It's not often that a small personal care product line takes off so quickly after it launches, but Donna Marie has done just that. From the moment the buzz started at NaturallyCurly.com, curly-headed people have been discovering and appreciating this unique line of natural hair products. President and Developer Ayanna Henderson took some time out of running her business -- and planning her wedding! -- to answer some questions about her terrific products.
Jillipoo: Why did you start your business? What did you feel curly-haired people were not getting from the marketplace that you could provide?
Ayanna Henderson: Donna Marie was born after dealing with my own frustrations as a curly girl. For a long time, I wore my hair permed because I was conditioned to believe from a very early age that straight hair was more acceptable. Although I was very familiar with naturally kinky, curly and wavy hair because I have been a natural hairstylist since the age of 13, I never actually embraced my own natural texture. After graduating from college and during cosmetology school, I decided to let my natural hair grow out and stop the perms. After completing the “big chop” (i.e. cutting the permed hair off and allowing the natural hair to emerge), I had no idea how to “rock” my natural hair and maintain the curl pattern I saw when my hair was wet. After countless failed attempts at using commercial, synthetic gels and styling products created for looser curl patterns, I started experimenting with natural alternatives. My mother had a basement full of herbs that she stored for soap making. She never used them, so I decided to use my resources and experiment with her huge supply. I found out then that there are natural ways to create styling aids, and I continued to experiment until I discovered a formula that actually produced the results I sought! I tested my concoctions on my clients, and after continued encouragement from my testers, I launched my product line.
J: Donna Marie is only a year old and yet has become a popular favorite with curlies. What do you think accounts for your success?
A.H.: Great question! I still cannot believe the amount of curlies that have expressed love for the Donna Marie product line in such a short amount of time and I am so grateful that the products have made a difference for so many women. Our commitment to providing natural products that are effective and free from harsh synthetics and cheap fillers and our commitment to quality customer service has been essential to the success of Donna Marie thus far.
J: How involved are you in the creation of your products? Are you active in the formulation of them?
A.H.: I formulate, manufacture, package and deliver every single product in the Donna Marie line! I do consult with a chemist during the formulation stage to ensure quality.
J: I've noticed that some of your products have changed ingredients even in the brief time they've been around. What prompted the changes?
A.H.: Two products in our line have changed ingredients slightly due to an overwhelming number of requests from customers. Even though there is a long period of research, experimentation, and testing involved with creating a new product, there are still customers who may not be satisfied. I listen to my customers and if enough people request a change, I will try to accommodate them, as long as the change does not affect product performance negatively. I have also removed ingredients and replaced them with more natural alternatives to enhance the performance of our products.
J: Your product line is targeted to women of color, and yet loads of white girls are quite fond of them too! Has this surprised you?
A.H.: I love to hear that ALL women with all hair types can benefit from using Donna Marie products! I originally developed the line to provide solutions for women with all curl types, but specifically formulated the products for women with tighter curls and kinks because like myself, these women, were unrepresented in the commercial curly hair care market. Knowing that there is an increasing popularity among women with looser curl patterns is incredible because this finding has motivated me to create more products that provide more solutions for all hair types.
J: If you had to pick one product that really sets Donna Marie apart from the crowd -- a signature product, if you will -- what would it be and why?
A.H.: The Lock and Twist Pudding is an incredible product because although it was created for molding twists and locks, while providing a flexible, soft hold, it also serves as a curl enhancer for practically all curl types! Also, the product is 99 percent natural -- truly a rare find and my favorite product in the line!
J: As a small company that makes its own products, what kinds of challenges do you face that consumers may not be aware of? (Availability of ingredients, distributor problems, regulatory issues, staffing, etc.)
A.H.: I create every product 100 percent by hand with no staff. Occasionally I will ask family members to assist me with large orders. Unfortunately, as orders increase, processing time increases, causing occasional delays in delivery. Even though the processing time is disclosed on the website, consumers do not usually take into consideration that our products are hand-made fresh daily and processing is longer than commercially manufactured product lines. The biggest challenge I face currently is trying to produce the products in bulk to decrease the overall processing time so that delivery times can be faster.
J: What's on the horizon for you and Donna Marie? Where do you see the company in five or ten years?
A.H.: I plan to launch three new products this summer and plan to expand into a full body, skin and hair line. Also, my long-time dream of opening a salon providing natural hair and skin services will be a reality in the near future!
Thank you so much, Jill, for the opportunity to let you and readers know more about the Donna Marie line!
Thank you, Ayanna, for letting us in to see the inner workings at Donna Marie. It's great to learn about a company whose owner is so involved in the operations of the company and so involved in the selection of ingredients!