Whose house? Vanessa’s house!
Vanessa Simmons has been making a name for herself since we first met her as the oldest of Reverend Run’s children on the popular throwback, Run’s House. From the day she secured her first bag from acting on television daytime drama Guiding Light and co-created Pastry with her younger sister Angela, Vanessa has blossomed into the multi-hyphenate boss we see today on WeTV’s Growing Up Hip Hop and founder of esteemed skincare line Sugar Me.
I had the chance to speak with the mogul about her love for skincare, how her role as a mother to her daughter Ava has evolved her into the woman she is today and the comeback of a staple in every 90s Black girl’s childhood as creative director – Pastry sneakers.
After doing a brief mental health check-in with the 36-year-old maven, I asked her what initially sparked her interest in skincare and she tells me that she has always been a skincare junkie interested in trying and testing out next products for as long as she can remember. Vanessa continued to tell me about her earliest skincare memory, which dates back to being a scholarship recipient and her beauty pageant days. When she was around 14 or 15 years old, she started to experience her first brush of teenage breakouts.
“We have this lovely store called Sephora where I would go in and rummage through to find products. I was amazed at what a little bit of TLC for yourself can do for your body,” she told me. Soon enough, body scrubs, bath teas and beyond became Vanessa’s obsession and the start of her skincare discovery journey. “I’m always the girlfriend that my friends come to for skincare advice and products to use. That’s just always been my position in my friend circle,” she laughed.
Skincare isn’t her only forte. I remember watching Vanessa on Run’s House every week and wanting to raid her closet. She was always so classy, fashionable and well put-together with every ensemble. “My fashion is always evolving and going somewhere because fashion is always evolving. I would say that now as a woman, I lean more towards a classic chic type of vibe when I do dress up because nowadays it’s just classic loungewear for the past three months because of quarantine and COVID. I hope I’m able to put something together once we go back to living normal lives,” Vanessa said jokingly.
She continued to share her love for timeless classic pieces she can later pass down to Ava and that she dresses day-to-day based on her mood. Whether it be fun and crazy or a 1950s fashion fuse with a hint of 2020, Vanessa keeps us on our toes with every look she pulls. She cites her can’t-live-without beauty products and fashion item as her cellulite blasting Sugar Me coffee scrub and her go-to tie dye sweatsuit from Emichi. “It’s the best because not only do I use it on my body and it gets rid of your cellulite and tightens and tones your skin, but you can use it on your face and it actually helps to rid your skin of dark marks and even out your skin tone as well,” she shamelessly plugs about her number one beauty secret. On the sweatsuit designed by her friend Erin Michelle, Vanessa told me that she has not been able to survive quarantine without a matching sweat suit or loungewear set as a cute and cozy staple.
“In the past couple years after having my daughter, my skin changed dramatically and I found a lot of success and luck in my skincare routine with things that were actually natural and things that I could find in my cabinet,” said the former Queen Boss judge. “It made me start looking at some of the products that I was using and see how many ingredients were in each product that I couldn’t pronounce and didn’t really know what it was. I’m always looking for a more natural skincare line, but one that’s fun and one where the scents are very intriguing.”
These are the elements she brought right into her own skin care line Sugar Me. “Sometimes when you get natural skincare lines, the creativity is paused a little bit. With this, I went all out with my creativity as in some of my favorite desserts and treats have been turned into skin care products.”
Vanessa continued to boast about her personal experience with her very own cellulite scrub, which she created for herself after having her daughter Ava. She wanted to create a simple formulaic product for moms who needed encouragement to take time for themselves, decompress and recompose. “I wanted to have a completely natural line that we could trust to put on our bodies, our kids bodies, and I wanted to offer moms some inspiration to have some ‘me time’ for themselves [and] to take a little self-care,” she happily explained.
“I want them to feel powered by self-love and self-care, and I want them to feel good. The scents that we use are ones that train your senses to spark happiness. Essential oils and different scents that I use are to make you feel good, positive and bright. I just want women to really tap into themselves and who they are, and connect with themselves,” Vanessa shared.
The Games People Play actress revealed bath time is her favorite pastime, which she learned from her father early on in life. “He would never start his day without taking a bath. I later on in life, maybe during quarantine, realized how much energy a bath gives you to start your day. Just that relaxation it gives your mind, and that’s what I want to offer,” she explained.
As for the rest of her self-care routine, Vanessa admitted it has changed since having her daughter six-years ago. Instead of up and running to the spa, her list of responsibilities have shifted while trying to juggle running her business, acting, and her most important and rewarding role of motherhood. “What’s key for me is keeping myself afloat in at least ten minutes of quiet time meditation a day where I unplug from my cell phone [and] TV,” Vanessa told me. “My daughter’s usually sleeping, but if not, I go into my room. I have to have 10-12 minutes of quiet time, meditation, something to just ground myself. I must have a good bath two or three nights a week and usually I confine the bath time with that.” She also enjoys learning new recipes and drinking wine while she cooks four times a week.
Vanessa had nothing less than glowing words to share about Ava. “She’s literally a gift from God. He knew that I needed a little best friend more than I ever knew when I was turning 30. She’s been such a blessing, she’s my little best friend, and my little business partner. She’s awesome and amazing, and I’m so blessed that God made me her mom,” as I heard Vanessa smiling through the phone. The Monogamy actress admitted that she was scared and nervous throughout the entire pregnancy about her abilities as a mother and the possibility of her dreams being over, but as Ava and Vanessa grew together, Ava became Vanessa’s inspiration and motivation more deeply than she could have ever imagined.
“I’m able to tackle and go after things in a new refreshed way. I have a different perspective on life and having her made that happen for me. Our relationship everyday strengthens my goal,” Vanessa shared. She also notices the growing creativity in her daughter’s spirit through designing, which has been shown in their mommy-and-me line, Glitter and Lace. “I did that for her because she really has an interest in fashion at an early age and I want to be able to own that, develop for her, and if it’s something that she’s interested in when she gets older, she’s gonna now have a line which has a very long history and she can guarantee.”
Vanessa shared that Ava expressed interest in being a fashion designer when she took notice of her and Angela’s throwback campaign photos during their Pastry days. It was around four years old when Vanessa took notice of Ava fiddling with her clothes and manipulating everyday outfits to make them different and fashionable. “Even when she was going to preschool, I couldn’t dress her. We would have full on little arguments about clothes every morning,” she laughed as she proceeded to imitate her daughter.
“‘This is terrible! I don’t want to wear that! That’s not fashionable! That’s not chic!,” Vanessa recalls of Ava’s opinionated and outspoken nature at the tender age of 3 and 4 years old. Ava would start by drawing stick figures with clothes and different outfits to choose from. Vanessa took notice of Ava’s interest in fashion and took it a step further by presenting her with blank sweatshirts and tees to express her creativity which later came into Glitter and Lace. From the pajama sets that she and Ava are currently working on to be released later this year to Ava’s ideas of humidifiers and doll clothes, Vanessa is fully onboard for whatever her daughter is dreaming of next.
“I enjoy these little conversations because she is doing real work and it makes her feel good about herself. I just want to encourage her and push her into her dream. I’m paying attention and really helping to hone her creative passion for fashion, which is beautiful because that’s a big part of what we’ve done in our family. It’s a great feeling,” said Vanessa.
On their business relationship, Vanessa assures me that it’s not all work. “I just keep it completely simple and fun for her because she’s just six. It probably always feels like an arts and crafts project until her samples come in and it’s so cute. Sometimes, I’ll be dropping her off at school, before quarantine, she would be like, ‘Mommy, when are my samples coming in? They’re taking a really long time.’ and I would be like wow, look at you, little business woman!,” she says proudly of her six year old business partner. “I let her know little, tiny things about the business that her six-year-old brain can grasp so she understands budgets and things like that in a very kindergarten way.
Speaking on budgeting and finances, Vanessa is teaching her daughter early about the importance of generational wealth because she was blessed in a way that her family was able to start creating it for herself. The actress followed her family’s lead and guidance by example, observing their operation, and asking a lot of questions to better understand the business. “For my daughter, she has a lot of examples to look up to with her family on the Wayans side and her family both on the Simmons side. She also sees the work that my sister and I did at a really young age,” says the Growing Up Hip Hop reality star. “I want her to know that her dreams and her visions can become something that can fuel not only her family for years to come, but we make sure that it’s something giving back to our community. When I say our community, I mean the world – our world and our community as Black people.”
“My grandfather, her great-grandfather, literally marched [during] the Civil Rights movement [when] Martin Luther King was marching. It’s unreal that we’re still going through this so I want to teach her how important generational wealth is, how important generational knowledge is, and to pass down these things to her generations to come and to live with those values, morals and life lessons that our families have experienced in the past,” adds Vanessa.
As for the creatives, the Yummy Extensions brand ambassador gives Ava full reign and lets her go nuts in the fabric stores, picking out the textures and even asking her mom how to spell certain words for the designs. “She doesn’t know she’s making real strides. We’re working on a few retail deals and I’m excited to show her the evolution of what her project has become and I’m excited to see where it’ll go in the future when she get older – if she’s still be into this, if she’ll take the reigns and really make Glitter and Lace a full on contemporary brand,” Vanessa expressed on the hopes for her daughter.
“Don’t let what you think is failure stop you,” is what Vanessa would advise Ava as a budding young businesswoman. “Failure as an entrepreneur, after deep experience with it, you realize that failures are just lessons that you need to learn to grow your business, to grow your brand, to grow whatever it is you’re growing.” She informed me about a time when she wanted to pursue the creation of a swimsuit line not long after Pastry, but it didn’t work out the way she intended. Feeling embarrassed and discouraged, she did not revisit the idea and completely stopped all drive and motivation for the initial idea. Though Vanessa eventually moved on and became successful in many other avenues of her lines, she sometimes revisits back and takes a look at pictures of the swimsuit lines loaded with potential – and often wondering why she stopped.
“That’s just a daily reminder for me to never let any failure, or what I perceive as failure, stop the main goal. We’re going to run into challenges, we’re going to run into things on this entrepreneurial journey, but the key is to keep going and learn from little downfalls and apply it. Once you apply it, you won’t really make that mistake again,” she continued. “I would tell her never to give up or let anything deter you along your journey because there’s gonna be things that come up. Those are called tests – we’re being tested to see if we really want this thing. I would be there to coach her and let her know that there’s no mistake that’s a failure.”
As she grew up behind-the-scenes of the original Baby Phat and watching her aunt Kimora Lee Simmons, she was intrigued, impacted and inspired to be a mogul in fashion, beauty and beyond. “Not just because it looked glamorous and you get all these amazing perks, you’re helping to set trends and allowing your voice to be heard in fashion. To be honest, back in the day when Baby Phat was starting, we didn’t get to see a lot of women in a male-dominated space like that and sell streetwear.” Now with her position and platform, Vanessa hopes to inspire and influence the next generation as Kimora did for her and Angela when they first embarked on their Pastry journey.
As the interview came to a close, I asked Vanessa if she had any idea that she would be the powerful woman she is today. Truthfully, her hustle and drive has always been one that I admired so I gracefully took the opportunity to ask if she was even amazed at herself. “In the humblest way, I know that I’ve always wanted to do the things I wanted to do and am currently doing. It may not be exactly how I pictured it, but I wanted to be an actress and I’m acting. It took forever to build up my craft and go on auditions to actually book, but I’m doing it; I always wanted to be a businesswoman, I always wanted to be a mogul.”
“It’s always for a bigger picture [and] it’s always for someone else. When you’re an entrepreneur, it should never just be about you. It should always be about who you’re feeding and what you’re giving. All of the businesses that I do have always been to inspire and encourage other women to live the life that they want to live and by their terms.”