DECEMBER 18, 2015, Amanda lewan
At the time when Gwen Jimmere invented a new haircare product, she didn’t know it was going to be a success. She also didn’t know she’d be the first African American woman to hold a U.S. patent for a natural haircare product.
The natural hair industry is estimated to be a $2.7 billion industry, and it’s under a resurgence. For Gwen, when she saw the documentaryGood Hair by comedian Chris Rock, she quickly realized how unhealthy most hair products were to use. She also learned how the industry was often led and owned by those not purchasing the product.
All of that is changing, and Gwen is helping to lead the way.
“I grew up in a household where if you can’t find it, you can make it,” she says. “I created the Moroccan Rhassoul 5-in-1 Clay Treatment out of necessity. Having natural hair can be very time consuming and expensive, taking two or three hours to complete your haircare regimen on what we call wash day and costing hundreds in haircare products each month.”
As a new mom, she didn’t have time anymore for two to three-hour wash days, so she developed something that would allow her to cut time. Gwen was also troubled that many products labeled as natural actually didn’t appear to have many natural ingredients. So she invented her own, and when friends of friends -- and strangers -- started to buy her product, she knew she was onto something. In 2013, she formed her company NATURALICIOUS.
It was soon after, when she found herself laid off from her job as a global marketing director at Ford while being just a month away from finalizing her divorce, when the newly single mom put all of her effort into taking the leap. Now, two and a half years later, her company has hit the seven-figure mark with a product that’s patent protected and sold around the world.
But obtaining a patent was no easy feat. As a single mom, Gwen couldn’t afford the fees to hire a patent lawyer. Instead, she spent six months researching and studying how to file one for herself. She did spend what was needed on filing fees and hired help researching prior art. It also helped that Detroit also has a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office -- one of only six in the country.
“I saved between $8,000 and $18,000 by filing on my own, but it did take me six months to learn patent law,” she says. “I made really good friends with the librarians who helped me during that time.”
The approved patent is for the new application of the clay based product imported from Morocco, which is a cleanser that also works as a conditioner, deep conditioner, leave-in conditioner and de-tangler all in one. The product cuts down a traditional wash day to a less than an hour. Gwen also guarantees a two-month trial period. If you don’t like the product, she’ll gives 100 percent of your money back, and buy you a competitor's’ product to replace it. That’s a big guarantee -- but to date she hasn’t had to take anything back.
Gwen hopes to encourage all entrepreneurs to consider ownership over their products, to think in terms of trademarks and patents and not just to share a product with friends.
“The patent gives me leverage and can be a part of wealth building. I really want women entrepreneurs to start legally owning our creations via intellectual property. We innovate incredible things all the time,” she says. “Consider patenting these inventions. Think about protecting yourself, your business and your legacy.”