It’s the evening of March 1, 2021, the first day of Womxn’s History Month, and I get the chance to sit down with Kilaa Scott, founder and owner of Portland x Rosé, a lifestyle brand committed to inspiring UNAPOLOGETIC self-care. In this interview, Kilaa shares her 18 years in healthcare and how a passion for wellness advocacy began while volunteering for the African American Health Coalition in NE Portland. However, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic compounded with the social injustices of 2020 that Kilaa knew she must activate her ideas to heal the community.
“Black women have not always had the privilege or access to self-care.”
Kilaa Scott, Portland-native and founder of Portland x Rosé, reflects on the lives of her grandmother and mother.
“My grandmother didn’t have the privilege to take care of herself. She died in her late 30s due to causes that are preventable today. She was born a preemie and didn’t have access to basic healthcare her entire life. Plus, caring for herself was not a way of life. Providing for her 5 children in Enid, Oklahoma was her priority.”
With Kilaa’s mother, the privilege of self-care wasn’t granted either. After the death of her mother, Kilaa’s mom moved to Portland at 12 years old with her younger sister. Raised by their Aunt, Kilaa’s mother grew into a smart, savvy and talented young woman. When she became a mother herself, caring for the children – like her mother did – became the main priority. Making time for self-care was challenging with her and her husband working hard to provide the best opportunities for their four children.
Determined to break the cycle, health and wellness became Kilaa’s focus. In addition to owning Portland x Rosé, she continues in her 18 year healthcare career as a full-time business strategy portfolio manager. Kilaa isn’t revealing her place of employment because she likes to keep these two things separate at this time. I respect that and I have omitted this part.
“My career has always centered around health equity because I was disturbed when I saw the data surrounding healthcare disparities as it applies to Black people, particularly Black women.”
Kilaa discusses the severity of these issues with me. They are life and death and many things are completely preventative if caught and treated. For instance, when Black women try to advocate for their health, they’re not being heard, which can equate to a loss of life or even loss of a child in child birth. These realities kept haunting Kilaa.
“Every time something came up with the health inequities, I felt something in my stomach. When you feel something in the pit of your stomach and it keeps you up all night, that right there is the tug. The tug telling you what you care about. This is your passion. It came to a point that I needed to lean into what I cared about, even if there isn’t a dollar attached to it.”
After volunteering for community wellness fairs in 2008, Kilaa started serving on the board of directors for the North by Northeast Community Health Center in 2016. It’s the only health center in Oregon that focuses on Black health and Black health outcomes. But she wanted to do more. To be a change agent in her community, she defined a path that represents her and brings wellness to the forefront. As a veteran business strategist, Kilaa understands the challenges. She had to take serious subject matter, simplify, and serve it up with a twist. How often is healthcare the main topic over cocktails? It’s brilliant.
“How can I make it fun? How can I make it celebratory?” Kilaa shares the beginning thoughts that swirled in her head. “That was the birth of Portland x Rosé. Self-care IS healthcare, preventative care. Our North Star is UNAPOLOGETIC self-care.”
The name of the company pays homage to Kilaa’s hometown and the Portland women she serves. It’s her journey. In times of celebration, Kilaa and her friends open a bottle of rosé and in the PNW there is no shortage of varietals. Whatever your “rosé” is this part of the name signifies a moment of rejoicing. When you put the two together, you get the celebration of the women’s journey. And here we are, together, celebrating hers. We talk about Kilaa’s path as a new entrepreneur only recently launching in July 2020.
“When you work for yourself, it’s a lot different than working for a corporation. These are your ideas. Your investment. And the company success has a lot to do with the work you put in. They are very different worlds and I’m excited to be amongst the entrepreneurial community.“
And I think I can speak for the small business community when I say we’re happy to have Kilaa. With a long history of volunteering, I ask Kilaa what propelled her to start her own business.
“It was the summer of the COVID-19 pandemic and the outcry of racial and social injustice. Seeing senseless deaths like with Breonna Taylor, I knew I had to do something. Regardless of how ready I felt or how scary this may be for me, I have an obligation to do this for my grandmother, my mother, and for all women whose voices aren’t being heard. I have to honor their lives and not take my time here for granted.”
I can hear the ache in Kilaa’s voice. As we come up on the anniversary of Breonna’s death on March 13, 2021, both of our hearts break for the injustice of her life stolen. A 26 year old, Black woman and healthcare worker was asleep in her own home when she was murdered.
Kilaa’s passion for advocating and caring for Black women is not only personal, but it’s an example of how we must all – all women – come together to break the generational trauma that continues to plague us every day. This is also why choosing the “unapologetic” message is very intentional from Kilaa. She interviewed hundreds of women and what she learned is self-care practices are foreign. Many women aren’t comfortable with caring for themselves yet and even if they want to learn, it’s not easily accessible to them. As a woman of color and a mother myself, I know I can admit guilt creeps in during moments of investing in myself. We’ve been conditioned to think this way. How often have I put myself last to care for others? My head was nodding as Kilaa preached words I needed to hear.
“Pause. Shut it down. Stop the show. #1 we are not apologizing for taking care of ourselves. Because that’s just insane. And #2 we are not asking for permission. Because why do I have to ask for permission to take care of me? Think about that.”
And I did. As a marketer, I admire reframes that challenge oppressive systems. Kilaa created a framework for exactly that. Even if she had to step outside of her corporate job, while still holding her full-time job, she found a way to open up dialogue in a community that needs her. Needs this. But she’s not doing it alone. Local womxn makers are sprouting up everywhere in Portland. Curating self-care items from female leaders and partnering with BIPOC womxn centered organizations is her fundraising and distribution business model.
“When I launched Portland x Rosé over the summer, my mother cried and said, ‘you’re doing some of the things I’ve always wanted to do. You are living out your dreams. I had to, just like my mother had to, sacrifice my dreams in order to give you a dream.’ This makes me very aware that I’m afforded this opportunity by the death and labor of other people sacrificing.”
I felt that. I felt that deeply. I thank Kilaa for providing such a detailed and intimate picture of her motivation. From why she sought out health and wellness as a career to a deeper commitment to normalizing self-care in girls of color.
“In society, women of color are often last. 2020 has been a challenging year for all people. That is undeniable. But when you look at things by socioeconomic class, Black women fall to the bottom and they often find themselves questioning who cares about Black women? And because of that I am being intentional about gifting these kits to Black and BIPOC teenage girls to show that people love and care about them. And they should love on themselves too. I want teenage girls of color to normalize self-care at a young age so when they become adults, it isn’t a burden. Instead, it’s a regular part of their routine.”
For Black History Month, Kilaa launched the Courage for a Cause campaign, which invited people to purchase the limited edition t-shirt and a portion of the proceeds went towards girls of color in Portland. This was done in collaboration with “WHY I ROCK,” a local Annual Empowerment Conference for girls of color and donations went to nonprofits Building Blocks 2 Success, SEI and SOS. With the money raised, Kilaa curated self-care items from Portland womxn makers to hand deliver over 25 self-care kits to young BIPOC women.
As a leader and organizer herself, Kilaa also knows there are many components to self-love. Seeing yourself in others, who are in positions of power, is important and inspiring. For example, last Fall she did an all Black women led Self-Care Sunday event with the keynote done by local celebrity, Tra’Renee Chambers, who is the Founder and CEO of BumJuice Entertainment, Emmy Award-Winning multi-media personality, and a licensed mental health professional (LCSW) committed to uplifting her community. Then a 40 minute yoga practice was led by Heather Gersh from PowerSculpt PDX and Elika Aird, meditation instructor, full spectrum Doula and wellness guide closed out the session by teaching a centering cool down. Participants also left with an exclusive Portland x Rosé event t-shirt to commemorate the workshop. Events like these are important to Kilaa because they help break down the vicious cycle of the super woman burden.
“Black women in this country have carried around this super woman syndrome,” Kilaa explains. “We’re carrying such heavy loads on our back at one time and we don’t ask for help. There is a lot of systematic oppression that has caused this. It creates a stress that brings on heart disease, high blood pressure, and hyper tension. The risks of these conditions are lowered when you can take better care of yourself.”
Because Kilaa now has a self-care business, she’s become hyper aware of her own self-care. She tells me she’s practicing good habits more than ever. I end our conversation asking Kilaa about her own routines.
“Self-care Sunday for me is real. I go for walks. I buy amazing bath and candle products from Portland makers. I look forward to starting the water, turning on my playlist, lighting the candles and having a glass of rosé in my hand. 2020 brought on another level of anxiety and trauma. To cope, I started meditating to help release the tension I was feeling. Most importantly, I learned how to ask for help. This is new for me.”
Hearing all the ways Kilaa is taking care of herself and in the presence of her 2 children, brings a smile to my face. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to get to know Kilaa Scott. She has many plans for the future of Portland x Rosé and I’ll be raising a glass every step of the way.
Thank you, Kilaa for all that you are and all that you do.
Feature photo credit: Maddi Steeves of Maddi Rose Media
ABOUT THE WRITER
Amanda Mailey is the owner of ALIST and a new indie author who released her first book sidetracked in July 2020. She’s a lifelong writer specializing in observation and reflective narrative. She grew up in Oregon and graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Oregon.
As a biracial Filipina-American woman, Amanda is passionate about advancing womxn- and bipoc-owned small businesses and leaders in her community. Through this blog series and social media, Amanda centers and promotes the stories and achievements of local womxn owners.