Business Spotlight: Terra & Self

February 15, 2024

Terra & Self first came to life in 2020 when founder Kenne Johnson began selling her self-formulated skincare products online, at Maker's Markets, and in stores around the region. Starting Terra & Self wasn't her first foray in skincare and cosmetics as she previously worked for the brand Lush Cosmetics where she gained valuable knowledge to create something of her own. And business was going well; so well that she decided it was time to bring her brand to brick-and-mortar. As part of the Downtown Pops! program, a City program born from the pandemic to help businesses grow sustainably, she opened her very first storefront in Downtown Santa Cruz in 2023.

We had a chance to catch up with Kenne to talk about her journey building her brand, why setting up shop in the City of Santa Cruz was so important to her, and how she creates community within her four walls.

Storefront Terra Self Journal

Choose Santa Cruz: Tell us about how Terra & Self came to be and how you figured out the ‘why’ of the brand.

Kenne Johnson: Terra & Self began with my entrepreneurial dream sparked by my mom's influence and my love for skincare. Our 'why' revolves around fostering self-love through self-care education. It's about nurturing skin health while nurturing your spirit, aiming to inspire confidence and self-appreciation in every individual's journey.

Terra Self Journal

CSC: What is the significance of the name “Terra & Self” and who is the brand for?

KJ: "Terra" signifies the Earth, while "Self" embodies self-love. Our brand merges these concepts, emphasizing that nurturing oneself is crucial for caring for others and our planet. It's for those seeking to prioritize self-care, recognizing that by loving ourselves, we cultivate a more compassionate world and a healthier planet.

CSC: You place an emphasis on sustainable and natural ingredients. What was the most surprising thing you discovered when it came to trying to source those ingredients?

KJ: Discovering the lack of a "perfect" sustainable ingredient was surprising. It's a balancing act; striving for sustainability without a flawless solution. But that shouldn't hinder our efforts to do our best. It's about navigating complexities, choosing what aligns most with our values, and constantly evolving towards better choices in our skincare ingredients.

CSC: Do you work with anyone to formulate your products? What is that process like?

KJ: Absolutely, I handle the formulation process myself. It involves extensive ingredient research, followed by hands-on testing and refining of each formula. Our production kitchen is where the magic happens, where I meticulously craft and perfect each product, ensuring they embody our commitment to quality and effectiveness.

CSC: Has there been a product that you’ve tried to create that didn’t work? (If so) Tell us more about that. (If not) What would be your ideal next product?

KJ: While every product journey involves trial and error, I refrain from releasing anything until I'm confident in its formula. Each iteration teaches me something new. As for what's next, I'm excited about creating a fantastic face wash or a nourishing moisturizer, aiming for simplicity and effectiveness in everyday skincare routines.

Workshops Terra Self Journal

CSC: What has been one of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome to achieve your dream of becoming an entrepreneur?

KJ: Conquering imposter syndrome has been a significant hurdle. Reminding myself that entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster, with highs and lows, helps navigate doubts. Embracing the journey, acknowledging challenges, and learning from setbacks has been crucial in pursuing my dream as an entrepreneur.

CSC: What made you choose Santa Cruz to open your first brick and mortar location?

KJ: Santa Cruz became our choice for our first brick-and-mortar because it's where my husband and I are building our home. I'm passionate about investing in this community, especially as Santa Cruz has a small Black population. Our shop showcases 16 local women-owned brands, with 12 being led by women of color, aiming to support and represent the diverse community.

CSC: Although you had already found a location to open your store, you ended up launching the brand downtown through the Downtown Pops! Program. What was your experience with the program and what were some things you learned that have been valuable since you’ve ventured out on your own?

KJ: The Downtown Pops! Program was fantastic, offering a low-overhead way to learn brick-and-mortar operations. Our location now, between Downtown and Midtown, might mean less foot traffic, but our Downtown stint helped us build a loyal local customer base. It taught us the value of community connections, making every customer feel at home, a lesson we carry forward.

CSC: Growing up, you were inspired by your mother who used guerilla marketing tactics to spread the word about her childcare business. Do you find yourself using more traditional marketing or have you found something unique that works for you and Terra & Self?

KJ: Observing my mom and running Terra & Self for three years taught me invaluable marketing lessons. I believe in trying everything because you never know what clicks. Authenticity is key—being real and genuine resonates more than any traditional tactic. It's about finding unique, genuine ways to connect with our audience and build relationships.

CSC: In your store, aside from Terra & Self products, you sell products from other women-owned companies, particularly those created by women of color. How do you select which products to sell alongside your name brand products?

KJ: Choosing products from women-owned brands, especially those by women of color, is personal.

Many are friends or part of my community—it's an opportunity to uplift not just my brand, but them as well. The selection process involves supporting and showcasing women of color-owned brands, fostering a space that celebrates diversity, empowerment, and solidarity among women in entrepreneurship.

Products Terra Self Journal

CSC: Tell us a little more about the workshops and events that you offer.

KJ: Our Build-A-Scrub Workshops are a hit! Participants craft two personalized body scrubs, paired with snacks and beverages. Plus, our space is open for rent, perfect for various classes, workshops, and parties!

CSC: If you could give advice to other entrepreneurs, particularly those looking to open a brick and mortar store in Santa Cruz, what advice would you offer?

KJ: Starting small is key—I began online during lockdown, then expanded to markets post-reopening. Also, focus on community: connect not just with customers but fellow entrepreneurs too. Opportunities often arise from these connections, and the support network within the community is invaluable for brick-and-mortar businesses in Santa Cruz.

Visit Terra & Self at 347 Soquel Ave. in Santa Cruz or online at

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