Quick Question

How Wilma Mae Basta Brought Free Therapy To Women Of Color

“If you fall down at the first hurdle, this is not a business for you.”

How Wilma Mae Basta brought free therapy to women of color.
Wilma Mae Basta

In Bustles Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice — from the best guidance theyve ever gotten to what they're still figuring out. Here, DRK Beauty’s founder Wilma Mae Basta tells Bustle about starting a digital community, self-confidence, and her advice for other Black women in the startup space.

After working in public relations for over a decade, Wilma Mae Basta made a major career pivot and launched DRK Beauty in 2019 — a digital mental health and wellness platform that provides resources and curated content specifically for women of color. Since then, she’s grown it into a bustling virtual community thousands of people turn to for support.

It was the beauty industry’s frustrating lack of diversity combined with Basta’s own experience overcoming a mental breakdown that inspired her to create the brand. Then, at the start of the pandemic, her instincts led her to create DRK Beauty Healing, which connects women of color to free therapy sessions. The program has since amassed 2,000 hours of donated therapy from clinicians around the country, and is currently partnering with actor Cynthia Erivo to fundraise $500,000 to continue providing it to women of color, especially since they often face inequality in the mental health space.

“I don't always categorize crappy things that happened to me as bad — I think about what I can learn from that moment.”

Basta isn’t near through growing her platform, either. Given DRK Beauty Healing’s success, her latest initiative is a mental health and wellness app to accompany it that debuts in May 2021. The app will include features like virtual live group sessions with DRK Beauty practitioners and wellness courses about meditation, managing finances, and more. “We've built something important that's really, truly helping women of color,” she tells Bustle.

As she prepares for the app launch, Basta reflects on the importance of tenacity in her success and the self-care ritual she turns to for stress relief.

Who was your role model back when you were starting your business?

I always think of my mother and the journey that she went on as a Black woman who was born in the early 1930s in a ghetto. She was one of the very few Black women who got into university. And she fought her way tooth and nail to get her babies out of the ghetto in the late 60s, when I was born, so that we would be able to have the opportunity to thrive. She definitely inspires me every day.

“If you’re attached to being right, then you’re missing the beautiful elements of growth.”

Who do you go to for advice now?

My husband — he has a font of knowledge. I also have an amazing group of advisors for my business. I knew that going into the startup space is not for the faint-hearted and that I needed as much ammunition around me as I could possibly garner, so the first thing I did was get a board of advisors that I could go to for advice.

Why is that? What would you tell somebody who is just starting off in your industry?

If you're a startup founder and you're a Black woman, buckle up. Get your advisors on board and develop a thick skin because it is brutal. I was told that I needed to send 500 emails just to get maybe 10 people interested in investing in my business, when I would much rather help 500 women. So my advice to founders is to put all of your feelings aside, don't take things personally, do the homework, and know your stuff. You can't come in half-assed — you need to have thought through everything.

Also, develop your perseverance and your tenacity, because if you fall down at the first hurdle, this is not a business for you. Don't try and be right all the time. There's a difference between being right and trying to be right. If you’re attached to being right, then you’re missing the beautiful elements of growth.

How do you manage frustration in an environment like that?

When I'm down and when bad things happen, I reframe how I think about them and figure out how to make it work for me. I don't always categorize crappy things that happened to me as bad — I think about what I can learn from that moment, and then I get value out of that. So I don't mind the hard work or the days where everything goes wrong. You think you have ticked all the boxes and then one investor will say, “But what about this?” And you go back to the drawing table and figure out how to make it better. I’m still trying to figure out how to raise the money that I need, but I know that the value of what we're doing is so much more than when I first started.

“We've built something important that's really, truly helping women of color.”

How do you prioritize wellness and mental health these days, especially given your work facilitating therapy for women?

Number one is through meditation. I have a 12-minute session that I know I can commit to every day. It’s divided into three-minute segments. In the first section I focus on breathing. Then I give myself three minutes to focus on the things I'm grateful for. Then I go into prayer. I'm not religious, but I think prayer is important. I [send out energy] that's good and loving to the folks that need it.

And then the last segment is about intentions. Sometimes I focus on my intentions for the day, or larger intentions, like what I want from my business. And that’s what I do to turn the volume down my mind — it takes the pressure off this sort of notion that meditation is all about emptying your mind.

This interview has been edited and condensed.