Conversation with Riley Reed is something to savor. “While I’m a photographer, I am very inspired by words,” she says over a cup of coffee in her South Austin home. She reflects, adding thoughtfully, “In fact, many of the images I’ve created have begun with words.
The founder of Woke Beauty, everything she does serves one powerful intention: to raise our ideas about beauty to new levels of consciousness. She brings a calm, focused honesty to any subject. It’s a signature approach on which she’s built an elegant and free-flowing career. You can listen to Riley interview writers and activists on her podcast, catch her moderating panels of beauty industry disruptors, or even book her for a session of therapeutic photography.
She’s one of the most inspiring people we know (and the first person we asked to interview for this series). Read on to discover the rituals that infuse Riley’s life with beauty.
How do you start each morning?
I take a few moments to think of how grateful I am to be here: here on earth, here in my home, here during this season of life, here with my body and my mind.
How does the design of your space reflect your priorities and goals?
What you value is what you see. I think it is interesting and important to take stock of what you have displayed in your environment. In every single room of our home, you will find books. Many of them are memoirs, slices of literature, symbols of design, nature, remedies, commitments to social justice, and stories on love, loss, growth, and all the things human in between.
I have a deep love for beauty, nature, and the little things. I covet trinkets gifted from family and friends. I enjoy discovering new visual artists, collecting art abroad, and finding ways to bring nature into the home, whether through dried florals gathered down the street, pebbles found on the Gulf, or wind monsteras from our local nursery.
What’s the best spot in your house?
Definitely our couch. 18 months ago, when couches were all on backorder, I rented a U-Haul and went down to San Marcos, determined to find a couch at one of the outlets. Low and behold, I happened upon a brand-new Cloud Collection couch at the Restoration Hardware outlet. It had just been dropped off as a return, marked down 50%, and I was ecstatic. It has become the staple centerpiece of our living room and is one of the most comfortable items of furniture I have ever sat (re: laid) on.
How would you describe your work/life balance? Do you keep things structured and separate? Or are you a master of multitasking?
I have certain boundaries in place to help me stay focused and to remind myself that no one part of my life is dependent on another. Those include things like a Notion template (thanks Jules Acree!), an office, a ‘do not disturb’ timer on my phone, and clear communication with those I love.
However, truth be told, my work and life are pretty blended. I don’t see how they couldn’t be. I don’t have a board of advisors so my husband, family, and friends are who I go to for advice and feedback. My writing and my photography are both deeply personal and dependent on who I am as a person, what I care about, and how I want to engage the community. My podcast oftentimes focuses on mental health and features guests I genuinely look up to (in both work and life). There isn’t a straightforward answer here, which feels on par for being a socially conscious artist a solopreneur.
Where do you turn for inspiration when you’re feeling creatively blocked?
A creative block generally equates to inertia. If I feel like I’m in that space, I take myself outside somewhere beautiful where I can hike, read someone else’s lived experience on a bench, witness massive trees and delicate flowers, or lie in a patch of grass. I deeply value nature and the feeling of being small.
What are your favorite scents?
One of my closest friends, Cassie, is an apothecarist and has an acclaimed collection called High Sun Low Moon, found in boutiques transnationally. She has two loose incense blends: High Sun which encapsulates yang energy with a bright and clearing aroma and Low Moon which honors yin energy with a sensual and velvety aroma. I use both equally depending on my mood.
Are there chores you actually look forward to doing?
When I was little, my main household chore was laundry. I’ve always considered folding clothes an art form and, much like making a bed, something that should be done with purpose and gratitude. My mom taught me that clothes can last forever so long as they’re cared for properly. Knowing that textiles make up a shocking percentage of waste, I go the extra mile to pay attention to materials, labels, and to hang dry when necessary.
I love the sound of the washing machine, the scent of detergent, and the feeling of warm towels.
What’s the one beauty product you can’t live without?
Promise perfume by Dominique Ropion in collaboration with Frédéric Malle. I discovered Frédéric Malle’s perfumery in New York City after modeling in a campaign. The hair stylist on set was wearing Portrait of a Lady and I was mesmerized by the notes. The boutique was gorgeous and moody. There were a plethora of scents created in partnership with Frédéric Malle from all over the world.
I spritzed Promise on one of my wrists before getting a glass of wine with my husband next door to sit with it. Multiple people asked me what I was wearing. It spoke to the power of perfume as an integration with one’s own aura and Ropion’s philosophy: “A good perfume,” he likes to say, “must always appear obvious.”
Frédéric Malle is one of my teachers. He believes in providing everyone with the opportunity to find the perfume that connects with their personality. His perfume bottles have no marketing, no famous ambassadors, nor launch events. He invests in what’s inside. He gives perfumers total freedom—considering himself an editor, and his perfumists writers—and even has a map that visually describes the different characteristics of all the perfumes he offers. Promise is considered equally the deepest and darkest of them all. I like to think it is a reminder of my threshold for others’ needs, no matter how difficult, and my willingness to go great lengths, no matter how far.
Does music play a part in your daily life? How?
I listen to it every day. I turn it on during photo sessions, I use it to set the mood for cleaning, driving, and hanging out with friends. I even love some good lo-fi beats for focusing during work.
What’s your go-to method for unwinding after a long day?
Lighting a candle, making a nourishing meal, and spending time with my dogs and my husband.
What’s the best wellness advice anyone ever gave you?
I lived with my grandma for a summer after my first year of college. We used to go on long walks in her neighborhood in Santa Barbara. She would always remind me to breathe in the fresh air, to honor all of the living things, and to take ownership over my own energetic effect on the environment. That summer and those teachings symbolize the best piece of advice she’s ever given me: “We are mostly not physical.”
I remind myself often that the quality of being well is determined by factors I can’t see.
What’s the best career advice anyone ever gave you?
Rejection has always been hard for me to handle. I can easily fall into the hole of thinking that my worth is determined by outside factors and external parties. But that involves pouring a lot of time into appeasing others, attributing value to contracts that aren’t my own, and attaching myself to brands whose priority is themselves.
I had a phone call with my dad once after receiving an email that made me feel really small. I was in tears, frustrated and disappointed. My dad told me that I was forgetting my own worth, that I was ignoring the viability of a brand and business I had created out of thin air. He said three words that I have ingrained into my ethos: “Bet on you.”
What’s something you’re committed to doing every single day, no matter what?
Telling my husband I love him.
What’s your favorite time of day and why?
My favorite time of the day is dawn. I love how slow and still it feels. It remains the quietest time of day and offers space to be totally free to do whatever I want. There is so little that can interrupt me and so few things that can distract me. Even the trees seem like they’re still sleeping.