Meet the First African American Woman to Hold a Patent for a Natural Hair Product

Gwen Jimmere, 2014 Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch Competition winner, talks about how she did it

Gwen Jimmere, founder of Naturalicious hair products and winner of the 2014 Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch Competition

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In just two short years, Gwen Jimmere has taken her natural haircare product line from passion project to side hustle to the shelves of Whole Foods Markets throughout the U.S., Trinidad, Indonesia, and she’s currently working to distribute in South Africa. “NATURALICIOUS was truly started out of necessity, as was its acceleration, said Jimmere. I was laid off from my job just a month before my divorce was final. I had no money and suddenly no job. I had NATURALICIOUS as a side hustle at the time. I figured I could either cry about my situation, or I could make something happen because there was absolutely no plan B. During that time, I had a 2-year-old to feed, and all the same bills I had before I got divorced. Plus my mortgage was due in 15 days. The only income source I had as an option was to make NATURALICIOUS work.”

On the heels of landing a patent for her natural haircare product designed for textured hair, Black Enterprise caught up with the trailblazer to learn about the patent process.

What type of patent do you have? 
There are different types of patents, including utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. Mine is a utility patent and covers our Moroccan Rhassoul 5-in-1 Clay Treatment ,which is a product made from super moisturizing Rhassoul Clay that allows you to wash, condition, deep condition, and detangle, while doing the work of a leave-in conditioner all at one time. It’s a major time and money saver. It truly is incredible, and as you might imagine: it’s our best seller. This was something I created in my kitchen. I put a ton of time and work into perfecting the formula and I wanted to protect my creation.

Describe the importance of patents in terms of marketing. 
Prior to starting and running NATURALICIOUS, my professional background was in marketing and communications; I have no legal background. But I knew I had created something special; something very, very different from anything else that I had ever seen and heard about in the marketplace. I wanted to protect my invention from imitators because I knew I could be sitting on a gold mine. Also, I kept hearing Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank saying, “What do you have that’s proprietary about your business?” I wanted to ensure ownership, as well as a legacy for my company.

What are the benefits of having a patent?
Receiving this patent is very exciting and such a win not just for me, but for black entrepreneurs and for us as women literally owning (the legal rights to) our beauty. I can’t help but think about the timeliness of it all with such a large lens being on cultural appropriation right now, and others stealing what we create. I’ve been getting calls and e-mails from people saying “I had no clue you could get a patent on natural hair products!” Of course it’s deeper than simply applying for a hair product patent. There was a very stringent process in which I had to prove I created this myself and that it’s a brand new concept that no one else in the world has ever done before. At the end of the day, instead of us complaining about others stealing (and profiting from) our beauty creations, trends, and ideas, we can legally protect our inventions and keep the financial gain within our communities.

In its most obvious sense, owning a patent can stop others from stealing your invention and profiting off of your hard work. But intellectual property (IP) can also be a part of wealth building. Many entrepreneurs don’t attempt to even apply because of the costs involved when using an attorney, or they don’t feel they can navigate the process themselves. I have three trademarks and one patent and I’ve never used an attorney or intermediary (such as LegalZoom) for any of them. There’s a lot of education, sweat equity and time involved when applying for IP yourself, but it’s well worth it.

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