This is a monthly series featuring stories from the founders of local businesses in D.C., Maryland and Virgina.
When was Donna Marie born and what inspired the name?
My journey in natural hair care started in 1996, when I was just 14 years old. I had an innate knack for braiding hair so I quickly learned the most popular styles and started my first business, “Braids by Ayanna”. Word spread quickly that I had a very gentle approach to braiding and I focused on the care of the naturally curly, kinky, and wavy hair, not just the style. It was then when I noticed products catering to the needs of natural hair were scarce and wished I could change that dynamic. In College at Saint John’s University, I started doing more research. I attended cosmetology school shortly after graduating from and consulted with a chemist on cosmetic product formulation. In 2008, Donna Marie was born.
Our natural hair should be celebrated, its classy, its bold and divine as we are. Donna Marie, a name meaning “Divine Lady” is the name of my grandmother. Our products are inspired by her classy, unapologetic expression of her natural beauty and her simple, natural recipes for hair and health. Today, Donna Marie is a family run operation in the DMV area. We offer both hair, skin and body care products for women. All of our products are made in-house, by hand and we’ll likely keep it that way. As we grow, we’ll scale the operation by using more efficient equipment, while still maintaining quality control by operating within our own manufacturing facility.
What is your biggest seller and your personal favorite?
Our styling products (Dream Curling Creme and Miracurl) and moisturizers (Super Buttercreme and Hair Whip) are our top sellers, which makes sense because industry surveys always reveal that style and moisture are top priority for women with curly kinky and wavy hair. Since our products work together in a system, its difficult to say which one is my favorite. But in this season, I’m obsessed with our Pink Rose Hydrating Face Mist. It really gives new meaning to the phrase “Wake up and Smell the Roses” as this product is infused with intoxicating pure rosewater extract and hibiscus. A few spritzes leaves my skin feeling and looking moisturized, cool and smooth all day.
What made you get into the beauty industry and what do you think separates Donna Marie from its competition?
There just weren’t many brands addressing the unique needs of women of color and their naturally curly kinky and wavy hair. I started Donna Marie before natural hair became widely popular and accepted. Now, there are many competitors, which means that natural hair care is not a fad or popular for the moment, rather, natural hair and living is a lifestyle. The key to separating us from competition is staying committed to the reason why we started in the first place and carving niches that have not been explored yet within the natural hair care sector. We’re working on some things…stay tuned!
When did you realize that Donna Marie could really be on to something?
In 2004, I created the Dream Curling Creme. One day while shopping in Jamaica, NY I decided to visit one of my favorite stores, Nubian Heritage. While in the store, a lightbulb went off in my head and I thought “You should pitch the product.” I pulled the owner to the side and told him about Dream Curling Creme. He told me to come back the next day with a sample. The following day, I returned with a sample and he placed an order that day for a few thousand dollars!
Are there any familiar faces using your products?
You can find many positive reviews on social media. A popular DMV influencer NaturallyTemi, has favorably reviewed our products on Instagram.
Are your products sold in any local retail locations?
At this time, there are no DMV area locations that carry our products, but if you are local and within 15 miles, we will meet you and drop the products off at your location or you can get a discount on shipping if you prefer the items shipped.
What advice can you share with fellow entrepreneurs?
You’ve likely heard this before, but for the people in the back, I’ll repeat it: Entrepreneurship is a marathon not a sprint. It’s HARD work. You must be dedicated and unwavering because you most likely will go through tough times. The best advice I can give to an entrepreneur is :
- Get help: I know that in the beginning stages of entrepreneurship, bootstrapping seems like the easiest route, but. Never feel like you have to do it all alone; you’ll suffer from burnout quick, and your business will suffer as well.
- Get a Mentor: Identify a few people or the one person that is successful that can challenge you and help you get to the next level. Every successful person has a mentor, even Oprah!
- Stay strong + Be determined: As Jay Z said, “The Genius thing is that we didn’t give up.” Every one won’t say “yes” and you will likely feel rejected at some point and may even experience self-doubt. You’ll have to have tough skin when the not so glamorous side of owning and operating your own business takes a toll on you. When you feel like you want to give up, remember your “why” and keep pushing.
- Never stop learning: Just when you think you’ve got the method to become successful, something new comes along. As technology continues to advance and evolve, as an entrepreneur you have to be able to adjust and understand new developments quickly. You have to constantly learn new things to stay relevant and competitive.
What is next for Donna Marie?
A new brand: A men’s all natural hair and beard care collection launching this summer.
If you would like to try Donna Marie products yourself, Enter code: OTP at checkout for an exclusive 20% off your entire purchase.
Offer ends August 1st, 2017.
Thanks Donna Marie! 🙂
Do you have an established product or service “Made in The DMV”? Contact us to share your story.