Lisa Price Couldn’t Find Products for Natural Hair, So She Made Them Herself
Welcome to Beauty Boss, a reoccurring series in which we spotlight the power players driving the beauty world forward. Consider this your chance to steal their get-ahead secrets, and grow from the real-life lessons they’ve learned on the job.
Decades before small batch beauty brands became as common as coffee shops, Lisa Price was formulating and mixing her own haircare and body products in her Brooklyn kitchen. Today, 26 years after Price made her first homemade concoction her brand, Carol's Daughter, has gone national as part of the L'Oréal family, available at Target, HSN, and your local drugstore. It's one of the most popular haircare lines for natural and relaxed hair, and the brand has legions of loyal fans — including investor Jada Pinkett Smith and Oprah.
Here, we chatted with Price about what it's like to turn your hobby into a bona fide business, the key to her brand's success, and how she's seen diversity in the beauty industry evolve throughout the years.
You started out working in television. Was being a part of the beauty industry something you were always interested in?
Not at all. I stumbled on working in television production, but I really enjoyed it and I was happy doing it. A friend of mine who was working on a show had an opening on her staff ,and she felt like the skillset I had as an executive assistant would be a great fit for this particular role. She suggested that I send my resume to her and give it a try. I loved that the job was creative and not the same thing every single day. I think because I was happy at work and didn’t dread going to my job everyday, I was able to be creative and expressive in my free time because I wasn’t stressed. So, I began to dabble in making my own beauty products as a hobby and I never really thought that it would turn into a job.
Why did you decide to start making your own beauty products?
It first started with fragrance. I’ve loved fragrance pretty much my entire life, so I would make my own fragrances. I found that they would last on the skin longer when they were layered with a product like lotion or balm. Since I always had dry skin but never found anything that worked for me, I thought I could make these products for myself, too. I looked for ingredients that I could easily buy myself like shea butter, cocoa butter, and jojoba oil, and I found a book on essential oils. There recipes within that book for basic massage oils, balms, and things like that. I approached those recipes like you would with cooking and just began experimenting — adding and taking things out based on what I wanted the product to be.
When did you realize that your hobby could be a full-time gig? What was it like taking that risk?
There were a few different moments where I realized my products could be more than a hobby, but it was when I was pregnant with my first son that I got to the point of giving up my television job. I remember I was going on maternity leave...and I realized that if I tried to continue to do the business while working and being a new mom, I would basically be taking my paycheck and giving it to the babysitter. There just weren’t going to be enough hours in the day to do everything. So, I decided to not go back to work after having my son. My plan was to rest, heal, do whatever I needed to do, and then give the business a try full-time to see how it [went]. I never went back to my job, so it worked.
What are your favorite Carol’s Daughter products, and which ones are you most proud of?
The Manoi Oil Anti-Breakage Spray, Hair Milk Nourishing & Conditioning Original Leave-In Moisturizer, and Coco Creme Coil-Enhancing Moisture Butter are all definite favorite haircare products of mine. As for body products, I love the Body Jelly.
There’s a lot I’m proud of having created, but I would say the Hair Milk would definitely be one of them. When I made it, we didn’t have anything like that on the market. Today, there’s so many different options and similar products out there. It’s pretty awesome to know that you were the first one to do it even though you don’t always get credit for it. But, I know that it didn’t exist when I created it because I couldn’t find it when I was looking for it in the store.
Now, being a part of a larger company, when we make decisions we’re taking larger risks because our audience is so much bigger. We research, test, and talk to consumers about concepts to find out exactly what they’re looking for. When I was in my house I didn’t have anybody to talk to other than the few customers who were my family. I didn’t realize at the time that I was being brave doing that, and inventing things like hair milk and hair honey with no research. To still have those products being sold today is a testament to how strong your gut instinct can be.
Today there’s so many more brands prioritizing diversity in their product ranges by including formulas for natural hair. What has it been like seeing that shift?
Honestly, it’s great because I remember in the beginning people used to say how great it was that we were the only haircare brand in that space, but really it wasn’t because there shouldn’t be only one brand with these types of products. No one would say that about makeup brands MAC, Revlon, and Fenty. You walk into Sephora and you have your choice of 30 or so brands, so there’s always room for more.
Was it challenging to get meetings with retailers in the beginning?
It wasn’t challenging to get them to be interested, but what was tough was holding your own in that environment once you got there. We were so small and our infrastructure wasn’t as tight as it could have been, but we took advantage of the opportunity and went ahead. We made mistakes and spent too much or too little money on the wrong things, and we learned from those errors. Because of advantages in technology, retailers are now better equipped to deal with indie brands then they were when I was doing it. There’s more respect now for indie brands that are known on the internet more than they are in brick-and-mortar stores.
Social media didn’t exist in the early days of Carol’s Daughter — word of mouth was really how people found out about brands. Oprah endorsed the brand and Jada Pinkett Smith became an investor. How important was that to your success?
Absolutely. Yes, Jada Pinkett Smith is a powerhouse and having her name behind something means a lot, but it was also important that her name be authentically attached to the brand. She used the products for almost 10 years before she invested in the business. Whenever she was speaking about the brand, she was talking about products she was actually using and paying for. Even after she became an investor she would always place her own order and pay. People would say that they would take care of it, but she insisted on paying because that that’s not how a business makes money.
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You touched on what it's like to see the beauty brands be more diverse, but what do you think the industry still lacks today?
I would say there needs to be more diversity among what natural hair is. It would be great if stores had things divided in a way where there were products that speak directly to wig or weave wearers, because some people only wear wigs and leave their curls as is. Right now, they read about products and adapt them accordingly.
Also, more conversation around how it’s important that your hair is healthy and moisturized, and not necessarily trying to achieve a specific type of curl pattern. People have this idea that if they find just the right cocktail of curl products they’re going to magically transform their hair into a different type of curl. The goal should really be to have healthy hair and embrace the curls you have. I think we’re moving in that direction, so to me it’s not a massive void or conversation that’s not being had, it’s just not prevalent yet.