve come into my adulthood and my, I guess, the mid-20s. I’ve had to be really strict. I'd say what really kicked it off was I was working with this business coach and we had a daily call at 6 AM, and I kind of had to approach that call in the same way. It was also a group call. I wasn't going take the call while in bed on speakerphone. I had to make sure that I got up like 15, 20 minutes before, got ready. Tried to really prepare myself in the same way. So my day was starting at like 5 AM, 5:30 AM.

Doing that for like 30 days straight - it takes 21 days to form a habit. It just kind of became like second nature for me. I definitely had to train myself to do that. But I would say in general, like, unless I'm going through seasons where I'm really not feeling my best– I’m generally an early bird.

VW: That means like an early bedtime too right? 

NW: Yeah, totally. When I wake up in the five o'clock hour, I try to make sure that I go to sleep by 11 o'clock, like ideally in the 10 o'clock hour, like 10:30 PM.

It kind of makes you value and organize your time a little more wisely in the daytime because you can't push everything off till later and stay up all night. You really have to have a hard stop so that you can be productive the next day.  

VW: I'm wondering as A 26-year-old, do you ever feel kind of like pulled between having to stay on a schedule and following these routines when a lot of media tells you you're supposed to be like partying or something else?

NW: I’ve partied a lot in my life [laughs]. I've kind of gone to the max, I'd say when it comes to partying and having the time of my life, from the perspective of a partying 20-something year old. Maxing out on partying has kind of allowed me to realize like I'm not really missing very much. To each his own.

I'm definitely not in a place to judge anyone who prioritizes or values partying or staying out late and things like that. I think personally because I've experienced what I've experienced and done some of the things that I've done, I've just kind of grown out of that. That feeling that I have to be somewhere or do something. I realize now that if I don't place priority on the things that I want to accomplish, I'll be unhappy in the long run. That's going to mean that I have to sacrifice some fun times and things like that. I also think that because I turned 26 I'm like a grandma [laughs] so I don't need to party. You're old! Do your work, focus, you know, hustle. That's a really interesting question though.

VW: What inspired you to start GIRLNATALIE and how do you hope it's received by the public?  

NW: I always wanted to have my site be live and active, at least since like 2015, or 2014. I probably bought the domain over four or five years ago. I really had a hard time finding my voice in my early 20s.  I probably wasn't even really looking for it, because I didn't really know who I was. So I didn't have much to say, to be completely honest. I was interested in fashion, I pursued fashion, I worked in fashion, but I just found that writing about fashion, I just– I wasn't confident in what I was saying. It felt kind of pointless. So that was my first stab at GIRLNATALIE the website. I didn't know what I wanted to talk about. I was highly critical of myself and, you know, starting anything you're kind of just trying to get over the hump of like, "Is anybody even looking at this?" I abandoned it really, and didn't revisit it I think until maybe 2017.

Courtesy of @girlnatalie

Courtesy of @girlnatalie

2017 was the year that I was like, "I want to write. I know I want to write. I'm just not ready yet." I spent a lot of time in prayer just saying, "God I have a story to tell! I just want to share it. I just want to write!" But it wasn't my time. I still really didn't feel confident in my writing, but I had a lot building up inside of me. It wasn't until a full year later that I started my website again, and it was after I'd gone through a breakup with someone that I thought I was going to be with for a long time.

That was kind of the moment that I was just like, I'm ready. I just felt ready. I knew that I had something to say, and I knew I wanted to help other people. Just wanting to tell a story, share, and relate to others. 

VW: Do you feel like your breakup was the turning point of becoming more comfortable sharing your vulnerability on social media and GIRLNATALIE? 

NW: I had a long-term break up that ended in 2015, and [I] kind of went into a state of seclusion. And then I started dating a guy that was in ministry. And I was like, "OMG, this is it." Like, we're gonna get married, this is it.” At the point where there was starting to be a little bit of tension, I would say out-growth, probably…He was very like traditional sort of guy, and very much so like, "you're going to be a pastor's wife. You're going to go to church and you're going to have the babies and you're going to do that." I think when you love someone or you're in a relationship with someone, there's this temptation to sort of imagine yourself in their lifestyle. I guess the right word is really to romanticize a situation, like “Oh I can see myself doing this” and “this could be cool” or whatever. But I think I was at that moment where it's just like, not so fast.

Courtesy of @girlnatalie

Courtesy of @girlnatalie

[I felt God was like] I have more for you, I have more to do with you, and I have more to do through you, and those things will not be accomplished in this relationship. So I think that's why when me and my most recent ex-boyfriend broke up, it was just kind of like, the floodgates opened– because it was just like, okay, like, yeah, no, you were right. This is not what you’re supposed to be doing. And there’s a lot more for you to do. And so, that's kind of a roundabout way, I think, to answer what you're saying. But, I guess I felt more comfortable speaking. It wasn't even a thought.

I think just getting out of that relationship kind of extracted all fear or anxiety about sharing about myself. It wasn't a strategic thing and it wasn't an overthought sort of thing. The words just came, and that's just what I was supposed to be doing.

VW: Have you always been a spiritual or religious person?

NW: Honestly, in retrospect, not really. I grew up kind of in the church. 

My father's in ministry. He's heavily involved in that world. And I think naturally, as a kid, you're kind of oppositional. You don't really want to go with the tide and with what your family is doing, or what your parents are doing.  I went to Sunday school and things like that. But my parents were divorced growing up. I kind of had a little bit of a dual lifestyle I'd say because my parents are really different. They're just really different people. And I think I'm like 50% my mom, and 50% my dad. The way that our custody was set up, I spent every other weekend with my father. He was super involved in church, so I was at church every other weekend. And with my mom, she's a strong Christian as well, but she didn't attend that church. So it was kind of like I had one foot in one foot out.

I think that everything sort of played out in the exact way that it needed to.  I was familiar with God, I knew about Jesus, but it wasn't my path to grow up and be a bible thumper my whole life. I really think it was part of my journey to kind of go out and explore the world for what it was and have the hurt that I've had, and to experience the loss I've had, and all of those things because it's really sort of magnified the significance and the importance of Jesus to me. I don't think I'd quite have the same perspective had I been in a more sheltered environment my entire life.

VW: Do you try to start every day with prayer?

 NW: I do.

VW: Where do you think spiritualism or even religion stands with millennials?

NW: My overarching thought on that is that we are essentially a generation that's searching for something. We're exploring [in a way that's] really open-minded. We want to sort of carve our own path.  And I think we tend to reject tradition. I mean that's everyone, I think that's very much so how most people are from old to young, we reject tradition.  I think New Age spiritual interests appeal to young adults and to millennials, because they're exciting, and they feel new. And I think everyone kind of wants to craft what works for them. And hey, do what you do. I just know what works for me and I know what I believe. Of course, it's in my heart, and desire for everyone to share the beliefs that I share, and to have the freedom that I have, and to experience what I've experienced, as far as a personal relationship with God.

But all I can do is really live out my truth and share my testimony, and the people who reach out and are moved by it, that's what matters to me.

It's all love. Find your own path, do your own thing. But I desire for millennials to have a more open-mind towards Christianity. But I think tradition and the conservative nature of a lot of evangelicals is just off-putting, and we end up kicking ourselves and really pushing people away just by the behavior of Christians in positions of power. It's my desire to just live as honestly as I can, and give the most honest reflection of a Christian that I can to combat that. 

VW: I'm going to go a little lighter with my next question. What is your process for working independently and how did you end up working for yourself? 

NW: Girl that's still a deep question [laughs]. It's been quite a whirlwind. I was just thinking about how I didn't finish school and how even if you don’t finish school, it's still going to take you four plus some years to figure out what it is that you're doing, you know? I'm literally just now getting a handle on being a successful or mildly successful, independent contractor, small business owner. I'm very modest. In the sense that, I don't need a million dollars.

I'm very happy with just being able to take care of myself.  I'm very content in that.  I think being able to be satisfied with enough, is good for me. That's why when I say I feel successful, it's because if I can take care of myself that's successful to me.  It's hard. You have to gas yourself up and pretend like you're the shit when you're not [laughs]. When you don't have a client, [you have to] be prayerful and hopeful that you'll get another one. I started in fashion and I just always thought that that was going to be my path and my trajectory. And it really evolved over time in such a beautiful kind of way, just because how unique my path has been. I was in design and had a label for a few years and just began styling because I was working in the entertainment industry quite a bit and doing a lot of creative direction. 

On her career evolution

NW: At the time, I really had no idea what I was doing. I'm like, 21, 22-years-old, I don't know what I'm doing [laughs]. But I figured it out. I saw that the things that I contributed to and the visions that I casted were really fruitful.

And so that was always very encouraging to me, and gave me the kind of stamina to keep going and pursue what it was that I wanted to do, which, at the time, I think I always wanted to be like a creative director.

For a 22 -year-old black woman, it's kind of like saying, I wanted to go to space or something. 

Photo by Danielle Alston

Photo by Danielle Alston

 I had a hard time kind of acknowledging myself as such.  I did a lot of things like using "stylist" as my title when I knew I did a lot more than that.

But being a stylist allowed me the opportunity to be on sets - TV sets, photo, video productions. And I thought, I don't want to just be the stylist on this set. Whether I was involved in concepting that shoot, or not, I wanted more for myself. I really wanted to be a producer. So I started bugging people and just trying to get production assistant jobs or producer jobs.  I was able to land some creative producer positions, [and that] evolved into wanting to be a director. I just kept wanting to move up the food chain. And not even really being driven by money or anything, but just for creative authority, and being in a leadership role like that just really appealed to me.

I ended up working with Beats by Dre for a little while doing content creation for their social media pages on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. That was my deep dive kind of experience - working with a major brand and having to meet the brand guidelines and things like that. It was like boot camp. And [I thought] okay, I know how to produce quality content. I know how to get the right shot and I know how to work with the right people and be in the right place at the right time to capture what a client needs. So now I have a digital marketing firm. Of course it's small, and I work with several clients doing social media content production, creative direction, and things like that. It's cool, it's cool. I'm really happy with where I'm at right now. It's just enough momentum for me to figure out what the hell I'm doing with QuickBooks [laughs]. I'm just moving on God's timing for real. I really appreciate it. 

I also have this random baking hobby and I really am looking to open a cafe in my neighborhood in the next couple of years. I'm just trying not to get overwhelmed. My rule is that I want to touch all of my projects at least once a day - all of my little company babies- so that I don't grow an affinity towards one, independently. I share equal love amongst them all.

VW: It's interesting where life really takes you, but I think what you pointed out about the four year trajectory. Can you tell me a little more about GIRLBAKED

NW: She's so random but I love her [laughs]. 

VW: Your pies look so good! 

NW: Oh my gosh, thank you! So going back [to] when I was living in LA like in 2013, 2014, I was determined to figure out how to make a good pie because I've always baked.  My dad taught me how to bake, and our family are big cooks. But for the life of me I could not figure out how to make pie crust. It was extremely frustrating. I just started making pies in my free time. Not in like a crazy way. I'm talking like a pie a quarter or something like that.

Photo @girlbaked

Photo @girlbaked

But I made a pie for my best friend a couple years ago [when I was in] in Chicago and she [my friend] was like, "Natalie, this pie is literally really good. I just need you know." There were all these flyers up in our neighborhood for this pie competition [Southside Pie Challenge]. She kept texting me flyers saying, "You need to do this." [And I thought] I'm not doing that. 

The flyers in her apartment building made it hard to say no, however. 

NA: [Then] I was like, okay, fine, I'm going to do it. And I won first place. I got a blue ribbon. I was like, oh shit! This is tight. [I thought] Let me kind of play around with this. It brought me a lot of joy because at the time I was really being very quiet. I was offline, I wasn't talking to anybody. I was in a good place spiritually, but I was just far removed from the 'scene' in any way. So it was a nice sort of thing that gave me some happiness and some joy in that period. 

On monetizing GIRLBAKED

 I went and took a food safety manager's course in one day. It was eight [AM] to five [PM] and it was really hard. [In the class] I'm talking about salmonella and e.coli. I passed and I got my food safety manager's license. It's just been kind of a long term sort of thing that I chip away at when I can.

VW: What is your current hair routine? 

NW: It's not an everyday thing for me to wear my hair out in an afro. It's not really that functional for me because it's kind of a lot to deal with. I usually just pull my hair back in a ponytail and I'll just condition it and comb it out. I dyed it blond in August [in this] kind of cathartic, full circle moment. [I thought] You've done the big chop, you've grown it out. I just loved having blonde hair.  I always felt like it really expressed my personality. But when I got it done in August, I think it was, I regretted it so much. I absolutely hated it. I was really mad at myself for doing it.  I had a gut instinct the night before I was going to go and get it done, and I didn't care. I didn't listen to it. But right now I'm pretty much just like conditioning my hair until I go and dye it back dark. 

Courtesy @girlnatalie

Courtesy @girlnatalie

Natalie has successfully dyed her hair back to a dark hue since this interview. Check it out here

VW: How do you remain balanced with social media and mental health? 

It's hard. I'm definitely back in therapy. If you feel like you need to go, go. No shame. I have to just stay offline. Sometimes I get frustrated with myself, because I wish I could be like some of the people who just constantly churn out posts and positivity and inspiration. And I'm just like, if I don't feel inspired, and I'm not feeling the best– I'm not going on Instagram to post an inspirational post. I just can't. There's a fine line because social media has become such an outlet for business presence and a professional identity, it's hard. If you really depend on social media to do your work, you can't really take a day off. 

[Which is why] I really like to keep boundaries when it comes to how much I show.  I'm transparent. Of course people know about breakups that I've had and moments of depression, [but]  I'm not going to take a photo of my block.  I rarely show my close family. I really like to have some boundaries there.

In some ways, I just try to keep to myself and make sure that I'm not feeling pressured to be inauthentic. I think anytime you're sharing for others specifically, and your heart's not in it fully, that will just completely drain you. I just try to give space when I need space, and dive in when I feel like diving in. 

Keep up with Natalie Wright at and on Instagram @girlnatalie

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