Detroit’s Gwen Jimmere talks about making and marketing products for women with curly hair.
On this season of Working, we left the East Coast behind and flew to Detroit. We’re speaking with eight people who are drawing on the city’s complex history as they work to create its future.
Every day, Gwen Jimmere contemplates an unusual object: a life-size cutout of the television producer and writer Shonda Rhimes that she keeps in her home office.
“When I’m marketing something, I say, Would Shonda want this?” Jimmere says. “And if Shonda doesn’t want it, my target customer isn’t going to want it. Because Shonda is the target customer.”
That hasn’t always been her way, though. As she tells us in this episode of Working, which you can listen to in the player above, when she moved to Detroit almost a decade ago, she was handling digital marketing for Ford. When that job ended, her entrepreneurial spirit took over. She found herself trying to market products designed for women with curly hair that she was making at home. Soon enough, that project gave rise to her company, Naturalicious.
When Jimmere first started selling her products, she was operating out of Detroit’s Eastern Market, a destination for many local farmers—and the shoppers who come in search of their goods. “What was nice about it was there were very few beauty product vendors, so I kind of stood out,” she tells us. Though the early days were a struggle, especially financially, within a few months, Jimmere managed to place her products on the shelves of a regional Whole Foods location. Her business has expanded considerably from there, and now she sells her line through stores across the country.
Her production process has expanded in tandem with her growing clientele. Today, Jimmere operates out of Ponyride, a sort of combination startup incubator/maker space in Detroit that houses a handful of other small businesses making everything from T-shirts to furniture. Where she once mixed her products on her kitchen counter, she now has a whole team working for her. “We hire special needs workers to work on our production line. That was my way of having a social impact to my business,” she says.
Over the course of this episode, Jimmere goes into detail about all that and more, including how her role has changed as her clientele has grown. Then, in a Slate Plus extra, Jimmere talks about what she does when she’s not working, explaining how she creates space for vacation and travel. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives.