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Remembering Iwi Fresh founder Yolanda Owens

Destinee Marbley remembers how Atlanta’s “skincare chef” inspired her own journey as a wellness practitioner.

Story by Destinee Marbley, Lakewood Heights Fellow
September 13, 2023
Photos by Nicole Buchanan
How we reported this story:

Canopy Atlanta asked over 50 Lakewood Heights residents about the journalism they needed. This story emerged from that feedback.

Canopy Atlanta also pays and trains community members, our Fellows, to learn reporting skills to better serve the community. Destinee Marbley, a Canopy Atlanta Fellow, wrote this story.

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The first time I met Yolanda Owens, she greeted me with the biggest smile.

I was a high school senior in 2016 when I had my first spa day at the Iwi Fresh Farm Day Spa in Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill neighborhood. Owens was so confident in her words as she described the reality that can come with being an entrepreneur. Some days are good, some days are tough. One thing she would say, as if it was also a reminder to herself, was “always keep going.”

Her passion for being Atlanta’s “skin care chef,” as she called herself, and for the importance of knowing what you put in and on your body was contagious. She explained how her grandmother inspired her love for farming and for the skin care line she created and carried at the spa. To see a woman who had skin like mine, with an Atlanta accent to match (she was a native to this city), made me feel like I was home away from home—a feeling I’m sure many of her customers can relate to.

Yolanda “Yogi” Owens founded Iwi Fresh in 2003 out of her garage. The company was first a skin care line with products made from locally grown fruits and vegetables that she juiced herself. The first product she created, the 14-Carrot-Glow Face Cream, became a customer favorite.

Iwi famously stands for “it is what it is,” a motto most say when coming to terms with reality in any situation. It brings a sense of transparency, which was Owens’ goal. She wanted her customers to understand the importance of “the power of ingredients you can pronounce.”

“As an entrepreneur, you can’t choose giving up as an option. You have to pivot. You have to make some changes.”

Yolanda Owens, Iwi Fresh founder

In 2010, Owens opened her first brick-and-mortar facility in Castleberry Hill, where she provided luxury wellness services like massage therapy, facials, and yoni steams.

She also sold her skin care line, products made from vegetables, fruits, and herbs that were juiced and placed in glass jars to preserve their freshness. In 2017, Iwi Fresh caught the attention of the Whole Foods buying team in Atlanta. Soon, local Whole Foods stores began carrying Iwi Fresh skin care products.

In 2020, Owens opened her third venture—Iwi Fresh Resting Spa—in Lakewood Heights. There, she created an enrapturing, calming atmosphere. Upon entering, the freshness of the garden on site, various standing plants, and the vines dangling from different areas of the ceiling greeted you before the smiles of the staff could.

Six years after high school, in 2022, I found myself wandering back to Yolanda Owens in hopes of spreading healing, just as she did. I was searching for a place to set up my own wellness business, StretchUSoon.

Destinee Marbley brought her business, StretchUSoon, to Kindred Healing Center after her mother recommended she get in touch with Yolanda Owens.

Once Owens showed me the empty suite inside Iwi Fresh, I knew that I had found a home for my business. It seemed like a full circle moment for me and a natural fit, with how her holistic approach to wellness aligned with my own healing approach to relaxing and extending the body.

In January 2023, less than four years after her initial diagnosis, Owens died of colon cancer. Since her untimely passing, Iwi Fresh has consolidated into one centralized location at Ali at Lakewood, on the corner of Lakewood Avenue and Jonesboro Road. Owens is survived by her children, including her daughter (and Iwi Fresh’s new owner), Maya. Her family-like staff at Iwi Fresh Resting Spa continues to water the soil she planted as they offer services like herbal massages, facials, body scrubs, yoni steams, and reflexology.

Many describe Owens as being fearless and driven to bring the best care to the communities she served. “Yogi truly danced through life with a smile,” says Surayya Abdulmateen, who provides reiki and sound therapy services through her business, Women of Light, which is in Lakewood Heights near Iwi Fresh Resting Spa. “I loved her drive, motivation, and entrepreneur spirit.”

Even in 2020, when the New York Times asked about the fate of her business during the COVID-19 pandemic, Owens said, “As an entrepreneur, you can’t choose giving up as an option. You have to pivot. You have to make some changes.” This serves as proof of her steadfast ready mentality to push forward, with faith as her guide.

I am forever grateful for the opportunity that Ms. Yolanda “Yogi” Owens offered a young Black woman with just an exercise mat, a massage gun, and a heart full of dreams. Thank you for showing us how to be risk takers and persevere through our toughest times. Rest in peace, Atlanta’s own skin care chef.

Editor: Christina Lee

Fact Checker: Adjoa D. Danso

Canopy Atlanta Reader: Ada Wood

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