Your hobby can be big business
My hobby was fragrance. My love of scent started at the age of five when my grandmother wore Chanel No 5. My obsession continued through to my preteens, when I spent all my money on scents while my friends bought clothes. In the late ’80s I read that Prince would blend different fragrances on his body to create a different scent each day. I loved this idea, so I mixed fragrances and added them to body butters to make them last. In 1993, I started selling my scented butters at a local market. My mom had just adopted my baby sister, so I used the baby food jars to store it. I sold all the jars on that first day. Two weeks later, I did a set up at a street fair, and I just kept selling at more and more markets. I built up a client base, and soon people came to my apartment to shop. This lasted for six years until I had enough money to open up my first store.
Find your uniqueness
Back then, people didn’t talk about naturalistas and didn’t even know what shea butter was. I just wanted people to have healthy hair and I didn’t care if they relaxed their hair or not. I didn’t want women to look in the mirror and feel like there was something that they needed to fix. As a result, our slogan was ‘Beauty by nature’. What I meant by it, at that time, was that beauty comes from God. You can’t put it on and you can’t take it off. You’re just enhancing what’s already there.
Choose a name
By now, I had to find a name to put on my labels, so I made a list. It included all the things I was and all the things I wanted to become in the future. One of the things was Carol’s daughter. I was also Robert’s daughter, Kate’s secretary and Gordon’s girlfriend. But when I said, “Carol’s daughter,” it just felt right. The name also helped us to connect people – no matter where you’re from, your ethnicity or economic status, we’re all someone’s child.
Be a pioneer
I was the entrepreneur who did it first, and that gave me the strange bonus of being an inspiration to other people. But it’s a lonely space to be in – walking into a room and being the only woman or person of colour there. It’s quite a responsibility to be the one representing all women or all people of colour. But being someone who had to navigate that alone, I feel grateful and blessed to be able to help others now.
Find the right investors
When I went on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2002, I was still mixing everything up in my kitchen. In 2003, I got my first investor, Steve South, and the following year, he put together a celeb investment team who included Jay-Z, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mary J Blige and other music record executives. They supported the brand financially and through the press. They were people that I admired and respected, and I’ve never lost that reverence for them. They helped me by trusting the process and letting me run with it. By 2007, equity partners came into the brand, which means a lot more money came in – but so did a lot of expectation of where it was going. That money was used to help us expand and market appropriately. Soon, L’Oréal came courting and made an offer for the company. I consider this my biggest achievement. But I didn’t do it alone – it takes a team of people to achieve this.
When you get to the place where you think you’ve found a good investor, get a lawyer. Like with ante nuptial agreements, a lawyer will think of all the things you don’t think of because you’re ‘in love’.
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