The journey to starting a business is not often an easy one, but, for many, it’s a path that leads to incredible joy and fulfillment. For Ashley Kelly, that ambitious undertaking has been framed by a desire to embrace a deeper understanding of the people and plants surrounding her. From her passion, along with her wife Christin, the Pura Luna Women’s Apothecary in Santa Barbara, Calif., was born.
Tell us about Pura Luna.
Pura Luna is safe, sacred space dedicated to women’s health and wholeness. We focus on natural remedies for women, earth-based practices and preventive medicine through herbs and plants. Our main goal is to help women heal themselves and provide tools to do so. Those tools include herbal remedies and self-care items as well as wellness workshops and a specialized vaginal (yoni) steaming service. We are the only business in about a 150-mile radius to offer this service. We try to keep everything that we offer very accessible for all incomes and make sure that what we do is accessible to all women.
What else can be found in your shop?
We offer self-care remedies such as bath bombs, candles, crystals, and more. We also recently started carrying products for women’s cycles so we now have Lunette cups as well as organic pads and tampons. (You’d be surprised how many women don’t use organic products and don’t have any clue that this could be the reason why they’re experiencing ailments.) I would say what’s really pioneering our business right now is the v-steaming service, because a lot of women are struggling with their cycles. Allowing women to experience that service has been great. Our herbal remedies are really taking off as a lot of people are seeking more natural ways to heal themselves. We have a lot of people come in to buy gifts for their loved ones. Every Wednesday we offer a Women’s Wellness Workshop. We’re encouraging women to find a ritual of self-care.
Tell us about where you gather inspiration.
I rely a lot on the unseen and the unknown. Part of my practice in plant medicine is acknowledging that, just as you and I have a spirit, and every human being has a spirit, so do plants. A lot of people are aware of the studies showing that when you love and sing to a plant, show it gratitude, water and feed it, it explodes with growth, kindness and fruit. I call upon the spirit of plants for inspiration. We have a whole herb wall, so whenever I feel doubtful or alone, I know that there is a plant friend that I can go and make a cup of tea with. Plants are the original healers on this planet and by acknowledging that, I am surrounded by hundreds of healers every single day.
I also have to say that my wife, Christin, keeps me very motivated. We’ve been through a lot together and I know that we can rely and depend on each other no matter what comes up. We face things head-on and lean into them; we don’t leave a fear-based life. Even the experience of infertility, I believe that happened for a reason, otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. I can identify with infertile women and their stories and am able to hold space in that way.
I’m also inspired by Oprah. She lives about 10 minutes away from our shop and she knows about us! Someone in her O Ambassadors had us put together a whole gift basket for her for her birthday and she acknowledged it by saying thank you. She has not come in to visit yet but I keep waiting for that day. She is an inspiration for owning your truth, speaking your truth.
How did you start your first business, Luna Bella?
Christin and I have been in the hair and makeup industry for the past 15 years. We’ve had our hair salon and on-location hair and makeup business for the past 10 years, specializing in curly and natural hair. We are the only business in Santa Barbara County to do so. We’d have women of color asking us where we get our hair done. There was nothing here for women of color. So it was time to create an option for all women with curly hair!
Part of being an on-location business and because Santa Barbara is a wedding destination, we service a lot of weddings. We work with families from all over the world and have experienced our fair share of discrimination in that area because people don’t really expect us when they arrive in Santa Barbara. When we first started the business we did not put our faces on the website because we were a little worried that people wouldn’t book us based on that. But now we are totally proud of who we are. (And if there are people who don’t book us because of that, it’s for the best because we don’t want them anyway.) It’s been a process of revealing ourselves and allowing what we do here and who we are to unfold.
When did you decide to start a second business?
We had the birth of our newborn daughter in October and we opened Pura Luna in November. So we were pregnant with twins: I was pregnant with our business Christin was pregnant with our daughter. What really drove us to open Pura Luna was through fertility issues and the inability to conceive. My wife and I have been together for 16 years now. We decided to start a family, had seven years of no luck and I had a diagnosis of unexplained infertility. It put me into a tailspin of sadness, depression, isolation and not trusting my body anymore. There are so many women who try to conceive and go through all of these issues and then also have to deal with the Western way of treating it, which is full of hormones and invasive surgeries and treatments.
It’s something women don’t really talk freely about, and I felt really alone in my pursuit, so I decided to stop for a while and went to Costa Rica to heal myself. I was by myself in the jungle for 30 days at a wellness center. I didn’t realize that I was going to be alone, but nobody else had signed up to be there. I was in this beautiful house all by myself (the groundskeeper lived off the property) and, while that was really daunting for me, it allowed me to listen to my voice in my head and in my body. My head made me feel like I was hopeless and infertile, while my body was telling me that I’m fertile in other ways.
I was listening and realizing that the plants around me were also having a conversation with me and wanting to heal me, so I started taking plant medicine. I was intrigued by how much the spirit of the plants really change my life and allow me to see things in a different way. I felt healthier and more fertile than I ever had. I have not conceived a human child but the things that are pumping from me and the things I’m birthing into the world are just as powerful as bringing a human into the world. I kept going back to Costa Rica to learn more about plants and plant medicine and to learn more about how my ancestors used plants to keep themselves alive during the slave trade and it resonated really deeply to my core and soul.
How did that experience lead you to where you are now?
After I started working with the plants in Costa Rica and fell in love with the plants from the jungle I realized that it’s not really accessible unless I was going to move there. So, we went all in trying to create a women’s wholeness center in Costa Rica last year. We did a GoFundMe campaign and had the property lined up but the plan fell flat on its face when they pulled the property off the auction block.
After that, I looked into what opportunities were right in front of me. Our salon is right around the corner from where apothecary is; it’s a 30-second walk. The building has a beautiful front yard, a retail space, vaginal steam sauna room, a community room that has a full library of women’s health and wellness books, a little nook where we offer medium and tarot reading, plus we are opening up a community garden in our backyard. When this property became available, we already knew the woman who owns it because she was a wedding dressmaker and we had worked with her in the industry. I walked into the space and I instantly knew this is why we did the fundraiser, this was our next opportunity. I spoke to the owner of the building, told her my idea and she said “It’s yours!” The space fell into our laps when my wife was five months pregnant. Things started to unfold and we launched one month after our daughter was born. It has been such a blessing and the community has really shown up for us.