Strong roots sees Ruby's Natural Hair Care through COVID-19 challenges

LaShonda Sims wants to leave a legacy behind for her family. It’s why she, along with her daughter and two cousins, teamed up to create a family-run beauty business. After three years of research, the group launched Ruby’s Natural Hair Care in 2017, named for Sims’ late grandmother and family matriarch.

“It was always going to be a family collaboration,” says Sims. “It was always about bringing in a secure, tight team.”

It's that ability to rally around each other that is helping the business survive in the wake of COVID-19 setbacks, but the foundations for that bond began long before now.

Aesthetics have always been a matter of pride for her family, Sims says. Her great aunt had a knack for styling the family’s tresses and Sims remembers lots of experiments with creating “potions and scents.”

“My cousins and I, we were always maintained and well-kept,” Sims says.

Sims has been a cosmetologist for 25 years, and from her customers and her relatives, she saw the direction her business needed to take — toward natural products. 

“When the big natural wave came a lot of ladies left my chair, so it gave me an idea,” she says.

With a family member suffering from psoriasis, and another with eczema, Sims started researching and experimenting with essential oils and ingredients known for healing properties.

“A lot of Black women were experiencing the same problem,” says Sims. “They couldn’t keep that moisture in their hair.”

It's the family's first creation that is still their most popular — an ointment called Love Oil. The unisex oil is designed for hair and skin, and remains the company’s best seller. 

“When we realized it was helping my granddaughter's eczema as well, we got really excited.”

Now, Sims and her family create oils, body butters, hair products, and body scrubs, with a focus on essential oils and sulfate- and paraben-free ingredients. Their line is permeated with lemon oil, tea tree oil, shea butter, lavender, aloe vera, rosemary, and flax seed, all aimed at protecting and strengthening hair and skin. 

Keeping the business a family-based company has been a way to keep up motivation as Ruby’s developed, says Sims. Her daughter, Amber Nicole Edwards, and cousins Felice and Shanika Adediran bring their skill sets to the company and Sims' mother also helps with sales.

The team started out vending at Detroit locations like Eastern Market to establish their name and from there they began distributing to salons and building relationships throughout the city.  

The family behind Ruby's Natural Hair Care vending at Detroit's Eastern Market.

They were doing so well that they decided to branch out to a Californian base. 

“We went to L.A. to broaden our brand,” Sims says. “It’s a city with people from all around the world and we wanted to connect with that.” 

But then COVID-19 hit. 

“The pandemic forced us to come back to Detroit,” says Sims. “But we were coming back to our roots, our family was here.”

Facing a significant financial loss without any events throughout the summer to support the business, Sims decided to apply for a Kiva loan — a crowdfunded program that offers zero-interest loans for entrepreneurs. 

The business was able to secure a $9,000 loan in June, which Sims says helped the team refocus on Detroit operations and their goal to expand their manufacturing process. It was their family and friends who made it happen.

Sims was very effective in getting her network to support the loan, says Kiva Detroit capital access manager Evan Adams, a skill that helped the speed of the fundraising process.

“LaShonda was very professional, efficient, and generous following the loan,” Adams says.

Having access to capital, quickly, has been a way for small businesses in Detroit to meet the challenges of COVID-19, and something Sims is grateful for. 

“The process was smooth,” she says. “That’s very important to a business owner. There weren't any hiccups or mishaps.”

Working with Kiva Detroit, a program of Build Institute, has also offered a wider network that Sims didn’t realize was going to be an important factor.

“They’ve connected us with companies throughout the metro area,” she says. “It has been a blessing.”

Sims and her family are part of a rapidly growing cohort of women-owned businesses in Detroit. A 2019 report showed that Detroit ranked as the top metropolitan area in the U.S. for growth rate of women-owned firms, with an 88% increase in the past five years, well ahead of a national trend of 21%. Companies owned by women of color have been growing across the country at double that rate (43%).

Kiva Detroit has loaned $805,000 to 168 female entrepreneurs so far, a group that makes up 63% of the program's borrowers, and Adams sees it as a way of addressing capital disparity. 

"In the United States women are disproportionately marginalized from accessing mainstream business capital, compared to their male counterparts," says Adams. "That's no less true here in Michigan, and it’s no less true here in Detroit."

With the future looking increasingly female-driven, the team at Ruby’s have aspirations to expand at a national level, establish storefronts, and establish educational classes. 

Shanika Adediran is part of the team creating hair and skin care products for Ruby's Natural Hair Care.

“We want to host workshops where people can make their own mixes,” says Shanika Adediran. “We want to see more products, clothing lines, jewelry, and build an entire empire.”

Despite their passion for business, Sims, Adediran, and their team refuse to forget why they are doing it, and what their motivation is. 

“Always put your family first,” says Adediran.

This is part of a series supported by LISC Detroit that chronicles Detroit small businesses’ journey in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more articles by Kate Roff.

Kate Roff is a freelance writer and editor based out of Detroit. Contact her at [email protected].
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