By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Nneka Gunn wants every black woman to know she is naturally beautiful—and she does that through her Namaste Natural Beauty product business, which she founded in 2016.
Gunn, who is originally from Chattanooga, Tenn., and now lives in Hoover, said she came up with the name after practicing yoga for 10 years: “Namaste is a greeting we use. It means ‘I bow to you.’”
“So, Namaste Natural Beauty means ‘I bow to the natural beauty that is you.’”
Gunn started this venture through the Co.Starters business development program with REV Birmingham, “an economic development organization that stimulates business growth and improves quality of life in Birmingham,” according to revbirmingham.org.
The inspiration to make her own products, however, came from her family, Gunn said.
“My mom and grandma had beautiful skin. … When I got to be a teenager and started getting acne, I would be like, ‘What are y’all doing [to have beautiful skin]?’ So, my mom would make us homemade masks, and everything [in the mask] was from the kitchen or garden. My grandmother had this saying, ‘Everything we need to heal and nourish ourselves, the Earth provides.’”
Gunn, 39, remembered her grandmother’s sage words when she went natural more than 10 years ago and had a tough time finding natural hair products.
“I went through all kinds of products,” she said. “I tried all these high-end products and nothing worked. I started researching what would work with my hair and discovered shea butter. I was like, ‘Oh, my hair loves this!’ It morphed from there.”
Over the years, Gunn formulated different products using all-natural ingredients: “I love going to farmer’s markets. I would find a lot of ingredients for my hair there.”
When she moved to Birmingham from Atlanta two years ago to be closer to her family, Gunn began sharing her products with her father.
“It was primarily the skin products,” she said. “He said, ‘These are really good.’ I was giving them away as gifts, and then one day my dad said, ‘You really need to be selling these.’ That’s when I met Kathleen Hamrick, [director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham iLab] at Innovation Depot. She introduced me to Deon Gordon, [REV director of business growth], who works with Co.Starters.”
Through Co.Starters, Gunn was able to do a long-term market study.
“My [colleagues] gave me really good feedback,” she said. “When I started Namaste Natural Beauty, my goal was to have products for women of color. Even though we are the biggest consumers of beauty products, there isn’t a lot out there for us.”
She learned that her products work well for more than just black women, though.
“I had some [colleagues] who wanted to try the products, and I told them, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen with your hair.’ But I found that the products were beneficial for Caucasian women, as well,” she said.
Gunn has more than 50 formulas, but starting out she will sell only her three most popular products: Head-to-Toe Oil, Head-to-Toe Body Butter, and Body Scrubs. She also makes customized products to meet the needs of individual customers.
“My Head-to-Toe Oil is a combo of various oils, herbs, and botanicals,” she said. “I combine those and make natural beauty magic. It can be used for hot oil treatments and to moisturize your skin in the summer if you like a lighter moisturizer that will last all day.”
The second product is her Head-to-Toe Body Butter, which can be used to moisturize skin in the winter.
“The third is the Body Scrubs,” she said. “All the products are all-natural. Nothing is synthetic. I’m working to be 100 percent organic. I want to use containers that are also all-natural.”
Gunn offers men’s products, too: “I started formulating beard oil after a barber asked me about my products. I tried it on my dad—he’s my favorite guinea pig—and he really liked it.”
Her goal is to provide products that nourish and promote health. When it comes to hair, in particular, the beauty industry has drastically changed for African-American women over the past 10 years.
“We were conditioned to believe that our hair was nappy and that we needed to straighten or relax it,” she said. “But now you see so many people walking around with their natural hair. I love it!”
Gunn’s website is currently under construction, and she wants to focus on online instead of bricks-and-mortar.
“I can reach a larger audience, and I’m a free spirit so I don’t know if I’ll be in Birmingham next year,” she said with a laugh. “For now, word-of-mouth is how a lot of people are hearing about me.”
Namaste Natural Beauty is a small business that can focus on personal service for customers, Gunn said.
“How can we help you become more aware of your natural beauty?” she said. “We’re naturally beautiful ourselves. We don’t have to add the chemicals, which could have an adverse effect down the line. We don’t have to conform to what society thinks is beautiful. We’re all beauty.”
Want more information about Gunn and Namaste Natural Beauty? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.