Pure Vanity Founder Raina McLeode

35 years old Washington, DC native Raina McLeod is a walking testament to the saying “life is what you make it”.  Her career so far has been what most people in her field would dream about. From published writer, columnist in a credible magazine, editor of NBC "The Feast",to song writer, and now founder of her own publishing company,  Raina realized very early in her career after graduating from FAMU (Florida A&M University) the benefits of just going with your gut feeling. 

After graduation, I ran to Miami for some fun in the sun but soon found out that the city had so much more to offer and that if I played my hand right I could write the rules to my own life. And I did. I was hired to run a black entertainment magazine, then hired as Arts + Culture editor at the Miami New Times where I also started a sex and relationship column called The Magic City Kitty, then went onto run NBC’s food and restaurant blog The Feast.

In 2010, with a change of management in her role it brought on new demands that stripped her of creative freedom with the effects of working longer hours with shorter pay. But, don’t think twice this would have put a wall to her striving career. Instead, Raina used this to put her vision into full fruition. 

I had proven that I could run a publication and come up with innovative ideas, so I left to do my own thing. Which was scary! Still is! Because I didn’t exactly know what my “thing” was. My personal life had imploded. I was inching towards 30 and leaving the field I’d worked so hard to be a part of. I didn’t know what I was doing, basically feeling my way through life in the dark. But the foundation for who and what I am is rooted in my creativity so I let all these thoughts and feelings pour out of me in the only way I know how.

After publishing her first book Death by Misadventure she was immediately hired to write more books, and this brought birth to her company Pure Vanity. Interestingly, as Raina would put it;

I named my company that after researching publishing and learning about Vanity presses and the stigma behind them and deciding that there’s no shame in publishing my own work. That’s why my motto now is just put it out. Be fearless. Let the world have my work and deal with what comes. Like a lot of creatives, I suffer from Is It Good Enough Syndrome. Waiting for things to be perfect, stressing, doubting. I’ve learned to embrace my disease lol because I’m also impatient af. So I’ve found that to be a healthy mix. I release things when they’re ready and I can’t hold them in any longer, but also when it feels right.

To see full interview please see below.

-what inspire your creativity?

Lol I'm a control freak. I'm a writer so it's not surprising that I'd be doing that for a living, but I'm self-taught in the graphic design arena. And I learned all that because I wanted certain visuals for my project and couldn't afford the quality of work I knew I wanted. So I set out to learn to do it on my own. I'm seriously proud of my progression. I look at my work from four years ago, to now, and feel like wow you did that. I can remember my first days struggling with drawing a straight line (smh) and now I can do so many thangs, it's beautiful. All that to say, there are so many things I can do and it's just about applying myself. Finding the desire and following it. Friends tell me how they're amazed at all the things I can do and make but it's just because I've explored many sides of myself. They don't see the shit that doesn't work lol but I do and I'm like "uhh ok maybe this isn't your thing Rain" lol but it happens and sometimes I let it go. Other times I work harder at it. Pure Vanity is about pure creativity – meaning I work off a mix of my instincts and expertise. It's valuable because I say it is. 

-What is fuckboy?

Ah! That's my baby. That's a series I'm developing to hopefully help women and girls understand why men do the things they do in relationships. I'm passionate about it and I think it's a really important piece of work that can serve as a paradigm shift if I do it right. I'm really intent on doing it right. It's a continuation of my time as the Magic City Kitty, talking relationships and psychology and how we can live better love lives. I think if we understand why people do what they do, we can learn to live with it. I've been hurt in love so many times. My friends, family, strangers, have been hurt in love too many times, I want to do my part to help fix it. We have the opportunity to partner up in really unique ways and I advocate for finding what works for the individual – not doing what society says we're "supposed" to do. Fuckboy will aid in understanding, start many conversations, and hopefully change lives.  

-What type of characters do you prefer to write about?

I love messy characters lol. The imperfect ones, ones you love to hate. I love letting the reader get to know these characters -- flaws and all.

-what inspired you to start ice check?

I was super stoned one night and wanted a McFlurry but the damn machine was down. I remembered that vid of Tokyo Vanity taking ice cream into the McDonald's and was like "gosh this is really a big problem" and I knew there had to be a better way. I don't like being told "no" and this app is a way to stop that from ever happening again lol. I'm really surprised how Ice Check has blown up, but ice cream is a big thing in American society. You eat it to celebrate, mourn a breakup, all the Presidential candidates have to do an ice cream stop...it's essential. And I felt some type of way about this big ass company denying us our sweet treat. So... Ice Check was born. 

-Are you self supported or did you receive funding to start your business ventures?

A bit of both. And I've found that the more I do, the more work I put in, the caliber of collaborator has grown. But I think of my company as a bit of a Ponzi situation because I take the money I earn from boring projects and funnel them into my pet projects. Issa cycle.

Do your books influence a change in perception of the black man and women in society?

I'd say so. My characters are often the people on the fringe, but I bring them to life in a way that helps you understand those people better. I go inside of the characters. I present different ways of life without judgment and honestly a lot of the conversation around the main character in Death by Misadventure is: Is she a prostitute? Why is it ok for her to use these men? What's up with her? But that's cool because I can answer those questions. And I think to have those questions on people's minds makes them look at black women's lives differently. We can't all be Michelle Obama or Olivia Pope or whatever. My bundles can't fit under that white hat and I go low when I get high but that's ok too. I'm human, I deserve love, understanding, peace, and privacy. 

-What has been some of the biggest rocks in your journey you have overcome?

Self-doubt, overdraft fees, dangerous men, and owning a free spirit within a capitalist society.  

-What would you say has been your biggest milestone?

I have a very short memory for happiness lol so it has to be the early press coverage that swirled around Ice Check. I mean, I did every fucking thing myself. From conception to research to marketing to PR, video editing, social media, web design and coding. I did everything except the coding of the actual app, and even that I had my hands deep into. I know I worked my developer's nerves! But I'm really proud of what I did with Ice Check and having NBC and Playboy and international news taking notice and loving what I was doing – it gave me the fuel I needed to keep going. Also, I had a sweet article in Jezebel about my book Death by Misadventure. That was amazing, too. The irony is not lost on me that press coverage is my metric of success. When I left journalism I said it was because I was tired of writing about other people's realized dreams, it was time for people to write about me and my dreams coming true. So yeah those moments let me know I'm on the right track. And for the record, none of the press coverage came from my connections or relationships in the industry. I worked the PR grind hard on my own and made it happen saying the right things to the right people at the right time. God got me.

-In your opinion in order for a multi talented creative to stand out what must they posses?

You have to be unique. You have to have your own thing that you do in your own special way. Number one, because you'll never get tired of doing it. And two, because that's literally what you're on this earth to do and we need it. The world needs that. Nothing else. 

-How has this experience helped you grow?

Aw man, it's everything. Pure Vanity has shaped me in ways I'm still figuring out. Entrepreneurship is a very difficult, humbling process. Especially in creative fields because if I'm giving you all I've got, and you don't like it, damn do you not like me???? I really had to learn that I'm enough. Me and my HBCU degree and my self-taught skills, my DC accent and my dark skin. That just because I don't have what one client is looking for, doesn't mean I failed – it just means I didn't find the right client. It also taught me how to admit what I can't do. I really had to learn how to delegate and let other people do things that could help me move forward. 100% of zero ain't shit so I learned to share my pie with minds I trust.

-What would be the advice you would give to anybody inspiring to become a writer or start their own company you wish someone told you when you were beginning?

Find a rich husband and.... Lol sike nah but just keep going, keep working, keep shifting. You're not just one thing. Ever. If an idea or project is pulling you in one direction, GO with it. And enjoy the ride. Also, enjoy life when and however you can – when you're old and gray, no one will want to hear about how many hours you spent in front of the computer.