Episode 162: Gwen Jimmere, CEO and Founder of Naturalicious

What’s it like to be the first African American woman to hold a patent within a space? In this week’s episode, we hear from Gwen Jimmere, Naturalicious CEO & Founder and the journey that took her from dreams of being a singer, to a swanky corporate position at Ford, and eventually starting a natural hair care company.

Gwen is as raw and honest as she is determined, taking this episode through some heavy topics like domestic violence and racial inequality. Gwen’s courage and resilience shines through as she explains the extraordinary journey that led her to becoming the first African American woman to hold a patent for a natural hair care product.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey everybody, it's Jodi Katz, your host of WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® Podcast. I'm excited to share this episode with Gwen Jimmere. She is the CEO and founder of Naturalicious. And if you missed last week's episode, it featured Steve Weigler, who is the CEO and founder of EmergeCounsel. Thanks for listening.

Hey everybody. I am so excited to be joined with Gwen Jimmere. She is the founder of Naturalicious. Welcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY®.
Gwen JimmereThanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here today.
Jodi KatzAnd we're recording over Zoom because we are still in COVID quarantine. I'm in New Jersey today. Where are you?
Gwen JimmereI'm in Michigan.
Jodi KatzSo you know, our fans can't see this because they're just listening, but you have this awesome purple wall behind you, it feels very Instagrammable. It's purple and it has like pretty green potted plants behind you and like bronze, like holders. It's very, very social media worthy.
Gwen JimmereThanks. I put some effort into it.
Jodi KatzI am so excited to have you on the show, and I want to start with this question, I think I told you it's one of my favorite questions, what did you want to be when you would grow up?
Gwen JimmereWhat did I want to be when I grew up?
Jodi KatzMm-hmm (affirmative).
Gwen JimmereOh, I wanted to be a singer. Well, there was two parts. So in my younger years when I was like between four and like nine or so, I wanted to be a singer and a dancer, and I had a whole strategy and a whole plan for how I was going to get there. I was going to start out by being a backup singer for Whitney Houston and I was going to be a backup dancer for Janet Jackson. And I was going to moonlight doing that, somehow I knew the term moonlight when I was like five, but I was going to do that and then I was going to use that experience to get my feet wet on stage, traveling and touring. And then I was going to go off into the stratosphere and be this amazing rockstar woman. So, that was my plan.
Jodi KatzIt sounds like a good plan. Were you a good singer and a good dancer at the time?
Gwen JimmereYeah. I mean, I don't remember how well I sang when I was that young, but in my mind I was a good singer, I'm a good singer now, but little kids' voices are kind of hit or miss when it comes to singing. So for all I know, I could have sounded extremely screechy and annoying, but I thought I sounded fantastic. So you could not tell me that I was not going to do that at that time.
Jodi KatzAnd when did your dreams of becoming a singer, dancer transition into a different field?
Gwen JimmereI was about, I would say about early middle school, like sixth grade-ish, I decided that I was going to be a neurosurgeon. So obviously like a way different vibe, totally different side of things to decide I was going to be a neurosurgeon. And as I look back on it now, I don't know that I actually wanted to be a neurosurgeon, I think I just really liked the validation that I got from adults when I said that I wanted to be a neurosurgeon.

So my passion and my dream when I was a little kid was really to be a singer and a dancer. And then when I got older, I think I started to learn the way that people react to you when you say certain things or when you act a certain way, and everyone wants the approval of their parents. And so, I never struggled for that, my parents were amazing and I had great parents, but when I said I was going to be a neurosurgeon they were so excited and so proud to like share that with everyone.

And I think it really stemmed from, I did like a science project one year and my mom helped me with my science project. I think I was in sixth grade. And I did it on the brain and I also somehow did it on genetics at the same time. And I was really interested in it, but I don't think I actually truly wanted to do brain surgery, but I got interested in biology and things like that. And I started to talk about I want to be a brain surgeon one day and it was something that people, adults, really approved of highly.

But I'm really glad that as I got older, I started to kind of venture out and do the things that truly brought me joy. And that's what I'm doing right now. So I'm not a singer and a dancer, although I did have, when I was like 20, like 19 to 21 or 22, I did have a demo tape. And I did... well, demo CD, and I had a manager. I had gotten back into that passion, that dream of being a singer and a dancer, but I-
Jodi KatzOh my goodness.
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzOkay, wait, wait, wait. Wait, we have to back up. I didn't know this. So you created your own music to the point where you had a manager and you were, I guess, like seeking a deal, is this right?
Gwen JimmereYeah, yeah, yeah. I did. But it was short lived because I got the opportunity to kind of go on like a mini tour at one point, and I realized very quickly that I did not enjoy singing the same things every night or every day. Like kind of like the grueling like tour schedule that you always hear artists, like major artists talk about. It just wasn't my jam. I was like, "I don't like this at all."

I didn't even really like singing and trying to dance at the same time. Like I don't think anybody realizes how hard that truly is. I look at artists now on TV, like the Grammys and things, and I'm like these people are insane. They are somehow in their mind choreographing the song with the movements. And sometimes they're not even looking at the other dancers behind them. And there's a whole art to it. And it's really, really challenging and difficult. And I just found I didn't enjoy that. I was like, "You know what? I'm going to stick to being a shower singer and a car singer." And I got kind of morphed into this beauty world where I am today and I am in full alignment with what I'm supposed to be doing. I love what I do. No day feels like work.

So I'm glad I got the experience. You know, it's better to have done it and say... you know, they always say better an oops than a what if. And I'm so glad that I did that and I have those stories to share and I have that experience, but I'm loving what I do right now.
Jodi KatzAll right. This is really cool though. Like you have a dream as a five year old to be a singer and a backup dancer, and then you became a singer and a backup dancer.
Gwen JimmereI didn't backup dance, I was doing my own dancing. So I didn't get to do the backup dancing.
Jodi KatzWell, you made it there. I know, and I think that is... A lot of people are never able to push forward to have their dreams come true. And it's so incredible to hear that that happened for you because that's a lofty dream, right? To get on stage and perform for people.
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzAnd kudos to you also for seen that, like it wasn't right for you and that you could pivot. And that's really hard for people, right? They think like, "My whole life I wanted to do this, now I don't like it. Should I just stick with it?" Right? It's hard to go out in the world and have the confidence to change your mind.
Gwen JimmereAbsolutely, yeah. Thank you. I feel super proud of myself now.
Jodi KatzYeah. You should.
Gwen JimmereI never thought about it like that.
Jodi KatzWell, I mean, think about how many... I mean, I have friends in high school they knew they wanted to be X, Y, Z, right? Or like in junior high they wanted to be X, Y, Z. And then you meet them in their 40s, they're like, "I hate this." And they don't give themselves permission to say, "You know what? Like I did it, but it's not right for me anymore."
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzThere's so much, I think, society pressure on people to like, "Well, you said you're going to do this. So just do it." Well, it's okay to try it and not like it, whether it's not liking it for one year or 10 years or 20 years.
Gwen JimmereRight.
Jodi KatzWell, I want to, I know we're going to get to beauty, but I do want to acknowledge the fact that you told me that you started college in the 11th grade, when you were 16 years old.
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzWhich is crazy amazing. Can you just like tell us like what was happening in your life because that's... we talk about like appealing to Gen Z and like whoever the next Gen Z is after them. Like you were in this vortex of being one group and another group at the same time.
Gwen JimmereYeah. So I'll share a little bit of the story. So I started college when I was in 11th grade. So I know some people they like graduate from high school early and then they'll just go to college, but I was doing both. So I was in 11th grade for like half the day and then the other half of the day I would go to college, and I would literally go to a college campus that was local in my area. And I did the same thing in 12th grade.

And so, by the time I actually graduated high school and started real college, I was already like a junior because I had already done two years of college. And so, when I was in 11th grade and I was going to college, there was... I just remember walking into this classroom and there was this guy and I just thought he was so hot and so cute. I don't know, in retrospect, he had these like stupid blue glasses, like sunglasses, on the inside of a classroom and it made no sense to wear these, but I thought he looked awesome in them.

And so, I decided that he was going to be mine and there was no stopping me, but I've also been kind of raised that men pursue women, right? And so, it was like, "Well, I really want this guy, but I can't let him know. So I've got to like position myself so that he can get to me." So I ended up realizing that I was in the wrong classroom and that wasn't even my class, but he was a freshman. And so, I'm in 11th grade. I never told him that I was actually in high school, he just thought I started school like in the afternoon. Because in college, you can make your own schedule kind of thing, right? So he just thought I just scheduled my classes in the afternoon.

And so, I ended up like sitting in that classroom, even though it was the wrong classroom, I ended up sitting in that classroom like very strategically, like slightly in front of him, but still kind of sort of next to him so that he could see me. And next thing I knew, over the course of a couple, probably like two weeks or so, he was my boyfriend.

And so, I never, ever, even to this day, he does not know that at that time I was in high school. And so, I got, he was already in college, so I got to be really good friends with his friends who were also at the same college. And so, we all hung out in this little crew in the lunch room and did all these fun things together. Never told them that I was in high school. Because I didn't want them to think I was lame. I didn't say, "Hey, by the way, I'm only like 16 and I'm still... I got to go to high school for the first half of the day." But yeah, that was-
Jodi KatzSounds like the makings of an incredible teen movie.
Gwen JimmereYes.
Jodi KatzThis idea that you're in the high school world and the college world and these friends don't know about those friends. It's really fascinating. And I wonder if he is listening now .
Gwen JimmereI don't know. I ended up, because I was 16 at the time, and so back, at least for me, like a year long relationship was like a lifetime back then. And so, I think I dated him for like, I don't know, nine months or something like that. It was like a super long time, but I just remember breaking up with him because he wanted me to convert to whatever religion he was, I think he was like a Seventh-day Adventist, and he was very like into his church, which is great, but I wasn't. And so, I just felt like, "Bro, I'm 16. Like you're asking me for life decisions at 16." And he was talking about marriage and I was like, "This has gotten way too... it's gone way too far."

And so, I'm like, "I'm 16 years old, in my mind I'm still in high school, I'm not interested in marrying you. I just thought you were hot." And you know, anyway, so I ended up breaking up with him and he was really upset with me for years. He was, I remember this was like around the time like Facebook was first kind of starting, so I remember he went online and he like posted this whole thing with like a picture of me with like a cross-
Jodi KatzOh, man!
Gwen JimmereLike you know like a...
Jodi KatzLike a do not enter?
Gwen JimmereYeah. Like basically he's like, "She'll break your heart." And I'm just like I'm in high school, like relax. So anyway…
Jodi KatzI mean, when you have some free time, write the screenplay, write the novel.
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzYou don't have to use your name, but these stories, these characters need to get out in the world.
Gwen JimmereThat's a great... You know, you're so right. And I never even thought about that until we had our conversation, but yeah, I think I might actually pursue that in some free time.
Jodi KatzYeah. So let's jump ahead out of your high school/college world-
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzBeauty. When did beauty as a career come into your life?
Gwen JimmereIt was really a necessity. I was not the girl who was always wearing makeup and had like the awesome hair that kids want to play with at recess. Like that wasn't me. Even my dad, my parents are a little bit older. They had me when they were like in their 40s. And my dad was always, even when I got into like the phase of wanting to wear makeup, like in middle school, he's like, "Why do you have all that stuff on your face? You don't need all that stuff."

So it was always like you don't need it. And my parents really instilled a lot of like self-confidence in me when I was younger before like the world got to me. And you know, how the world and society kind of messes with women and tends to... We have some self-esteem issues sometimes. And so, I didn't really have a lot of that growing up because of their upbringing.

And so, I'm probably the most unlikely beauty entrepreneur truthfully, because I was not into that. I was a little bit of a tomboy. And it was really when I got to be like in my later 20s, I was married at that point, divorced now, but I was married then, and I was pregnant with my son. And I had just seen this movie that Chris Rock had produced and directed called Good Hair. And in the movie he takes a soda can and he like puts it into a tub of hair relaxer and the can disintegrates within like 45 minutes. And it freaks me out, like, "Oh my goodness, if this can is going to disintegrate in the stuff I'm using in my hair, what's it going to do to my body and what is it going to do to the flesh of my child that's unborn at this point?"

So I set up on this journey to find products that were plant-based, and plant-based wasn't even like really a term back then. This was like 10 years ago. But I was looking for things that were like vegan and natural and healthy, but also worked really well for my hair. So that was a challenge because back then we didn't have aisles and aisles and aisles of textured hair care products, we had maybe two products. You had to go to Brooklyn to get Carol's Daughter if you were wanting that, that was the only like mainstream brand anyone ever knew, or you had to go to like some flea market and some like shady place to find like a little like grandmother in her kitchen making some stuff.

And so, I decided that I was going to make these products myself. I'm like, "How hard could it be? You know, it's olive oil and Shea butter and some eggs and mayonnaise, like throw it together and it'll make it work." And you know, most to my surprise that was not the case. The eggs and the mayonnaise and all that stuff didn't really do much for my hair.

I went to the stores like whole foods and things like that and I was able to find products that were safe and healthy and they had great ingredients, but I used them on my hair and I looked like I had like a cotton ball on my head. It was terrible. I didn't like it at all. So my mom is a master herbalist. And so, I called her up and I said, "Mommy, what can I put with like the stuff I have in my house to kind of make my hair have curl definition and really be shiny and not breaking and things like that?"

So she gave me like a ton of suggestions and one of those led me down a rabbit hole to Morocco. And in Morocco, there is this ingredient called rhassoul clay. It's only found in this one very mountainous area of Morocco. So I sent off for it and I got it back, took for weeks to come, and I started mixing it with deionized water and olive oil and coconut oil and all sorts of other really amazing healthy ingredients.

And when I finally got the consistency right, it was literally like the first time in my life that I loved my hair. And I don't think I even realized how much I hated my hair until I realized how much I loved it. You know, I think I just kind of always went through life like, "Well, this is my hair and I'm just like never going to have this like really long, really flowy hair that's not dry and not breaking." But then when I got the experience where it wasn't like that, it was like, "Whoa!"

And I realized like I had hated my hair all my life from the time when I first got a relaxer, which was in the third grade, at age nine, until that point where I was like 28. And you know, it was like this whole euphoric feeling that I had. So like a lot of women owned brands and women owned companies, particularly beauty brands that were talking about that, women are so resourceful. You know, we're resourceful, we're resilient, we're diligent. We find solutions to problems where those solutions don't already exist and we create products and services to solve those issues.

And so, my story in creating that is very similar to a lot of other women led companies, but yeah, even then it wasn't supposed to be a business, it was just supposed to be a product for myself. And then it eventually over time turned into a business and I was able to get a patent on my product, which made me the first black woman to own a patent on a product. Again, didn't set out to make history or anything like that.
Jodi KatzWait, wait, wait, wait. You were the first black woman to own a patent on a product?
Gwen JimmereNo.
Jodi KatzOkay.
Gwen JimmereNo, not any product in the world. A plant-based hair care product.
Jodi KatzOh, so in this space you're in hair care plant-based?
Gwen JimmereCorrect.
Jodi KatzYou were the first?
Gwen JimmereCorrect.
Jodi KatzWow! That's really interesting.
Gwen JimmereYeah. Yeah. And that was in 2015 when that happened. So it was like two years after the company became an actual company. But even like I said, when I was just making the products for myself, I started to have friends come over and family and they started asking me, "Well, what products are you using? Because your hair is looking so good." Again, this is at the time when there's not a lot of resources for us, we're all just kind of winging it, and they're like looking for something to solve their issue.
Jodi KatzDid you have a full-time job during this? Was there a whole career happening beside this?
Gwen JimmereI did. I was actually the global digital communications director at Ford, at that time. So I had a big like hefty job at that point. I was married. I had my son who was at that point where we were talking about this in the story, he was like just born, he's relatively a newborn. So I've concocted these products for myself and he's a newborn now, so I'm using them on his hair and everything's great.

You know, I'm in this like super horrible marriage and it's abusive and in all the worst ways, but I was trying to make it work and all of that. But fast forward a little bit of time, by 18 months I realized that this was not for me. I didn't grow up seeing this. I knew what love looked like. I knew this was definitely not what love looked like. And I knew that I was also raising a child who is eventually going to see this as his example of love. And I did not want him to grow up thinking this was normal. Even if in the back of his mind he knew it was wrong, I didn't want him to think that, "Oh, this is what mommy and daddy did. So this is how I react to the woman or the man that I choose later on in life."

So I left as much for him as I did for me. And I made sure that I left before he would even remember any of this stuff happening. One day we'll eventually talk about it, he'll ask questions and that's fine, but I didn't want that to be like his vision of a relationship. So I left that-
Jodi KatzCan we just explore this a little bit more? Because that's taking an enormous amount of courage to say that I'm done and then have the courage, especially I would imagine with an abuser, there's a whole level of other anxiety and fear, right?
Gwen JimmereMm-hmm (affirmative).
Jodi KatzIt's not just ending the marriage that you're not into, it's ending the marriage that's unsafe.
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzWhere do you think you got the courage to make that decision and walk away?
Gwen JimmereI think that, like I said, I grew up in a household where I grew up in a two-parent household and it was very respectful between my parents and my mom, it sounds like a weird word to use, but I never saw abuse. So, I think that a lot of times what our first visions of a relationship are supposed to be is kind of subconsciously what we kind of gravitate toward. I never saw that and so that wasn't something that I was used to, but then also I'm very aware of my worth. And the thing was, I did not want my marriage to fail, I didn't want to feel like a failure, partly because I also didn't want to be like this statistical single black mother. And I struggled with that a lot. I probably struggled with that more than I struggled with the idea of leaving him.

Because honestly we got married in July of 2010. And honestly, by October I knew that I didn't want to be in the marriage anymore. So it was very quick. But I was pregnant at that point and I was like, "Oh, I don't want to raise this..." The statistics of like another fatherless child, that kind of thing. So the psychology of that really screwed with me a lot. Went to therapy with my ex-husband. He stopped going to therapy, but luckily I continued to go. And I remember asking the therapist, "How will I know when I'm truly going to leave?" Because so many people leave and then they go back.

And she was like, "You'll leave when you, in your mind and your heart, have truly feel like you've exhausted all the possibilities of trying to make this work. Until then, you'll probably keep trying to make it work. But once you really feel that you've done everything that you can and it's not reciprocated, that's when you'll leave." And that's exactly when I left. It's like, "I can't fight this on my own." You know, you don't... It was like, not only was he abusive, he was also a narcissist. So it made it really hard because it was like, you're doing what you're doing, like you're verbally abusive, physically abusive and all that, but you feel like it's justified, and then you try to make me feel bad as if I've done something to warrant it. And I just knew like none of this was right.

And I have such a thing that's near and dear to my heart when I find out about women who are going through these sorts of things, because people always say, "Well, she's stupid or she's weak for staying with him." And it's like, luckily, I was very lucky that I was the breadwinner of my family. Because the majority of the time when women don't leave an abusive situation, it's not because they're dumb, it's not because they're stupid, or because they're a glutton for punishment, it's because honestly, most of the time the abuser holds the financial reins. Usually, the abuser is the controller. And so, he or she controls the finances.

So it's really hard to like leave and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. If you don't have any money, how are you supposed to do that? So a lot of times these scenarios are exacerbated and they stay purely for financial reasons. And so, I was like I said, very lucky that I was not in that situation, but I could have been had I not have the job that I had, not had the education, the diplomas and all that stuff that I have, to be able to have the career that I did. So-
Jodi KatzAnd when this was going on, I guess after July, were you able to tell anybody? Like were you able to tell friends at work or your family?
Gwen JimmereNo. I did. You know what? I did. I told one person at work and I could not tell my family because I knew that he would probably not live long. And so, I didn't want my dad to know. My dad's like an old school dad, like you mess with my daughter, you got to answer to me kind of thing. And I did not tell him. I also did not tell my mother, because my mother is kind of like the same way. And my sister already didn't like him, so I didn't want to tell her and make her right.

So I did tell someone, I didn't tell any of my closest friends, but I did tell someone at work. I would tell her everything that was going on. Some days I had to take off from work because I had bruises on my arm. He never hit me in my face because that would be too visible. But he would like grab my arm really, really tightly, or I remember one time he threw me across the room and I had like a bruise kind of like on my back. And I told my co-worker what was going on.

And I remember that she, this was like over time, over weeks, of me telling her this, one day I wasn't at work and the administrative assistant to our boss asked, "Where's Gwen today?" And the person I had confided in said, "Oh, she's not here. I hope she's okay, because she's going through like some abuse with her husband." And it was just like, "Why? I confided this in you. I did not obviously want anyone else to know." So long story short, she, obviously the admin is like, "Oh, what's going on?" And so, now the person I confided in is like telling all the story and she's like, "Yeah. So he like hits her and he's like really abusive and she's filing for divorce and blah, blah, blah."

So I get to work the next day and I get called into the boss's office with the admin and they sit me down and they're like, "Listen, do we need to like lock the doors? Is your ex-husband going to come up here? And..." Oh, not. He wasn't my ex, he was still my husband. He's like, "Is he going to come up here and attack anybody?" And it just became like this whole thing that it didn't have to be, not to mention how embarrassing it was that my boss and the whole office now knew that I was dealing with this like super abusive relationship.

Though I was actively working to get out of it and getting the divorce papers filed and making sure that whatever assets I had remained mine and all that kind of stuff, it was just like I just got totally betrayed by this woman who I confided a lot in. So, yeah.
Jodi KatzYeah. And I would imagine that for people going through similar situation, they're terrified to tell the truth for exactly that reason. And then the other reasons why you didn't tell your family, which was they anticipate that kind of retribution. I'm sorry that you had this experience, I'm grateful that you're sharing it with our listeners because you know that you are not alone, right? This happens.
Gwen JimmereAbsolutely. Yeah.
Jodi KatzI'm sure statistics during COVID are making this much more difficult for people already in very difficult situations-
Gwen JimmereFor sure.
Jodi KatzWith all the insecurity, financial insecurity, that's happening in the world.
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzI guess let's lighten it up and talk about hair.
Gwen JimmereYeah. Yeah. I mean, I'm really excited. I'm really happy though, to talk about that though, because I think that representation matters in all aspects. And a lot of times, like you said, you feel like alone. And I'm at this point like a pretty much an open book and I talk about it whenever the question comes up. And there's one woman in my community of customers, about two years ago, she was in a similar situation, and my group on Facebook, it's about 11,000 women, and she was kind of... we were her confidence.

So she was giving us the play by play, telling us what was happening, how she was trying to get out of the situation. And we actually, the group actually, on their own, came together and raised about $5,000 for her and they all sent it in like a secure place that I had set up, sent it. They all donated money and we then sent that money to her, and she was able to leave that situation, move out of state, because she now had the finances to do so, her and her children.

And so, she was in California, I think she's in like Texas somewhere now, because we were able to come to her aid. So, I'm excited that, I always say like, we're more than just hair, we're a community, we're a sisterhood. If you need it, we got you, kind of thing. And I just know how hard it is to leave if you don't... beyond the psychology of it. The bare-bones finances, it's so hard to leave. Especially if you have children, how are you supposed to raise these kids and you can't even feed them?

So anytime that I can help, I try to make sure I do. And also share the story. Because like you said, it's important for people to know that they're not alone. And before, I know we're going to move on, but I just want to share this too. For me, in my mind it was like, "This kind of thing doesn't happen to me." Like I went to high school, like you said, I went to high school and college at the same time, graduated Valedictorian in my high school, went to college, got my degree, got my master's degree, then I got married, then I had my kid. Like I did everything in the "right order." And then I was still in this situation.

So it doesn't matter like what area of life you come from, what positioning you're in, if you do all the "right things" or you do some of the "wrong things." It doesn't matter who you are, you can be in a similar situation. So I don't love having had the story, but I love being able to share the story to let people know that, you said, like they're not alone.
Jodi KatzRight. Because you said what was like keeping you working towards solving this in the marriage was that you didn't want to be a statistic. So you were almost intellectualizing the situation by trying to undo what's happened before you in some ways, right?
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzAnd I think that's really telling for how deeply you wanted this to work and be safe for you and your child's, and I can imagine that kind of standing on that fence between leaving and becoming a statistic and staying and enduring this pain and torture. Now that you look back on it, is looking at the statistic really that important?
Gwen JimmereNot at all, not at all. That's like me caring about what other people think. You know, it was even at a point where, when I finally did leave and I would be out with my son, I still wore my wedding ring, because I didn't want people to think I was a single mother. And I eventually got over that, but that's therapy, that's me going to see someone, talking to someone. And anybody who's in a situation like that, I always advise like go see somebody. They'll talk through it, so you can be the person you're supposed to be, you're not stuck in this zone of still technically being abused, even though you're not even with the abuser anymore.
Jodi KatzRight. So I wonder like are you like a recovering perfectionist? Is that sort of like something inside of you?
Gwen JimmereMaybe a little bit. I am definitely type A, and I never really thought about myself as a perfectionist, but I don't like mediocrity at all. It grinds my gears. So, yes, I might be.
Jodi KatzI call myself a recovering perfectionist. During COVID it's been hard because like everything's out of whack. Nobody can work a regular work day. Kids need to be fed. Meanwhile, I haven't fed my kids lunch today, but they're nine and 12, they can find the snacks.
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzIt's been really hard to unravel that and stay recovering when things are kind of feeling a little out of control, but I'm super grateful for you sharing your personal story. And I really do think it's going to help our listeners because you're not alone in this situation. And I think the truth of, you were working this corporate job and only one person knew about this in your organization. So like we might all know people going through this and we just are unaware of it.
Gwen JimmereFor sure.
Jodi KatzSo before we close out the recording, there's just been so much going on, and 2020 has been a really interesting year. I know fans of the show have been writing and asking about how things have changed for your business during COVID. And I'm curious to know if that's really like impacted your business at this stage.
Gwen JimmereYeah. COVID has been a challenge, but it's also been good for the business, not good for the world, obviously, but we have actually seen a surge in orders since COVID started. I mean, I attributed to the fact that beauty supplies were closed, salons were closed, people didn't have the option to go get their hair done at salons and nor did they have the option to go to the local Ulta or whole foods or Sally Beauty and get products for themselves. So they were forced to buy online.

Also because people were not going to work. You know, again, this is just a theory, I'm of the thought that they're potentially even more able to focus a little bit better on marketing messages that brands have, because they're actually out looking for products. They're not as inundated, they're still receiving marketing messages, but they're actually actively looking for marketing messages.

And so, we saw about 62% increase in orders during COVID. Especially when it first happened, it was just like, "Oh my goodness, how's this going to work?" Because we actually had to shut down the warehouse and our Fulfillment Center because of COVID. We had people not working, so we had a skeleton crew and way more orders. So it was like, "This is nuts."

On top of that, there was a bottle shortage in the industry. So anyone who makes beauty products, I'm sure experienced it and may even still be experiencing it a little bit. The bottle shortage it was like people were having to mark products out of stock because they didn't have any bottles, not because they couldn't make the product, not because they were out of raw materials, because they didn't have a freaking bottle.

And we know that a lot of large corporations were buying up the bottles that we would typically use for hand sanitizer and things like that. And if you're a supplier and you get an order for 300,000 bottles, and then you got this other company over here ordering 3000, you're going to take that $300,000 order. It's just economics.

And so, I found us having to be really creative about how we manage this. It would have been an incredible shame to have a huge influx of orders and new customer acquisitions, but not be able to fulfill. So we started using some different bottles for certain things, bottles that we would probably never use again, but it was just like, "We got to get whatever we can get." And we even also started contacting some of our competitors to see if they have bottles. And when some of them were so gracious to actually sell us their bottles at cost, they could have totally jacked up the price because I would have paid it, because I needed bottles, but we had people contact us as well, competitors of ours asking, "Do you guys have gold..." Our caps are gold. So, "Do you guys have like the gold shiny caps? How much can you sell them to me for?" And obviously we had to look out for ourselves as well, but if we had anything in excess, we sold it to them as well.

So it was really kind of cool seeing these beauty industry competitors have to like put their egos aside so that we all could all survive. So that was really cool.
Jodi KatzYeah, that's kind of amazing that that happens. And kudos you and your peers for being able and willing to kind of share the resources.
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzMy last question for you is around the topic of racial inequality. I'm curious to know what your fans are looking to you and your brand in terms of what kind of voice you bring to that movement.
Gwen JimmereYeah, well, one of our core principles at Naturalicious is that we believe in taking a stand. And so, as a black female founder, I am obviously affected by Black Lives Matter and everything going on in the world right now, with George Floyd kind of being the catalyst to kicking all of this stuff off, but there are definitely racial disparities when it comes to all industries, beauty is no different. I'm excited to see some of the stores like Sephora take the 15% pledge and say that they're going to put founders of color on 15% of their store footprint, but I am very interested to see how they're going to support those businesses. Because it's one thing to get into a store, it's a whole nother thing to stay in a store.

And we have had retail partnerships where customers go to the store they can't even find it because the associate at the store doesn't know is in the store, they don't know whether it exists, they don't know anything about it, and all of that. And so, luckily, we have a very, very strong and loyal customer base who if they go to a store and the store tells them that they don't have it, they actually go marching around the store to like find the product. And sometimes they even get the product, they find it, and bring it to the associate and says, "It's right here," and then point them to it.

And so, like we have like our customer base almost like educating the stores, but that's the job of the retailer at the top. And so, just imagine all the people who are potentially going to a store and who are not part of like the ingrained community and they're just looking for a product and they get turned away. So if we are really going to dedicate 15% of our spaces in retail stores to brands of color or owned by women of color, we got to make sure that we're able to support them. So what is the plan for that? How are you going to make sure that your associates at all levels are trained? Because a lot of these stores have high turnover rates at the store level. So how are you going to ensure that they actually are able to sell through?

Because it's the brand's job to bring the traffic to the store, it's the store's job to tell them where the stuff is so that they can buy it. And so, if the brand is doing their job, the store has to do their job as well.
Jodi KatzThat's a good point, especially because for like a Sephora it's a, even for the very big global companies, it's a huge heavy lift to support the business at a retailer like that. There's so much cost involved, there's so much manpower. And if they're going to be introducing brands that are new to the Sephora space or even small Indie brands, like they really need to like incubate that relationship, right?
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzBecause it's so costly and so expensive to just survive in those spaces.
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzAnd you're right. I've walked into these stores and I've asked for brands that I know were sold out to Sephora and they were like, "No, we don't sell it here." I'm like I have to do my own research on the phone in front of the sales associate, exactly what you're talking about.
Gwen JimmereYeah.
Jodi KatzWell, I think that you make a really good point and hopefully Sephora is listening to this and they're going to hear your point of view on this.
Gwen JimmereYeah, hopefully. Awesome.
Jodi KatzSo thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today. This is such a great conversation. I'm grateful for your honesty and your wisdom. And I know our listeners are grateful too. Thanks for joining us today.
Gwen JimmereYeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. And can I give a plug real quick?
Jodi KatzYeah.
Gwen JimmereYeah. So thanks everyone for listening. If you want to find out more about Naturalicious's products make sure you go to naturalicious.net. And if that is a little challenging to spell, because I realized that it may not phonetically sound like it's spelled, you can go to savetimeonwashday.com, and that will take you to our website.
Jodi KatzCool. Well, and for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Gwen. Please follow us on Instagram @wherebrainsmeetbeautypodcast and subscribe to our series on iTunes. Thanks so much, Gwen. I appreciate this.
Gwen JimmereAbsolutely. Thanks so much, Jodi. Have a great day.
Jodi KatzBye.
Gwen JimmereBye.
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