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my rituals: elie kimbembe

by naked team |

Self-care is community care. We believe that when we focus on our well being we are able to take care of others. My Rituals is an interview series that explores individual definitions of self-care and the rituals that define you. We want to bring light to the different paths and unique ways others preserve balance in their life to inspire you, our community, to appreciate your individuality — everyone needs different things.



"I came to the realization that it’s ok to relax. It’s ok not to have these high bars all the time, it’s ok to have these small wins."


I was born in the Congo and at the age of 6 I moved to Connecticut, then made my way to Canada. I first lived in Montreal and I actually lived in the YMCA at some point with my mom. Then we moved in with my aunt, until we found a basement apartment. My mom worked nights, and I would just be home alone. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters, it would just be me and my imagination. From about 10-15 years old I lived in Paris with my aunt, and then at 16 I landed in Toronto. That’s my villain origin story.

Once I graduated school I didn't know what I wanted to do. Growing up I would see the world in a different way, and I would see how my parents saw it and how they would prioritize. As I grew up I didn’t really align with their views, so I took a year off then went to OCAD for graphic design and that’s when I fell in love with art.

My interest in graphic design started when I was in grade 10, when I would see my cousin who worked at the bank and was a graphic designer on the side. He was the first adult (aside from my parents) who seemed like he had things figured out. He introduced me to Photoshop and from there I was obsessed. I would spend my evening and weekends on the app, learning independently from tutorials and blogs. Before I graduated highschool I met another designer who showed me that you can grow professionally in graphic design, and inspired me to pursue this as a career. Graphic design translated into photography down the line for me.


I was always into photography. When I was younger my mom gave me a camera and would always encourage me to take photos of myself when I went on school field trips. When she developed the film and got the photos back, she’d get pissed at me because I would take pictures of the lake, monuments, or anything else but myself. That’s when my parents knew I liked photography. 

In my early 20’s it was about meeting friends. I met my friends Tyler and Jamal and we started taking photos for fun, which turned into me taking photography seriously. It was a time where Instagram was more of a community platform. 


"I was able to meet so many people from different places, travel, and slept on a lot of friends' couches. Those days were important for me to understand the power of collaboration."


My passion for photography slowly grew into a career, being fortunate to work for various major brands, creatives, and artists. I have good luck in this lifetime. Now, I’m in a stage in my life where I’m transitioning to the next stage, and setting myself up for what’s next.


Over the past year, the pandemic has brutally stopped things for me. After 2019 I did an art show and the show gave me positive hope, because that year I was going through a lot of ups and downs especially with my relationship with my parents and learning how to grow up. Going through an identity crisis almost. Although things seemed good on paper and to the external world, I was battling with finding my own direction. So the art show really gave me encouragement, showing me that people actually care about my craft, and they will listen and support. It’s one thing to amass a bunch of followers online, but having real people support you in real life is a different type of feeling.

The pandemic made me stop chasing -- I was always chasing for the next high, for the next goal. Being an only child where my dad is an engineer, my mom is a nurse, and as immigrant parents that work so hard to be here, there was a level of success that I felt like I needed to achieve and that (subconsciously) got me into chasing the next big thing. I came to the realization that it’s ok to relax. It’s ok not to have these high bars all the time, it’s ok to have these small wins. 

"The pandemic forced me to stop and recalculate my approach on projects and anything I wanted to do in my life, and commit to long term inner growth."

There was a time where I didn’t focus on my inner growth, I was so triggered and exposed to the outside world. So anything fulfilling me on the inside was external, and I wasn’t doing the inner work. 


Moments of joy come from a few things: family, seeing my little cousins. Interacting with those younger than you and seeing how open minded they are. They speak up and they don't care - if they don’t like something they don't like it, and if they like it they like it. It made me value family time and relationships. 

In this lifetime, I’ve been fortunate enough to tour the world, be exposed to different cities and different people, so it was challenging to build real relationships because I’d be in-and-out so frequently. Now, I want to build on my relationships with my parents, my family, and my friends. I value long term relationships and the power of communication.

I call my parents every morning around 9am and I talk to them in my native language, Lingala, and over the last 6 months I’ve been learning more Lingala than I have for my whole life. From doing this I feel like I’m even closer to my parents because I talk to them about my day-to-day challenges, what I go through, and that brings me joy.

Also having the time to learn new things, just pause and say I’m going to learn this today or try that tomorrow. That made it really nice, and it felt good to pause. 


"I had to create this ritual because it also goes into building myself for the long term. Starting with a moment of clarity, I can deal with my challenges with a neutral point of view rather than waking up and reacting."

The world is kind of crazy to me, so I rely on my rituals to bring me balance in my daily life. As a human being I tend to lean more towards negative thoughts rather than positive ones. I used to just wake up with a cloud of worry or stress and try to problem solve right away. I had to build myself a system. My day starts with this first intention: asking myself what’s the best version of me today, what’s the ideal version of myself today, what can I do better, and what should I do to feel complete today. This reflection helps me set a positive foundation for my day.

In terms of nutrition and science it’s just better for me to step out in the morning to the beautiful park beside my house, and observe the sun because it resets my circadian rhythm. I have a glass of water, walk to the park and do some light exercise - running, stretching, and rolling. Once I do that, I call my parents before starting my day.


I grew up around a lot of females - my mom and my aunts, so I just used to use their products growing up. It drove me to just love self-care when I realized it was more than just waking up, brushing my teeth, and applying the same lotion from your face to your toes. The women in my life shaped my liking for the product. As I got older, I grew an interest in natural products.

The two things that I’m using right now is the Naked Body Balm (which is done, I need to get more). That shit is just amazing. Shea butter, utilising anything that is just good for Black skin overall. I love using the Naked Body Scrub, after I have a rough day or workout I use the body scrub to wash my hands cause it feels good. I’m currently obsessed with Hinoki, for my perfume roller and body soap.

For my face I’ve been using the Pharrell Humanrace products. It just works because it is very light and very easy on the skin. For me I think the key is not to use a lot of products.  

"I feel like my truest self when I’m present."

It helps me to just create. If I get to take photos, explore, or travel that helps me to be me. I'm a creature who loves exploring and going places. Internally, it's just being in-tune. Just understanding how I feel today, asking myself these questions and just checking in.

Elie Kimbembe photographed by Jacqueline Ashton