The business path of entrepreneurship has allowed an increasing number of Black women to find their goods on the shelves of boutiques and big-box stores. They’re a part of a rapidly growing number of Black women (over two million) who are forging their own path toward retail success.
In 2017, Black women were the fastest growing group of small business owners, but often the lowest revenue generators. Here’s a list of seven Black women who have created innovative products in their kitchens and have landed wholesale deals with major retailers. These bosses have discovered a trending and lucrative opportunity in their shift to business-to-business sales in the marketplace.
When Jamyla Bennu couldn’t find any organic and natural hair products for her natural hair, she decided to make her own. Oyin Handmade was founded in 2001, and in 2003, it became an online business with the help of Bennu’s husband, Pierre.
Close to two decades later, this Baltimore-based business has grown and thrived while remaining a family-owned and operated. The product line has expanded from its cruelty-free, natural hair care products to body care, men’s care, and lifestyle products.
Even though Oyin Handmade is still homegrown, you can find products in stores such as CVS, Sally Beauty and Target.
Back in the 1990s, Miss Jessie’s co-founder Miko Branch was a hairstylist and salon owner in Brooklyn, New York who eventually started to cater exclusively to women who had curly hair. Branch then became well-known for her innovative curly hair styling techniques, which brought a boom in her business.
So she searched for a hair care line that could support these new looks she had been creating for her clients. But when she couldn’t find one, she decided to work with her sister, Titi, and started to concoct some kitchen experiments.
Soon, Miss Jessie’s was born, with Titi as the other co-founder. Miss Jessie’s is named after their grandmother who was known to be an excellent cook. That’s why their products have food-oriented names such as Curly Pudding and Coily Custard.
Fast forward decades later, Miss Jessie’s is now a multimillion dollar business, and Branch’s products can be found in CVS, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens.
Footnanny Founder and CEO Gloria L. Williams learned about the healing power of touch through her mother, Doris, who was from Montgomery, Alabama. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Williams would follow her mom as she visited neighbors, family, and friends, giving them them what she called “old fashioned rubdowns” with lush creams, teas, and oils. She would help her mother with these massages, mimicking what she did. That Southern comfort heritage from her mother is what Williams brought into her foot cream line, Footnanny.
The luxury foot care line includes foot creams, soaking salts, and socks which can be purchased online at Williams’ site as well as on Amazon.com, Costco, and Macy’s. Footnanny has been one of Oprah’s Favorite Things for five years in a row, and Williams is Oprah Winfrey’s personal pedicurist.
Footnanny goes beyond the product line. There’s the Footnanny2000 massage, which employs various massage techniques. She has mobile tech partners across the country which carry her products and use her massage methods. And Williams helps other entrepreneurs by providing branding seminars and other resources.
Kinky-Curly founder Shelley Davis is from the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and had trouble keeping her curly hair moisturized. She visited home one summer but lost her hair care products. Looking for replacements, she used a family friend’s mixture of herbs and plants. Although it looked like what Davis calls a “brown sludge”, it kept her curls strong and beautiful in a way she hadn’t experienced in the U.S.
After getting multiple compliments about her hair, Davis had a newfound passion for natural hair care products, Davis shared these home recipes with her family and friends Desiring to learn more about the chemical components of the herbs, berries, and juices of her Caribbean home, she studied cosmetic chemistry online during lag times at her job in the entertainment industry. So with her marketing background and a chemist’s help, she was able to launch Kinky-Curly in 2003 and has become a mainstay in the natural hair care market.
You can find Kinky-Curly products in Whole Foods, Target, and beauty and hair salons across the country.
CURLS has a similar origin story as others in the beauty and hair care industry: if you can’t find the products you need, then you should create them yourself.
Founder and Sacramento, California native Mahisha Dellinger was a marketing manager at Intel when she became passionate about natural hair care products for naturally curly hair. She was experiencing some obstacles at work with her manager which caused her to envision an entrepreneurial life for herself.
Although her managerial issues worked out, she eventually moved on to pharmaceutical sales so she could raise some business capital and set her own hours as she formed her own business.
Armed with a business degree, marketing expertise, help from her husband and his friends, and $30,000 in savings, CURLS was launched in 2002. Soon after, a feature in Lucky Magazine helped to create buzz and sales for CURLS. Years later, CURLS has grown into a multimillion-dollar company, whose products are now on the shelves of Target, Rite Aid, Sally Beauty, and other stores. Dellinger is also the host of OWN TV show, Mind Your Business with Mahisha, where she guides other female entrepreneurs and help them take their businesses to the next level.
Live Alkaline Water
A newer Black-owned business, Jacksonville, Florida-based Live Alkaline Water is a bottle water band co-founded by Dr. Shayla Creer and her business partner, Robert McCray. The water isn’t sourced in Florida, but from an aquifer owned by McCray’s family in North Carolina. McCray’s great aunt encouraged him to make use of the natural spring. Live Alkaline Water made history being the first Black-owned bottle water company.
According to Live Alkaline’s website, alkaline water helps boost immunity, provides anti-aging benefits, and naturally detoxifies the body. Currently, the bottled water is sold online and in three Walmart stores in Jacksonville, Florida (where it is consistently sold out), and in other Florida businesses.
Me and the Bees Lemonade
Just in her early teens, Mikaila Ulmer is one of the youngest business owners in the United States and has been tasting sweet success with her bottled lemonade, Me and the Bees Lemonade for years. But her road to success started almost a decade ago.
Back in 2009, Ulmer’s parents, who both have business degrees, encouraged her at four years old to enter a local business competition for youth. Her great-grandmother sent her a recipe book which contained a recipe for flaxseed lemonade. Around the same time, Ulmer got stung by a bee, twice.
Those fateful bee stings eventually caused her to become curious and then passionate about bees and bee conservation. She combined her newfound passion for bees and her great-grandmother’s lemonade recipe and Me and the Bees Lemonade was born.
Over the years, Ulmer has become a well-known speaker at business conferences and summits. Although she’s still a student, Ulmer hopes to create more businesses in the future. Her lemonade is sold in more than 500 stores across the country, including Whole Foods, and 10 percent of the profits goes to groups who promote bee conservation.
Know of any other homegrown businesses started by Black women? Share them in the comments below!
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