Necessity is the mother of invention, according to Plato. But we would argue it can also foster some serious motivation and creativity — as proven by Naturalicious Founder and CEO Gwen Jimmere.
To call her a trailblazer would be a mild description. In addition to being the first African-American woman to own a patent for natural haircare products, Jimmere is also committed to lifting others up through her work and her experiences, both personally and professionally.
Naturalicious is one of the fastest-growing organic, all-natural haircare companies in the industry. It was designed with curly hair in mind — focusing on women of color — and it was created while Jimmere was pregnant with her son Caiden. At the time, she felt compelled to eliminate the frustration, time, expense, and toxicity that can traditionally accompany hair maintenance.
While Naturalicious started as a hobby, after losing her job and going through an excruciating divorce, Jimmere jumped in headfirst into making it something more.
“The day I got laid off, I had $32 in the bank, so I knew I had to make money that day. As a newly single mother, I had a mortgage to pay and a baby to feed, so that’s how it became a business.” Since she already had proof of concept from all of the friends and family who swore by her product — people were using it, and through word of mouth, more people wanted to buy it — although none of this was her plan, Jimmere launched a website and started on a new path. Not only did she reduce wash and style time down from more than two hours to a mere 30 minutes, with a three-step process that did the work of about 12 products, Jimmere also filed for a patent by herself. After a prompt from her mother and finding out the process through an outside source would cost $20,000, Jimmere sent herself to a self-imposed law school that required visiting the library three times a week. “When I got the call from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, I was super proud,” she says. “What it stands for is all of the messages from people who have been inspired to file for patents, trademarks, and copyrights.”
Today, Naturalicious is sold in hundreds of stores across the country, including Sally Beauty, Ulta, and Whole Foods. While getting on these shelves is a major accomplishment in and of itself, Jimmere explains it’s not so much entering the industry that’s the barrier — it’s scaling and growing that presents the real challenge. Too many companies sell false hope with their products and quick fixes. That’s why with Naturalicious, Jimmere and her team do a lot of education. “We help thousands of women, and could do more to help, if some industry folks were more honest because consumers do want people who look like them and actually understand their struggle.”
Although there are numerous challenges all entrepreneurs will face, Jimmere mentioned a few key insights to focus on. “Make sure you are aligned with your brand mission — with what you stand for — and know that it can be inexpensive. We require more nutrient minerals and nuance when it comes to our hair. A lot of brands that start out have premium prices to produce the quality needed. They want to serve and help, but there are conglomerates and it becomes a competition,” she explains. “Then these brands have to reduce price and quality. They have this issue and begin to engage in race to the bottom. When you compete with other brands, you aren’t really serving anybody. We never engaged in that. Our customers know to expect quality, results, and experience.”
How Naturalicious got into Whole Foods is a perfect example. “I went into Whole Foods for natural, organic products, got them home, and tried to make my own product from shea butter, olive oil, and mayo. It was a natural fit of supporting local business,” reveals Jimmere, “so when I was ready, I just went in and pitched them myself. You have to be strategic. At minimum, 50 percent of the typical margins you are paying is shipping to a retailer and you have to pay for promotions. Think about strategy — what are you using it for? To validate your brand and position it in a different light.”
While securing Sally Beauty was the right place at the right time, it’s also safe to say Jimmere’s combination of faith and good preparation was the outcome for landing her dream retailer: Ulta. “In that case, it was prayer and tenacity,” she says. It was less than a year from the time she envisioned Naturalicious in stores until reality took hold. “You have to try to surround yourself with the right people (in the right situations) — and be ready. I was at an industry event, sitting next to the director of marketing at Ulta. We hit it off! She was interested in learning more, and I had products and an informational deck in hand to give her that day. This was in November, and by January, Ulta was bringing in Naturalicious that summer.”
In addition to a staff of 13, Naturalicious also employs differently-abled women and men through its partnership with Service to Enhance Potential (STEP), a Detroit area non-profit that services and supports more than 1,250 people with disabilities and other mental health needs. Although COVID-19 has reduced this aspect of the company’s production team, they will be ready to return after the crisis ends. Humbly priding itself on producing a line of products that are committed to making sure its customers — and its communities — continue to thrive, Naturalicious is making a beautiful mark on its industry one bottle at a time. The sweetest part? Her son also plays a part in the company serving as the CCC (Chief Candy Curator), making sure each order is sent out with a sweet surprise that customers are sure to savor.
While 2020 has been profound year full of significant tragedy (COVID-19 and more egregious deaths of Black Americans), there have also been glimmers of hope with more companies committing to equality — something Jimmere is cautiously optimistic about. “I am happy about companies making the 15 percent pledge to black-owned brands. However, I am curious what will happen once these products are in stores. Once they are on shelves, how will they stay there, and how will companies get the word out?,” she thoughtfully concludes. “That will inform how they will make us successful.”
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