"Find your passion and live your dream."
It's a motto Jasmine Lawrence lives by and if the phrase seems fairly light, the 24-year-old entrepreneur believes it's a heavy declaration for one to make. “It says, 'I'm responsible for my future, I'm responsible for the choices I'm going to make.'"
Jasmine adopted the mantra at the age of 13, when she began a business that started off as a side hustle in her parents' home. After a bad reaction to a chemical relaxer left her without most of her hair, Jasmine took the initiative to do something about it, especially after realizing there wasn't anything on the market catered to hair growth for young girls like herself. She was the change she wanted to see.
During an NFTE (The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) Bizcamp for teens, the future Girl Boss found just where she fit in the world and how she could leave her mark on the map. "The summer before I attended, I had broken my thumb at a different camp. I wanted to try something a little less intense [laughs]. I was enticed by the opportunity to spend time at New York University to learn more about the business world." Throughout the duration of those weeks and how it manifested itself into her company, Jasmine says she learned how to be committed to something that made her different and understood how to capitalize off of that aspect.
If instructors asked what problems were participants uniquely solving, the response lied in Jasmine's basement in hopes of helping others with their own hair troubles, using her experience as the catalyst for something bigger. The foundation of EDEN BodyWorks was birthed from that pivotal moment and it was an interminable journey for Lawrence ever since–a journey that began from a personal desire to find self-love after losing the very thing that often defines who we are.
“Once you have that locked away in your heart, it's just a fire. You can do your own thing once you find your own thing," she proclaims during her chat with xoNecole. That fire has been ablaze for 11 straight years, beginning in her basement, where she experimented and whipped up her first batch of products with the help of natural remedy books and her family.
“I made a lot of different natural ingredients like lavender, peppermint, lemon, etc., and noted their beneficial properties. I started to combine ingredients in different ratios and formulas based on my need," Jasmine says of the beginning stages of her line. She began selling the items after seeing results on her own hair and the rest was history.
Jasmine's business expedition including an inaugural stop on Oprah's couch in 2004, after one of the producers at Harpo Studios learned about the products from a family member. Initially reaching out for a phone interview, they pitched the idea of being on Oprah's show. “I was more than willing to participate and was very excited when they allowed me to bring my parents and my sisters to Chicago for the filming." That appearance elevated Jasmine and EDEN BodyWorks, now a thriving business with homemade products in Walmart, Target, Walgreens, and CVS.
She is proof that ambition doesn't hold the same weight as age. If you need a dose of encouragement this morning, Jasmine Lawrence's journey to a multi-million-dollar business is sure to kickstart your own fire within you.
Your journey began 11 years ago, and things kick started itself when you attended the NFTE Bizcamp. What was your business plan and what was that overall experience like?
My overall experience was kind of up and down. In the beginning it was a little rough, but I would say that was when I had the most excitement and energy and motivation. When I first started the only people who really supported me were the people from camp, my family, and my parents. They kept telling me, “you can do anything and you learned a lot" and “you're doing this for a good reason, so you should keep pushing forward." But whenever I go to do my business plan pitches or set up a booth at a trade show and I had to talk about where I wanted to go, a lot of people were like, “Are you kidding me? You're 13 or 14-years-old and you should be watching cartoons." It didn't deter me, but that really fueled the fire for me to just want to do more and be better and kind of be like, “Hey, I don't have to be 30 with a MBA to have the right to start a business."
What I went through was so hard and I felt so lonely in my whole experience of my hair being severely damaged. I just wanted to help people. From a high level, that was my business plan--to make sure no one had that negative business experience with chemical products that I had experienced in the past. At that bizcamp I learned, here's how you develop a product and understand the cost, and understand what you need to invest in to make it profitable; here's how you take time and really understand your customers. Think of them as individual people and not, some market that you're just trying to get market share from.
You started at 13 and the startup was funded through saving your allowance and your parents loaning you money to help with production. Before the big break in the company after appearing on Oprah, how was the company doing financially?
We were doing good. We were doing well, and I would say, it was a very maintainable level. It was a steady stream of customers. There wasn't a huge uptake and I will say, before Oprah, I was not overwhelmed by orders, but I definitely came home and sold several orders a day and it was something that me, as just a student, could do on my own, or sometimes my siblings would help me. It was very manageable and for me, that was success.
I would say, I didn't set out to have a company that made millions of dollars. In that aspect, I wasn't disappointed that we were making only a couple of hundred, or a couple of thousand. For me, I just still could not believe people were purchasing this stuff that I was making in my basement. I can't believe that people get what I was trying to do and they see that it's more than just products.
I think we were doing really well and I think that the opportunity to be on Oprah was just a huge validation of what I was trying to do and who I was trying to become. I loved the opportunity and I still see the spike that coincides with reruns of the show and the recent appearance I did last year. I never thought that 10 years later, it would be 50% of my life, and it matured me and changed me into this person.
You mentioned a challenge you faced during the start and growth of the company was being taken seriously because of your age. Do you still face that same challenge? What are some challenges you do have?
Age is not so much a factor because I feel like I'm at an age where people expect me to be beginning my career and there's still that look on their face like, “Ten years? What do you mean you've owned a company for ten years? You just graduated college? Who are you?" (Laughs) My current struggle is balancing the space I'm in with working in technology at Microsoft and the space I'm in with health and beauty care. I don't mind them being separate, but I feel like I've been getting a lot of push to combine them in some way, like the best of both worlds. To me that feels greedy. I want both my dreams and I want them when I want them and how I want them. I feel like that's asking for too much and God has really blessed me to be successful in the STEM field and casually, I've pursued STEM. I went through this hard trial and out of it came a successful business. They feel like two separate parts of my life, even though there's something in me that makes me happy with both of them.
The other thing I'm currently struggling with is how to be a good role model. But it's definitely something I think a lot about. What am I trying to be an example for? Am I trying to be an example for poor kids to become rich? Am I trying to be an example of young people doing what they want to do? Is it how to start a successful business? There's all these different kinds of channels and messages that I could be about.
How did you find balance at 13 and how do you find balance now at 24?
It's very similar. I think that now I prioritize fun a lot higher than I used to and the enjoyment of life. When I was 13, I said I have nothing better to do than to make a business. Finding balance comes with knowing what's important to you and being able to constantly make decisions that are right in your eyes. I don't have to overexert myself just because I'm driving for excellence in all of these things. I can give myself a break. I can do nothing.
I could lose my job at any moment. My company could crash at any moment and when that stuff is gone and when I look around and see what's left, I don't want to be alone. I don't want to have never invested in a person or a friendship. I don't want to not know what flavor of ice cream I like or books that I always wanted to read, I don't want to miss out on those things as I'm trudging along and trying to move forward.
There are similar products on the market that focus on the being affordable and natural, but the longevity of EDEN BodyWorks stands out against the competition. Why do you think that is?
I think that a differentiator that we have is commitment to the community, and not just fundraisers and things like that, but trying to listen to what people are struggling with and trying to be a part of their lives instead of being like a company that they buy from. It's a certain level of trust that we've been trying to attain with anybody who's been to our events or tried the product. It's more like, what do you need or what do you need to learn or how can we help you with a better life, and how can our products be a part of that better life? But not necessarily the solution. I'm not growing you a solution for you to grow your hair down to your butt.
If that's what you want, I'm sure that we can give you nutrients. If you're coming to the company and you want a quick fix solution and that's the way the products are being marketed, like “yeah, take this one" this is a different kind of brand than that. This is a brand that asks, “Are you drinking enough water? Are you exercising? Are you good, mentally? How do you feel about yourself, because we can give you shampoo, we can make your hair grow, but that alone will not make you feel beautiful.
EDEN BodyWorks branched off a bit to include a line specifically for children. What has the feedback been so far?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I will say it's probably the second best reception of products we have since the launch of the coconut shea line. It's the first line of product that's really tied into our commitment to being a part of your life. When we launched, we were actually giving away books by self-published female authors and having these events where it's not just about, 'here's the product; here's how you use it; here's how much it cost.' It's really about here's how you can educate your child and spend quality time with them. The reception has just been great from parents, and it's just been adorable to kind of watch reviews on YouTube and Instagram and kids loving it, too. It's been heartwarming and it makes me want to be in that place in my life where I can spend that time with my children.
We [EDEN BodyWorks] do 'Mommy and Me' dates. We know if we foster the relationship with a mother and a daughter, that's going to help families. Having strong families is better for the economy as a whole. That daughter who spends time with her mom, learning how to take care of their hair is less likely to be caught up in superficial beauty. They'll understand things like “My mom used to deep condition my hair, so my hair will be soft." They'll know these things growing up, familiarity with the brand–that's great for us. But when you walk away from those Mommy & Me sessions, you don't just feel like 'EDEN BodyWorks has a kids line and they're just trying to get me to buy their shampoo.' It's “Wow, I'm closer to my daughter now or that was an opportunity for me to take care of her and to encourage her how to care of herself." It's kind of like a dual role we're trying to do. I think over the years, people have started to pay attention to that and started to see that and that's enabled us to be around for so long because we do more than just make money.
Have you ever encountered comments about your natural hair in the workplace?
It totally comes up. It's not so much what they say, it's how they react. It's, “Oh, that's how you wore your hair today? That's interesting. Is that 'tribal' or something?" You can tell in the media that long, straight hair is professional. All the women you see in suits and are successful, that's how they look. And it goes back to what I was saying about being Black in STEM; you just look at that model you and say, if I want to be that, I need to look like that and conform to that. At my workplace, we are super casual so it doesn't matter what you wear, what you look like.
I definitely don't think there are legitimate companies with actual rules about how your hair can be. It's a part of you, and it's so crazy that people will judge you for that. Clothing, I feel very different about. There are uniforms designed for specific types of roles and those uniforms are supposed to aid in you doing your job better. I know a lot of industries prefer suits because they want you to look like this is serious and I can get that, because sometimes it's even cultural. But there's a time and a place where you should just do you all the time. I wear my hair however I want, but there is real social pressure out there and it's scary. I'm sorry for anyone suffering through that, especially if you're alone and there's not another woman there wearing her twist out or wearing her locs.
What advice would you give in starting your own business in a world where it seems everyone is doing the same thing and it's difficult to bring something new to the table and be labeled “innovative."
My advice would be to examine your motivations and to be super clear why you want to start the business. It doesn't matter what kind of business you're starting if you're starting it for the wrong reasons. So, examining your motivations and understand what's driving you. Whatever that is–if it's to impress somebody, if it's just to get rich–those things are not going to be what allows you to wake up at 5:00 in the morning and that get work done. Or fly across the country several times in one week to get to those meetings. People will hear your passion in your pitches, in your writing, and in your work, and those motivations need to be powerful.
Figure out who you are, what you want, and what kind of impact you're trying to make.
And not just these blanket 'I want to change the world.' You have to know your niche and your market and be like, this is how I want to make impact and this is my thing. Nobody's going to have the energy and the desire and the drive to accomplish that thing that you want to do. You don't have to be afraid someone is going to steal your idea because if you're doing you, driven by some unstoppable force. If you can feel confident and still push forward, that's stuff you can't just make up. It's way too late to try and figure that stuff out once you already have something on the shelves or online. That's my advice: figure out who you are, what you want, and what kind of impact you're trying to make. No amount of money or fame is really going to satisfy you if you're not doing that thing that you were meant to do.
All images courtesy of Jasmine Lawrence