LeBron James. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Serena Williams. These are household names throughout the United States and even much of the world. They're also members of the The Root 100 for 2016, a list of the 100 most influential African-Americans as put together by The Washington Post-owned publication The Root
. In November, a gala is being held in New York City to celebrate those that have made the list.
Also attending that gala will be Gwen Jimmere, a local entrepreneur who has seen tremendous growth in her all natural line of beauty products, Naturalicious
. In just three years, Jimmere has quickly gone from creating an all-natural hair care product in her Canton, Michigan kitchen to being picked up by international beauty product distributor Jinny Beauty Supply and the first African-American woman to hold a U.S. patent for a natural hair care product. She's now based out of the ponyride
facility in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood, where she and her team make all the products by hand.
Jimmere comes from a corporate communications background where, before even creating Naturalicious, told a friend who worked at The Root that she would one day make it to their 100 list. It only took her four years to do so.
"To find out that I'm actually on it is a full circle moment for me," she says.
Jimmere hails from Cleveland. After attending Kent State University for both her undergraduate and master degrees, she was recruited by Ford Motor Co. to become their global digital communications manager. She would later leave Ford to become the digital marketing director for Uniworld, and soon after make her Root 100 proclamation.
An influential moment for Jimmere was seeing Chris Rock's documentary movie "Good Hair" during her pregnancy. She cites a scene that shows a pop can being submerged in a typical hair relaxer product and subsequently disintegrating. Concerned about what she was exposing her body and her unborn child to, Jimmere decided to create a safer and more natural hair product. She experimented, researched, and honed her product. Still, she treated it as a hobby, something she might one day give to family and friends.
A couple of years later, with a two year old son and about 30 days from divorce, Jimmere was laid off from Uniworld. What some might see as a dead end turned out to be a window of opportunity. With little left in the bank, Jimmere decided that it was now or never.
"Having your back against the wall forces you to not doubt yourself," Jimmere says. "You don't really have the luxury to doubt yourself. It's like, I might as well just try everything because the worst that can happen is nothing."
That attitude, coupled with a desire to make her son Caiden proud, got Naturalicious off the ground. Jimmere called the Whole Foods Market in Detroit to set up a meeting, eventually convincing them to carry her product. Now several Whole Foods locations carry Naturalicious. And Jinny Beauty Supply just signed on to distribute, starting out in 1,500 stores and eventually growing to 7,000.
Naturalicious currently carries 10 products, all made by hand, designed for people with curly hair. The company is becoming known for both its all natural ingredients, and 3-in-1 and 5-in-1 products that help cut down on time. The clay comes from Morocco, the oils from Italy, Spain, and Argentina.
Jimmere moved the company out of her kitchen and into ponyride this past May, making her first hires. Three of her six employees are supplied through Services To Enhance Potential, or STEP
, which connects employers with people with special needs looking for work. She anticipates having to hire more people soon.
Another member of the team is her son Caiden, now five years old. Caiden holds the title of chief candy curator, making sure that each order is accompanied by a piece of candy.
As Jimmere relates Caiden's enthusiasm for Naturalicious, there's no need to question whether her son is proud of her. She's got it.
Quick Facts on Gwen Jimmere
: CEO + Founder, Naturalicious
Date of opening
One interesting job before Naturalicious: In grad school I was an editor at a risque book publisher. Every book I was responsible for editing was basically 50 Shades of Gray on steroids. When I interviewed for the job, they just told me it was for an editing position. It wasn't until the day I started that I realized I'd be editing freaky books. It was a pretty interesting gig, though, and my co-workers were really cool. It was a very laid back office; we could bring our pets in whenever we wanted and wear pajamas to work every day of the week if we chose to. The culture was nothing like you'd expect for that sort of business.
Favorite music to work to: 70s Funk (i.e. The Gap Band, Earth Wind & Fire, The Commodores, SOS Band, etc.)
One indispensable beauty care tip: Coconut oil is good for practically everything. It's an incredibly effective makeup remover, it's perfect for helping your nails grow faster and stronger, and it's a phenomenal conditioning ingredient when found in hair care products. I can think of at least 10 excellent beauty uses for coconut oil. I always keep a jar of unrefined, virgin coconut oil in my bathroom cabinet and another in my suitcase for when I'm traveling.