We had the good fortune of connecting with Kristen Dunning and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kristen, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I am from Dallas, GA but I contribute my roots in the agricultural industry to my grandparents, Raymond Dunning Sr. and Nancy Pearl Dunning. My grandparents were farmers in Dixon Mills, Alabama, and my family still looks after and tends to our land down there. It was because of them that I have an understanding on what it is like to be a Black farmer in America. My passion is pushing institutions to adopt anti-racist agricultural education. I want nothing more than to study and research all of the historical and current ways minority communities are involved with this industry, from farm to table. There is a truth about American agriculture that relies on BIPOC contribution. In my dream role as a professor, I plan to tell this truth to all who will listen.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am a 21-year old graduate student and entrepreneur.
I decided to start Gently Herbal Skincare (www.gentlysoap.com) out of a love for locally grown agriculture and a lifetime struggle with sensitive skin and eczema. I have lived the majority of her life with a lifetime companion: sensitive skin. I know the feeling of aimlessly walking around pharmacies and skincare aisles desperately trying to find products that won’t burn, peel, itch, or irritate my skin.
At the age of 4, I began losing my hair as a result of an extreme case of Seborrheic dermatitis (commonly known as scalp eczema). My mother desperately struggled to find a solution and had to resort to medical steroids to stimulate hair growth.
My hair, thankfully, recovered but the eczema on my arms, legs, and face grew worse. This made using any cleanser, deodorant, or bar soap from stores extremely difficult and painful. As I grew older and became frustrated with not only my, but also my younger sister’s struggle, I decided to do something about it. Trying everything marketed to eczema and sensitive skin on the market and receiving little to no results, I became interested in horticultural research. I wanted to formulate my own natural remedies and I soon fell in love with the world of all-natural and herbal skincare.
In 2018, I knew I wanted to follow my dreams and set out in pursuit of a solution. As a freshman in college, I pioneered a UGA CURO research project to develop a deeper understanding of medicinal plants, their healing properties, and their effects on common skin conditions. With the help of my faculty mentor, Dr. David Knauft, I identified pot marigold (Calendula officinalis L.) and chamomile (from genera Matricaria and Chamaemelum) as botanical alternatives for chemical ingredients in conventional anti-inflammatory medications. At my forever favorite place on campus, the UGArden, she planted and analyzed different cultivars of calendula and chamomile.
From that research project, the first batch of soap was born.
From 2018 and through quarantine, I expanded on this research and my personal knowledge of medicinal plants. I spent time perfecting recipes, testing batches, and discovering ways to increase the environmental integrity of the formulations. Finally in October 2020, I felt ready and brave enough to launch Gently. This herbal, sustainable, and Black-owned skincare brand specializes in handcrafting products that gently cleanse and care for sensitive skin.
Gently is founded from my story and understanding of what it feels like to have no options. We offer products that are gentle on skin and gentle on the planet. Gently formulates soaps that are 100% natural, vegan, essential oil free, fragrance free, dye free, and palm-oil free.
We have come a long way in the 8 months since opening. Gently has become a regular at the Athens Farmers Market and is now being carried by Hotel Indigo, Community, Indie South, and other boutiques around Athens and Atlanta. Our “Find Us” page on our website is constantly updated with places you can stock up on our products. I currently still run every facet of Gently by myself: from production, social media, expansion, and beyond. There is a beauty in being a one-woman-show but as I look forward I cannot wait to open Gently up to more store and brand partnerships, outside help, and even agricultural community activism.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would probably suggest the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, anywhere I can be outside. The BEST place to eat in Atlanta is definitely Mary Mac’s Tea Room.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are so many influential people that I have met in my journey into the woman that I am today. There is of course my parents and younger sister but also the people who have created a home away from home for me in Athens, Georgia: Dr. David Knauft, Narke Norton, Noelle Joy, and Dr. Jennifer Thompson. I came to UGA not fully sure what my purpose was. I had all of these little puzzle pieces; a love for medicinal plants, an interest in natural skincare, a passion for social justice, and a knack for educating others. However I had no idea how to piece them all together. These individuals, all in their own way, convinced me that there was a place that I belong. I would not be who I am or where I am today without them.
Instagram: @professionalplantgirl / @gentlysoap
Facebook: Kristen Dunning / @Gentlysoap
Tylar Norman, William Newlin