In the early 1900s, Sarah BreedLove, also known as Madame CJ Walker, emerged as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and most of all, the first female self-made millionaire in America, by creating and selling The Walker System, a line of hair care products.
In this day and age, a new historic accomplishment has been made as Gwen Jimmere, CEO and founder of NATURALICIOUS, has become the first woman to hold a patent for a natural hair product. Jimmere’s four-step hair care system that takes the place of 13 products has been mentioned in publication such as The Huffington Post, The Washington Post and Black Enterprise. The line of products is specifically made for those who have embraced their curly mane and are looking to cut down on the amount of time it takes to wash, condition and style their hair.
The Indianapolis Recorder recently spoke with Jimmere during her visit to Indianapolis to tour the historic Madame Walker Theatre Center about her accomplishment and how the products work together.
Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper: You’re the first Black woman to hold a patent on a product made for natural hair, which must be exciting. How did you get the initial idea to create a line of hair care products?
Jimmere: I was pregnant at the time and decided to go natural after I saw “Good Hair.” The last thing I wanted was for all of those chemicals to go inside of my body. I initially set out to go natural for just the nine months, but my hair started getting stronger and longer, and for the first time, I liked my hair, so I decided to stick with it. I would go to the store to look for natural hair products, but at that time those that said they were natural were not, so I began making products at home.
Essentially, this all started from your kitchen?
Yes, I grew up in a household where if you don’t have it, you made it, so I had some concoctions going and it was great. But once (my son) was born, I was taking anywhere from three to four hours to do my hair, like a lot of us do. I asked myself, “as a parent, who has this much time to dedicate to their hair?” I couldn’t believe there weren’t any products out there to help cut down on the time, so I set out to create one. But I still wanted the health benefits, so there are no sulfates, parabens, mineral oil or any of that stuff.
At what point did NATURALICIOUS become a full-fledged business?
It wasn’t until 2013 that I was laid off from my job (as global digital marketing manager at Ford Motor Company) and decided to do something with my hobby. The problem was, I was in the middle of a divorce. I didn’t have a plan B, the only thing I had was my hair care line. There was a Whole Foods opening in Detroit, and I didn’t have time to be afraid or doubt myself, so I went in to see if they would be interested in carrying my product.
Is it true someone at the White House used your products?
I got a call from President Obama’s administration asking if I would want to put my products in the Inaugural Ball gift bags for the second ceremony. At that time, I wasn’t in any stores and I didn’t have really any sales outside of family and friends, so that was a huge jump in credibility, especially since I was still making products out of my kitchen (laughs). When I got the call I was at work and luckily I had an office where I could shut the door. They called my cellphone and said it was someone from the White House, and I thought it was a joke but it wasn’t. It was very surreal, and I felt like God was blessing me for what was to come. Being in the gift bag I’m sure is what gave me credibility to get into Whole Foods. It was a great experience; I got to go to the ball and see everyone carrying the bag with my product in it.
At what point did you decide to apply for a patent?
My mother was really the driving force in me getting the patent, because she isn’t the type who will cosign on everything I do. She will tell me, “Gwen, I think you should try something else,” but when my mom fell in love with the product and actually went in to the stores to buy it instead of asking for it for free, I knew I had something. Lovingly, she’s my worst critic. After having the conversation with her several times about obtaining a patent, I thought about it but I didn’t think it was possible to get a patent on a hair product. What really got me interested was when my mom said, “What are you going to do when L’Oreal comes along, takes your idea and you’re at home twiddling your thumbs upset?”
The patent was issued August of this year, but I applied 15 months prior. I didn’t use an attorney and in doing so it helped me learn patent law. I spent about six to eight months researching and learning.
Outside of being the sole owner of your NATURALICIOUS product, what have you found to be the other benefits of holding a patent?
It helps to build generational wealth and it gives you great leverage as a business owner. A lot of times as Black people, we always tell one another to not sell their companies because it’s “selling out,” but what people fail to realize is, wealth can be intellectual property. If someone was interested in buying NATURALICIOUS, I could still obtain rights to the patent, which is continuous, and they still pay royalty or I don’t have to sell the company or patent, but I can license my formula. If I ever did sell, I could sell the company for one price and the patent for a whole new price.
Have you been compared to Madame Walker at all?
Yes. Since the news has been out I’ve been compared a lot to Madame CJ Walker. At first people tried to make it more of a competition, but Madame CJ Walker has always been an inspiration to me, so I stand on a shoulders of a giant. There isn’t a competition at all. I didn’t set out to be the first (to gain a patent on a natural hair product), it just happened and I’m very honored.
How dedicated is NATURALICIOUS to delivering high-quality ingredients?
We only work with companies that are fair trade, especially when it comes to our Shea butter and Rhassoul Clay. As a woman and mother, it’s important that these women sourcing these product, that their children have safe childcare, they’re not working in hazardous environments and they aren’t overworked and underpaid. Some of our products are organic and all are safe to use on your skin.
What’s it like to own a hair care line in today’s society?
It’s exciting, it’s fun and challenging, but I wouldn’t trade it at all. It’s a good and not so good time to have a hair care company. It’s good because there is a high interest and awareness that natural hair product are available, but the market is oversaturated, and what bothers me the most is, most products aren’t owned by the people who use them, and companies market the products to make it seem as if they are. They push agendas that don’t pertain to our hair. People are confused about how to care for their hair. People don’t know that the only thing regulated on the front of the label is the size. It could say natural, healthy, organic … they can say anything but certified organic. They need to turn over the product and read the ingredients, and that’s where my advantage is; I know quality ingredients.
Jimmere explains how the NATURALICIOUS system works
“It’s a four-step system and it does the work of 13 hair products. The Moroccan Rhassoul 5-in-1 Clay Treatment is the one with the patent and really kicks off the entire line as step one. It does the work of a cleanser, conditioner, deep conditioner, leave-in conditioner and detangler all in one. It’s made from Rhassoul Clay, and that’s really what we’re known for. Step two is the Moisture Infusion Moisture Styling Creme. If you want to do a wash-and-go, you’d wash with step one and put step two on and that’s all. You can do a blow out, flat iron or flat twist with this product. Step three is the Divine Shine Moisture Lock & Frizz Fighter; it adds shine to your hair without greasy buildup and eliminates tiny knots. All of the products do multiple things. Wash day is products one, two and three. Step four is your refresher, the Heavenly Hydration Rejuvenating Mist. You use this throughout the week to re-moisturize your hair. It’s designed to be a really simple system. The entire system saves over 80 percent of time you spend and over 60 percent you would normally spend.”
Learn more about NATURALICIOUS