Brooklyn-Girl-Turned-Texan Nikisha Riley Shows Us Around Austin

By: Marjon Carlos
Photos By: Wynn Myers

In talking with Nikisha Riley there’s no denying the self-care guru and holistic beauty entrepreneur is a dyed-in-the-wool Brooklyn girl.

For all of her zenned-out aura, the stylish and cool wellness maven has a humorous and direct way of communicating that’s oh-so indicative of Riley’s hometown. From doling out DIY body butter recipes one moment to wisecracking in another, talking to Riley feels like chatting with your blissed out homey on a stoop. It’s a rare combo that has undoubtedly helped endear the curly-haired beauty to her nearly 93,000 Instagram followers. However, Riley has called Austin, Texas home for 5 years now, and one can tell that the buzzy southern capitol has rubbed off on the Northeastern city girl.

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BLUES TRAVELER: Riley wears an Express gingham skirt, white tee, and cat-eye sunnies. Shoes, her own. 

Although she’s not necessarily taken to cowboy boots and pearl button snap shirts (no, her style is far too minimalist cool for all that), she’s certainly representative of the entrepreneurial contingent the city has attracted. In fact, she’s kind of the perfect example of this seismic shift (typically embodied by the earthy techies who have flocked here), given the sheer success of her own line of apothecary goods, Folie.

Launched in 2015, the line of restorative serums and hair oils was an idea she batted around while working on the website she created with her friend Cipriana Quann. Urban Bush Babes started out in 2011 as an online blog detailing both women’s natural hair journey, but quickly evolved into an in-demand nerve center for the natural hair community, leaving Riley little room to develop her DIY recipes into a full-fledge brand. Finally, in 2012, overwhelmed by the exhaustive pace and demands of New York, Riley was in a need of a change. So she, her then-husband, and son, Jaden, packed up and headed South, where physical and head space enabled her to nurture Folie. “In Austin, I was not used to being laid back at all, and having more time on my hands, more space, year-round warmth. It just got me really inspired,” Riley explains. “I was just like, ‘I can have this big-ass kitchen now. I can make things in it!'”

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STREET STYLE: Riley shows us around the uber-cool South Congress Avenue.

Soon, the brand was bursting out of Riley’s Texan kitchen and quickly becoming a roaring success amongst the social media darling’s following, which included Solange Knowles. The singer began carrying Folie favorites, like the Prickly Pear Face Serums and Calming Lavender Cleansing Grains, in her online store, Saint Heron. Meanwhile, in between running a successful local business, and raising a teenager, Riley was getting the lay of her new city, literally becoming the face of the 512—just check out the cover of Austin Magazine’s July 2017 for proof.

Which is why, with tech whizzes and musical aficionados descending upon Bat City for the annual SXSW festival this past week, we thought who better to ask about the must-see locales? From juice bars and live music, to ultimate vintage shopping, Riley has you covered.

“In the morning when I wake up, I like to meditate—well, I actually meditate throughout the day. I’ll put on music—usually it’s hip-hop or reggae music—and I just freestyle dance and do yoga. Then I’m ready for my day. I go through my emails after I have my meditation and my dance/yoga, or gym workout, while I’m eating breakfast. I try to get that stuff out of the way and then I work on my orders: either making products from scratch, or packing them, or both. Then I am going to the post office with all of them! I have a humongous [Folie] order for Solange coming up that I will have to block out for!”

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RECORD BREAKER: The Juiceland in Hyde Park is one of Riley’s favorites because it has an attached vintage record store. Riley wears Express girlfriend jeans, and tank. Bag and shoes, her own. 

Stay Juicy

JuiceLand is my favorite juice/smoothie bar ever. No other place has been able to top this local chain. They have the biggest selection of juices and smoothies, along with every add-in you can think of including the latest superfoods and even CBD oil. I also love the hippy bohemian interiors that each location has.”

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Austin Salad Made For A New Yorker

Salata is my favorite salad bar in Austin—you can get every type of vegetable in your salad. It’s not a place that just has cucumbers, and tomatoes, and that’s it. It has every vegetable you can think of! Being a New Yorker, I’m always looking for spots that remind me of New York, and has good food. New York spoiled me.”

A Little Taste of Home

“I’m always craving Jamaican food and I don’t always feel like cooking for four hours in my kitchen, making some oxtails; that’s a whole process. But there is one food truck that I love: It’s called ATX Jamaican Grill. The oxtail is dinner is nice….The vegans are gonna kill me for that!”

Speaking of Meat…

Salt Lick Barbecue has been my favorite barbecue, and it’s in Dripping Springs. Their beef ribs, and the sides that it comes with, are delicious. The potato salad, the beans, and their coleslaw are awesome. It has an Indian vibe to the spices that they use. And it’s so cute. It’s on a vineyard too. Perfect on a summer evening with your girls.”

Taking A Quick Shopping Break

“I like to go visit my friends at their stores—Shop Aro and Olive—who are store owners, hang out a bit, try on their stuff, take some pictures, help them out a little bit with their business. I start acting like I work there! Or we meet up at Kind of Tropical—they have really good coffee and salads there.”

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The Austin Motel on South Congress 

Prototype Vintage and Blue Velvet are my two favorite [vintage] spots—you actually get good deals there. At Prototype, I shop for vintage jeans. Oh, and Passport Vintage, also! Love them! They’re good with sizes, I tell them my sizes and to put them on hold for me. They’re very old school, kind of ‘90’s vibes. I’m buying a lot of indie designers now, too, which funnily enough Austin has really opened me up and not New York. It’s nice, but not nice for my bank account!”

A Night Out

“Definitely hang out on South Congress—you can’t go wrong! The culture, the thrift shops, you can see the capitol building…you get a real idea of Austin. There are hotels that play good music like South Congress Hotel, W Hotel, and I like the Austin Motel. It’s the cutest motel you’ll ever stay at. It has a cute gift shop and pool to cool off in. And since it’s on the South Congress strip, you’re in the middle of all the action!”

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THE SNACK SPOT: Riley swears by the cinnamon and sugar coated Naughty & Nice donut at Gourdoughs. She wears an Express jumpsuit. Earrings and accessories, her own. 

“Another place that’s cool is Kitty Cohens. It’s a bar and I love that they have a pool in the middle of their courtyard. You can actually jump in! Gourdoughs is a must because you’ll never taste a better donut and it’s a great way to experience the food truck culture.

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LINE ITEM: Matching your strips to your lunch spot is a pro move. Express slip dress. Accessories, Riley’s own. 

Elizabeth Street Cafe is one of the best places to get the Austin vibe, as well as get some of the tastiest drinks like the Coconut Alexander or the Gin Dragon. They also have amazing vegetarian/vegan Pho. My favorite is the vegetable broth, mushrooms, greens, organic tofu, hot bean paste with spicy sesame oil.

Live Music That Has All The Feels

“My favorite place for a concert is Emo’s. They have amazing acts there. I saw Toro y Moi, White Lies, and Washed Out there. It’s an intimate venue, so it’s not super huge. You can pretty much dance everywhere you want.”

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POOL HOPPERS: The turquoise, kidney-shaped pool at The Austin Motel is a small oasis from the sun-baked streets. Riley wears an Express mix-and-match suit (top and bottom), and striped wrap.

Cool Runnings

Lady Bird Lake is a great spot to see the beautiful Colorado River and walk on the bridge or even go Sup Boarding if you’re up for it! Barton Springs is also one of my favorite spots to go swimming. It’s beautiful, cool, and sometimes people will be there topless [laughs].”

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LEFT TO RIGHT: Striped Dress, Twill Jacket, Closed Toe Wedge Heel