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‘A Labor of Love’: These Black-Owned Skin Care Businesses Originated In Florida

Shānna Gilliard owns Oh Hunni in Gainesville. (Photo courtesy of Shānna Gilliard)
Shānna Gilliard owns Oh Hunni in Gainesville. (Photo courtesy of Shānna Gilliard)

Keta Browning has always known where ingredients come from.

As a gardener and plant enthusiast who grew up in Ocala with a father who planted vegetables, Browning is no stranger to natural ingredients.

To treat her sensitive skin, she would turn to natural ingredients as a way of looking to nature to see what it could provide for her before seeing a doctor.

Browning had experience creating some concoctions, but she got serious about her passion for skin care a few years after college when she was helping local businesses create websites and maintain their social media accounts.

“After graduating and starting to build other businesses for other people, I thought to myself that I am doing all this from the ground up, so why can’t I do this myself?” Browning said.

Browning now owns a handcrafted skin care company, the Ocala-based Natural Oats. She is in 2021 celebrating four years of being in business.

As a Black woman, Browning attributes some success to having attended a historically Black college or university —Florida A&M University — where she learned valuable lessons for her experience in minority entrepreneurship.

Browning is not the only Black female entrepreneur in Florida who owns a local skin care business.

Betty Garrison had her first experience with handcrafted soap after attending a wedding where there were patchouli-scented soap bars as favors. This encounter with the craft is what kickstarted the vision for her business.

She officially formed Bettys Naturals in 2015 and has been crafting products from her home in Titusville.

She sells products including soap bars, shampoo and conditioner bars, deodorant and more, all of which are vegan and cruelty free. Even with her variety of products expanding, Garrison’s favorite product remains her Garden Hippie soap bar and perfume oil, which brings back sweet memories of her first encounter with patchouli soap.

“To this day it still feels good to me, it still brings me joy every day for 10 minutes while I am in the shower,” Garrison said. “That is, when I am able to step away from my kids to take a shower.”

Like Garrison, Shānna Gilliard is a mother who owns a skin care business based in Gainesville selling body butters, sugar scrubs and beard balm. The idea for her company came from her son, whose severe dry skin made her want to create a safe and effective product for him.

With this in mind, Gilliard gears her products toward people who have particularly sensitive skin. When she crafts her products, she also thinks of her mother who is allergic to most skin care treatments. If her mother can use it without breaking out, Gilliard knows the product is safe.

“When I make these products, I am thinking about people who are important to me,” Gilliard said.  Her ultimate goal is for everybody to be able to use her products as she aims to be all-inclusive.

'An invisible ingredient'

Darshay Davis owns NuNubian based in Gainesville and makes skin care products using recipes from beauty rituals from women of the African Diaspora. When it comes to personal care products, she trusts her fellow Black women most with her skin, hair and health. She feels that most of the large commercial companies do not treat skin conditions within the Black community.

As a Black woman, she understands ailments like eczema and dark spots and therefore uses ingredients that are familiar within the Black community in each of her products.

More specifically, Davis uses ingredients specific to Africa such as rooibos, shea butter, geranium and black seed oil. She also uses ingredients from Caribbean cultures such as aloe and Moringa along with ingredients used in Black American culture like honey.

However, the uniqueness of her products goes beyond just the physical ingredients she puts in them.

“There’s an invisible ingredient that is always present when using recipes from Black mothers, aunties and grandmas,” Davis said. “You can call it love and faith, but it has to be in you.”

Browning does not try to gear her products toward a specific group or skin type but offers products she feels are suitable for everyone, including pets. Her customers are of all different skin types, backgrounds and ages.

Overall, the ultimate goal is the same in each of these businesses, regardless of the groups they are geared toward.

“In terms of washing white skin versus Black skin, the washing part is the same; you don’t want your skin to be dried out, itchy and tight, you want it to be cleansed but not over stripped,” Garrison said. “That need is the same whether you are white or Black.”

Challenges as a minority business owner

As a female and minority business owner, Garrison explained how doors are not directly shut on her due race. She described instead how if a store declines to accept her product, she will never know the true reason why.

“It could be that their shelf is full, they may not have the budget for it, or maybe they don’t want people like me in their store,” Garrison said. “I don’t have that reason.”

She describes how the challenges are not directly race-related, but more about the resources that the business owner has from the get-go. For example, she explained that she is not a well-funded business and because of this, her trajectory has been slow.

Others who have early access to funds or resources to learn about maintaining a business, which people in the Black community are not always exposed to, are in a different position.

However, Garrison still feels fortunate to have received support from her local Chamber of Commerce and to have connected with the Small Business Administration.

Gilliard feels similarly in that she feels she may not always have the same opportunities as her white counterparts when it comes to financing and investing, and she is having to use money out of pocket as she tries to build her business from scratch.

Despite any struggles they may have faced along the way, what all of these women have in common is their love for receiving the positive feedback from their customers. To them, this is essentially what fulfills them; doing what they love and having others benefit from and appreciate what they do.

“The most rewarding part for me is when I hear from customers that something I made with my hands brought them joy,” Garrison said. “That, to the core, is it.”

To these women, it’s all about the prospect of helping individuals with skin struggles see the beauty in themselves and making those connections with their customers.

“It’s my labor of love, and it means a lot to me,” Browning said. “I try to make products as affordable as possible so that people can fall in love with nature in the way I have.”

MacKenzie is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.