Fashion

Kirsten Corley Bennett On Her Style And Confidence Evolution Since Becoming A Mother

Remember when Chicago’s own Chance The Rapper and his now-wife Kirsten Corley Bennett gave birth to their first daughter Kensli? Now, nearly 6 and 3-years-old, fans and social media followers have watched the young Bennett babies Kensli and Marli grow up before our eyes and on our timelines. As a mother of two beautiful Black princesses, this queen has taken the initiative to make her daughters feel seen in the world of fashion where young Black children of all shades, sizes, and textures deserve a chance to be represented. Thus, she created the World of BOBY at the height of the pandemic.

The children’s lifestyle brand, according to Corley Bennett herself, was inspired by her need to see more inclusivity in the world of apparel for kids while building a community for mothers. “I’m a Black mom raising Black girls,” Bennett told ESSENCE. “My daughter inspired me to create this collection that would empower her in her own identity and [to] love her skin and her hair. At the very core of what BOBY is, it’s really about celebrating our kids being exactly who they are.”

Though the BOBY brand recently launched a collection, Corley Bennett can’t help but look at the bright future ahead for herself, the BOBY brand, and representation for her young daughters. “More collaborations for sure in this year and the next. I won’t say my full long-term goal ’cause I think [the] sky’s the limit and really it could go so many different places,” Corley Bennett said with humble confidence.

“What I’m really passionate about and why I would love to see for BOBY in the next three years is to have a brick and mortar,” she disclosed. Ideally set up right in her husband’s hometown of Chicago, Corley Bennett would love to have the shop complete with an indoor play space that would also serve as a cafe and retail shop for customers. “Just to lend itself to being a space for moms to come and do support groups, do the mommy and me and all of those things. In Chicago, it’s cold so we need an indoor space at least half the year.”

Corley sat down for a conversation with ESSENCE to discuss her own experience with post-partum depression, how her fashion sense changed after becoming a mother, and how her college experience prepped her to be a business owner.

ESSENCE: When reading about BOBY, it says that the pillars are apparel, community, and mental health. How do they intersect with one another and how do you prioritize them when you create your collection for BOBY?

Kirsten Corley Bennett: While they’re all intertwined, the community of mental health goes hand-in-hand, but the apparel’s kind of a separate thing. With the last collection we just launched, Mental Health Awareness Month was the main reason why I wanted to do the collection and normalize the conversation for not only moms but for kids too, who might struggle or be anywhere on the spectrum. It was inspired by forward-thinking about not only how we can pour into our kids’ mental health and make space for moms to take care of our own mental health, but the community and mental health aspect of the company in general.

It was so funny. I was thinking about this yesterday, how a huge part of what I wanted to do when I started BOBY from the conception was all about real-life experiences and community. We were able to do our second popup – really our first popup – last month. That was just so rewarding and affirming of what I’ve been trying to do. Building community and making space for other moms to be able to come in, talk to each other, share burdens, be able to say, “Hey, I’m going through this. I’m struggling here,” and be able to get feedback from other moms or maybe encouragement in any other way. I was able to really do that with a lot of moms in person. That community and mental health aspect are all about building that support system, being in community with each other, and being able to talk about things that are weighing on us, or talk about things that we’re excited about. It’s all intertwined into each other, but the apparel is very so much like, “Oh, and also we were making clothes on the side too.”

ESSENCE: Can you share your own experience with postpartum depression, and the importance of finding community in friends, family, and other mothers who may have been experiencing the same thing?

Corley Bennett: When I experienced postpartum depression, it was very eye opening and I really had never learned about self-care in that way because I had always been just me doing whatever I wanted. Then when I became a mom, it really made me have to sit down and be with myself. My body went through so many different changes that I wasn’t really able to understand until I was about a year postpartum, which just means a year after I gave birth was when I started to be like, “Okay, I am struggling and I need help.” Thankfully throughout that whole year, I had amazing mothers who were friends of mine who were moms before, or became moms at the same time. They’re my lifeline. Like I always talk about that.

It was really impactful for me to be able to just lean in on people and to talk to them about things that were going on. Not only that, I really feel that normalizing it, hearing other friends and moms that are going through what you’re going through, and sharing their story makes you feel less alone. That’s what it’s all about is this isolation that motherhood brings. It doesn’t have to always be that way when you are able to say, “I’m not okay. That’s okay. I’m going to talk to my friends about it.” It really helped me to understand that everyone’s going through this and that. Even though that’s weird to say that made me feel better, it actually did make me feel better.

It was an amazing journey, honestly. I’m glad that I went through it because with my second [daughter Marli], I was able to be more aware. I had postpartum with my second, too. I’m pretty sure I was depressed during my pregnancy, but I think being aware of it helped me to go through it and be able to say, “Okay, this is just a period. I need to make space for rest and restoration and I’m going to be okay at some point.” It’s honestly been an amazing experience to be able to have. That sounds weird to say too, but to have these highs and lows and be able to appreciate them on the other side of them.

ESSENCE: How was your personal style prior to becoming a mother, and has it changed now that you’re a mother of two?

Corley Bennett: Definitely. It’s definitely changed [since] before I was a mom. I think that, for one, I had a very different body before I became a mom so I really just wore whatever I felt and I didn’t really think twice about it. After I became a mom, I think I really had to be intentional about what I was trying to portray; also what flattered certain parts of my body. We couldn’t do the crop tops as much. I’d do crop tops still, but right after I was like, “Oh, my closet consists of crop tops and high-waisted jeans.” I became a mom at 24 for the first time and then 28 at the second. [My style] definitely changed and evolved, but also kind of grew with who I am like now I’m 31. I really just lean into like a more sophisticated minimalist style and it’s completely different from before I was a mom.

ESSENCE: As you raise your two daughters, what would you say are some pieces of fashion, style and beauty advice that you would like for them to hold onto?

Corley Bennett: Comfort, always. I am a big believer in being comfortable in your clothes. Even though with my oldest, I try to style her and she’s like, “No, I’m just not comfortable in this. I’m not going to wear it.” I’m just like, “Okay, that’s fine.” [It’s about] really being comfortable in what they want, as long as they feel good and what they have on I’m all for it. I think the other thing is being colorful. Don’t be afraid to stand out. If you want to wear a Tutu, leggings, sunglasses and a crown, wear whatever you want as long as it makes you feel good. Beauty wise, we need to be moisturized – period. That’s the main thing in my household is trying to get my kids to moisturize. Pray for me on that, but that is our big skincare thing, being moisturized at all times.

ESSENCE: Earlier, you said that your oldest daughter inspired BOBY. How does she continue to inspire you and the apparel brand?

Corley Bennett: Oh, Kensli. That’s my baby. She literally wears BOBY every single day and I’m like, “Kensli, we need to wash the leggings sometimes.” (laughs) For one, her name, BOBY, it’s a nickname that my husband still calls her. He came up with when she was like a baby and it’s a play on that. It was literally inspired by her because she was my daughter, I only had her at first and I have always been kind of in this fashion world. I worked in retail since I was 15 so I really wanted to create something that was just for her. Now I have two daughters and it continues to be inspired by them because I want to make clothes that will look good on them, feel good, and empower them. They’re always the first thing in my mind. Hopefully we’ll get to do a collab soon. That would be really fun.

ESSENCE: You went to school for fashion and psychology. How did your studies help you to become the business woman and the mother that you are today?

Corley Bennett: I went to school for fashion merchandising, actually; I went to the Art Institute. I ended up leaving and I’m like an art school dropout, but I ended up graduating from DePaul [University] with a Bachelor’s in Psychology. Honestly, you can apply psychology to anything, but I really became more fascinated with the mind and behavior, the way things are, the reason why we do the things we do in my latter years of my college. Trying to intertwine the two, that’s really how BOBY came to be, too, by being able to intermingle all of those things.

Psychology has helped me so much with my mothering a little bit too much, because I’m consciously aware of the effects that my parents had on me. It’s something that I’m a little bit obsessed with and now I’m scared to traumatize or do anything to my kids. I think I definitely learned a lot of merchandising skills and business with like wholesale and all of those areas when I was in school for fashion merchandising; and with psychology is just a no brainer. It’s all about the human mind and child development. Applying that has been super helpful and being able to be patient with myself and have grace, too. Knowing that I’m not going to be perfect all the time, but I try my best.

ESSENCE: All the time we hear the term, “look good, feel good,” but for you, what does that term mean? How did it affect your journey through motherhood?

Corley Bennett: I think right now, that resonates with me because I’m in a space where it’s not about any number on the scale, but it’s about just feeling this. I’ve been feeling sluggish and kind of heavy from not feeding myself clean things, not all the time. I’d love to indulge. I’m an eater. I think that term really means if I don’t feel good on the inside, I’m not going to be confident. I’m not going to be able to radiate that energy outwards. It sounds so cliche, but it’s literally about what you put into your body and what you do with your body. That’s why I told you today, I’m feeling amazing. It’s not like this every day, but because I’ve started off drinking the water, working out and putting my mind in a great place to be able have this energy to go outwards for the rest of the day. It’s all about doing what’s good for your body in moderation and 80-20 rule. That’s fine. That is my mantra.

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