Laila Ali is a former women’s boxing champ who performed glamorously on Dancing with the Stars, so she’s known for her brawn and beauty. But with the launch of her eponymous line of beauty projects, the daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali boldly enters another arena: entrepreneurship. Ali teamed up with International Beauty Brands to create the Laila Ali line of eco-friendly ethnic beauty and haircare products that late last year became available at drugstores, beauty supply outlets, and other major retailers nationwide. Black Enterprise caught up with the 33-year-old to talk about her inspiration for the products and her approach to the challenge of getting them on the shelves.
How can African Americans engage in more business ownership or partner with companies like you have?
It’s a challenging market, especially for those who don’t have a big marketing plan and budget as far as how they’re going to sell the product. You can have the grandest product in the world, but you have to actually be able to get shelf space. All these big companies that have been around for years have so much of the market share. With every new venture you learn something new. I partnered with a company that already had the relationship with stores. If I thought that I could just do it all by myself I would have done it a long time ago. You have to partner with the right people to get in the door.
What advice do you give to people who don’t have a large marketing budget?
Sometimes people have to start small with a plan to grow big. You can do it grassroots and just get it to the people and to the salons or market and sell your product on QVC or online. When people start liking your product you can get more attention and possibly get some shelf space. Show them that people love your product and it’s going to sell.
So why aren’t more African Americans doing it?
We’re so behind and that’s what bothers me. We’re behind, when it comes to business, being business owners, and just the way we think. Thinking bigger and believing in ourselves and joining together and supporting one another, buying our own products, supporting our own companies—that’s the only way we’re going to get ahead. Everyone else does that in their community, but we have that crabs-in-a-barrel syndrome, like there’s not enough space for everyone to be successful and that’s just not the case.
What are three things an entrepreneur should know before trying to build a beauty product line?
Know who your customer is, who the market is, and have a great product and business plan. You need to know who the customer is and what the market need is. How is your product going to be different? And you definitely need to have a great business plan that shows how you’re going to make sure your product stands out. There’s a market for everyone.