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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

Going natural is not just about hair
UNCC student focuses on business of maintenance
 
Published Thursday, September 27, 2012 2:57 pm
by Michaela L. Duckett

Ashleigh Thornton first had her hair chemically relaxed at age 9.

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Ashleigh Thornton, founder of Noire Naturals, is a UNC Charlotte business major.


By the time she turned 19, Thornton says she noticed excessive breakage and shedding. She believed 10 years of relaxers was damaging her hair so she decided to go natural. That was three years ago. Thornton says one of the most difficult aspects of the transition was finding the right products.


Going natural was more than a hairstyle. It was a change in lifestyle. Thornton wanted to find all-natural products to use on her hair after becoming alarmed by some of the information she read online about ingredients commonly used as preservatives in hair care products.


“I was really shocked and disappointed by some of the ingredients the FDA is allowing some companies to put in their products,” she said. “I was shocked that some products contained carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents.”


While the Food and Drug Association maintains low levels of those ingredients used in cosmetics are safe for consumer use, Thornton was concerned about her health.


“Once I realized how many people out there had shared some of the same frustrations, I was determined to formulate an all-natural product line of my own,” she says.


Thornton started mixing up concoctions in her parents’ kitchen. After about three trial runs, she found the right mixture. She gathered a group of about 30 friends and family members of various ethnicities, hair types and textures to act as a focus group. Once she perfected her formula, Thornton had it tested in a scientific lab to ensure that the pH levels were correct, test the shelf life and safety of her product.


In September 2011, Thornton launched Noire Naturals. The product line includes a shampoo, conditioner and a curl-defining jelly.


Thornton, a business major at UNC Charlotte, said she did not want to take out loans or create any debt to launch her business. She used her “life savings” and nearly $8,000 of income from two years of summer jobs and internships to fund the testing and initial start-up costs for her business.


“It has been a blessing to be able to start a company debt-free,” she says. “I haven’t even borrowed any money from my parents.”


However, her parents did lend their kitchen, where Thornton, who describes her business as “a one woman-show,” mixes all of her products. She says she averages about 200 units sold each month, but expects that number to grow.


Noire Naturals is a web-based business. In the near future, Thornton wants to transition into retail but does not plan to make her product available in large chain retailers like Target or Wal-Mart. She has her sights set on making her product available to quality salons and natural hair boutiques across the nation. She also says she is receiving requests from salon-owners to make her product available for wholesale.


She is one step closer to achieving that dream. Thornton recently reached a manufacturing agreement with Dudley Cosmetics, the world’s largest producer of products for African-American hair. She says Dudley will begin manufacturing by the end of the year so that she can have enough product to meet the demand.


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