Although the services and products they offer range from hair-care products to jewelry, sweet treats, and graduation garments, these companies work to build a better Detroit.
After losing her job as a global digital marketing director at Ford Motor Company and finalizing her divorce, Detroit native Gwen Jimmere launched Naturalicious, a natural-hair company founded in 2013. She started the business in her kitchen and created products that cut her wash-day hair process by more than half.
“Start where you are and work with what you have,” Jimmere told Crain’s Detroit Business. “I didn’t have a backer or funder or investors or anything. Sometimes you just have to use what you have and be really creative with that.”
Her determination and creativity landed her a spot in the history books as the first Black woman to hold a patent for a natural-hair product, a three-step, hair-care system made from Moroccan rhassoul clay that is a five-in-one conditioner, shampoo, detangler, deep conditioner, and leave-in conditioner, ranging from $8 to $36 depending on size. Naturalicious is sold in more than 1,200 retailers, including Whole Foods, Sally Beauty, and ULTA. Although during the COVID-19 pandemic, sales transferred to their online shop. In addition to her business firsts, she also uses her company to create change by partnering with the Detroit nonprofit Services to Enhance Potential (STEP) and offering job opportunities for people with disabilities. Jimmere plans to open a manufacturing facility in Detroit and will employ people from the STEP program to help her start it off.
Founded in 2015 by Jasmine Childrey and Katoya Scott, Junkfood and Friends is an ice cream truck serving the Detroit and Metro Detroit areas. The two took their first year of business to discover their niche, deciding that the dessert sector of junk food fit them best. Reviewers rave about their strawberry cheesecake sundae cup ($6), which features a slice of cheesecake wedged into a large cup of vanilla ice cream and drizzled with strawberry sauce. There’s also a fudge brownie sundae cup and a Superman cheesecake sundae ($6), which features ice cream boasting swirls of red, white, and blue to represent the super hero. As two Black women, Childrey and Scott wanted to inspire young minority women and prepare them to be the next generation of female entrepreneurs. “The world moves off merchant goods and services being traded, and us as women, we’re taught to do everything but business and commerce at the end of the day,” Childrey says. The two women fostered a relationship with a local food bank, and they donate food and time, passing out food whenever necessary. With pandemic restrictions loosened, the Junkfood and Friends truck has returned to the streets of the Motor City so be on the lookout for their big, blue Chevy truck.
Look Good, Do Good
Founded by Erin Winters and Cameron White, Black and GOALD was created by Black people for Black people. “Black and GOALD is an empowerment lifestyle brand and community movement,” says White. “[It] is all about striving for greatness, [and] having the desire to set, reach, and dominate our goals.” The company offers affordable and comfortable merchandise such as hats ($15), t-shirts ($10), sweatshirts ($15-20), and hoodies ($20-40) that have their signature slogan and brand name plastered across the front of them. With every sale, a percentage of the proceeds goes back to the Detroit community in the form of scholarships, Black business partnerships, and service projects.
The hair salon began with a bold idea —create a space where both Black and white women could get quality hair treatment. “Because salons have been segregated spaces traditionally, we wanted to really counteract that narrative and build a community that felt inclusive and that felt intersectional,” says Nia Batts, who founded Detroit Blows in 2017 with Katy Cockrel and Sophia Bush, in a 2018 interview with People magazine. A traditional blowout at the sleek and modern Detroit Blows costs $40, but the salon offers other services, including haircuts, hair color, makeup, lashes, nails, and waxing. Detroit Blows also has a philanthropic arm, Detroit Grows. The storefront donates $1 from every blowout to Detroit Grows, which is then dispersed as microgrants to female entrepreneurs or as donations to organizations that help women navigate the workforce.
**As of June 23, Detroit Blows’ storefront closed due to COVID-19, but their philanthropic arm, Detroit Grows, is still in service.
The Dirt on Detroit
Entrepreneur and environmentalist Pashon Murray started her business with the desire to influence some of Detroit’s biggest enterprises to have a zero-waste mindset and reduce their carbon footprints. So she founded Detroit Dirt, a company that recycles waste to create compost for the Detroit area. That includes food waste from General Motors and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, herbivore manure from the Detroit Zoo, and grains from local breweries. Using that compost, local farmers and gardeners work to revitalize and uplift the city. She also began the Detroit Dirt Foundation, which focuses on teaching about the science of soil and helps create a strong community. Items for sale include worm castings ($15), Detroit Dirt compost ($15), Detroit Dirt shirts ($30-$40), and a poster ($45). Murray’s impact extends beyond the work and mission of her company. As an advocate for sustainability, she also speaks about her work. “An amazing company and business model, Pashon is a great example of visionary and entrepreneurial leadership,” says one reviewer.
Better Body Butters
After being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2008, founder La’Asia Johnson discovered most skin care medications and ointments resulted in detrimental side effects. “I was given a prescription for steroids,” Johnson says. “I hated how it made me feel. I hated how I was breaking out from them.” So, in 2017, she started making her own skin essentials and began giving them to her friends and family. “That’s when I started making the body butters because I figured why not try something that was a more healthy alternative, that actually makes you smell good, and that I knew would work a lot better than what I was using,” she says. More and more people began to ask about her products, which prompted her to start her business. Johnson launched Elle Jae Essentials with the mission to supply safe and transparent products. Her extensive array of products includes more than just body butters ($14.99). She also sells eyelash growth serum ($9.99) and beard wash ($5.99). All of the ingredients that Johnson uses are listed on her website. Although located in Flint, Johnson attracts a dedicated following throughout Detroit.
Songs of Support
Created by Byron Brooks, MoSoul is a new social entrepreneurial effort that focuses on the music industry. Brooks’ in-progress record label seeks to distribute funds throughout Detroit with the goal of aiding marginalized communities. The initiative combines Brooks’ two passions: music and philanthropy. Founded in 2018, From The Hood For The Hood strives to provide the homeless and other marginalized groups in Detroit with necessary resources, such as food and water. Brooks understands the challenges faced by that population, as he was homeless in 2015. His mother gave him an ultimatum: live at home and go to church and school, or leave. He left, but he eventually returned back to church and school. Brooks recently created fundraisers in response to COVID-19 and hopes to continue offering aid during this difficult time. “My goal is to just bring equity into the Black community,” he says. “Really, any community that may be under developed or overlooked and deprived of resources.”
Graduation Garments That Give
Founded in 2019 by Tiffany Moore, Timeless Masterpieces provides customized stoles that allow graduates to tout their accomplishments. Moore makes stoles for her customers’ graduations. A stole is a type of accessory worn around the neck during graduation ceremonies that identifies achievements or makes a social statement. When Moore graduated, she wanted to showcase her accomplishments, she made a stole and posted the photos on her social media. People started asking her where they could get their own and so Timeless Masterpiece took off. Moore began the Grad Scholarship Program to give a $250 book scholarship and custom-made stole upon graduation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Moore says that the interest in products from Timeless Masterpiece actually increased with people still looking to make their day special. “Even with the COVID-19 stuff going on, when we ran into the issue where graduations were cancelled,” Moore says. “A lot of people felt like, ‘This is the only thing that shows me what I worked so hard for, and even though I’m not able to walk across that stage, I have something that showcases the fact that I did get that degree.’”
Prints With Purpose
Founded by David Woods, SBOY Printing focuses on creating made-to-order and in-bulk signs, banners, and prints for companies with same-day delivery. The company’s team of creators, art directors, and researchers take pride in their hard work and being a part of the community that it strives to serve. Given the recent COVID-19 outbreak, SBOY added custom masks to its merchandise offerings. Customer reviews praise SBOY for the quality of the merchandise and its mission to give back. Woods partnered with Enjoy Detroit, a nonprofit organization that works to S.E.R.V.E. the community of Detroit. Every purchase from SBOY helps Enjoy Detroit’s mission to S.E.R.V.E.: service, education, revitalization, victory, and elevate. Through fundraisers, marches, community givebacks, and funding, together SBOY and Enjoy Detroit put the community first.
Rebels for a Cause
Rebel Nell is in the business of empowering the women of Detroit. The company employs women as designers, who turn pieces of graffiti into wearable jewelry, such as bracelets, cufflinks, earrings, necklaces, and rings. The products are well received by the community, with more than 225 five-star reviews on their website. Three years ago, Rebel Nell joined forces with T.E.A. (Teach. Empower. Achieve.), a nonprofit working to end generational poverty, to do more for its employees. Since its inception seven years ago, Rebel Nell has provided more than $400,000 in wages to its employees and helped 100% of its employees move out of a shelter while enrolled in T.E.A.. Rebel Nell now splits time in the business’s week between working and attending T.E.A. programs that help educate and support their women.
Community-Building Cookie Dough
Started in 2017 by Autumn Kyles, Victoria Washington, and Daniel Washington, Detroit Dough offers cookie dough in a range of flavors, including chocolate chip, peanut butter, and sugar cookie. They are often spotted at venues through their catering service, but can also be purchased at any one of their suppliers throughout Detroit. The founders were deliberate in launching Detroit Dough in the NW Goldberg neighborhood, just seven minutes outside downtown. “It used to be a hub for a lot of Black-owned businesses,” Kyles says. “After the ‘67 riots of Detroit, a lot of divestiture of that area in that neighborhood happened, and so now there’s not many businesses at all that are in that neighborhood. It was really important for us to ground ourselves there and be a part of this resurgence.” Kyles and her company are more than just a part of that resurgence. She gives 5% of total profits to NW Goldberg Cares, a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of the predominantly Black residents of the neighborhood by funding community projects, including an art park.
Freshness on the Move
Fresh Corner Cafe aims to supply healthy alternatives to their community — based on CDC statistics that 30% of Michiganders are obese and another 37% are overweight — much of which is targeted at Black and other minority neighborhoods. The business model is simple: work from one neighborhood to the next and organize pop-ups that supply fresh and convenient meals to Detroit. When Fresh Corner Cafe began, they transformed gas stations, liquor stores, and corner stores into fresh produce hubs. Now, the pop-ups are typically centered around schools, hospitals, and recreation centers. The business is run by Director of Engagement and Strategic Partnerships Val Carter, Director of Marketing and Sales Nick Waller, and Fresh Markets Manager Edwin Miller. They boast 87 partner locations, 110,000 fresh fruit and vegetable servings provided, and $2.6 million offered to the community, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Featured image courtesy of Chris Smith from Pexels.