Celebrating Our Members During Black History Month
“Start with baby steps, do your research, identify what problem you are solving, and then solve it. Don’t worry about what the competitors are doing. Start where you are.” Those are words of wisdom from Rhonda Marshall, Chemist, Educator, Naturalista, and co-owner of Inahsi Naturals, a haircare line for textured hair. Along with her husband, Brian, they have grown from making a few products in the kitchen to producing a growing line of products in a commercial setting and selling them online and worldwide.
Rhonda, a chemist, working for Helene Curtis; and Brian, a Product Development Engineer, and Engineering Manager. Together, the Marshalls bought their respective industry experience and formed Inahsi Naturals, a new product for textured hair. This spark of an idea came shortly after Chris Rock’s movie “Good Hair” inspired women of color and others to rebel against the harsh chemicals in hair-straightening products.
Rhonda and Brian started at local Meet-up events in Chicago. On one occasion, “the energy was amazing,” said Brian. People were buying Rhonda’s products. It was then they realized Rhonda could utilize her chemistry background to develop new products that would work on textured hair. The time was right, the need was there, she had the expertise, and he had the operations know-how. They stepped up. He kept his job while they pushed forward with the business and raised their four children.
In 2012, they started their hair care line, with what they laughingly describe now as very homemade labeling. They worked with an online group called 99 Designs to create a custom label in a short amount of time. Re-branding in 2014 into Inahsi Naturals, which is derived from the Latin word for innate, resulted in a logo and a slogan “Loving the you, you were born into.”
With the success of their brand, the Marshalls knew it was time to expand. They attended ExportTech with a panel of trade experts, including representatives from the SBA, U.S. Commercial Service, law firms, trade groups, and Export-Import Bank of the U.S.(EXIM). They asked questions and listened to the guidance provided; to develop an Export Plan. So, they did, which forced them to visualize where and how they could sell their products globally.
In 2020, Inahsi Naturals joined IBA. Since then, they have continued to conceptualize new products, expand the business, and seek new sources of capital, such as “crowdfunding.” Continuing their practice of networking, attending seminars, and asking questions, including attending IBA webinars, such as the recent Town Hall on Supply Chain.
During the pandemic, they kept pushing. Brian left his job to go full-time. They moved into their own manufacturing space that featured a high-grade mixer, and in 2021 they added an automated production line, a big step up for a small business. The children, now young adults, pitched in to help manufacture products. Brian led their painstaking yet successful effort to achieve E.U. Compliance, which has very strict requirements for cosmetics.
Brian has used local resources to network and expand its brand. In 2021, Brian attended The Illinois Department of Commerce Office of Trade and Investment (OTI) virtual fair. Brian met with potential trade partners in Colombia and Mexico via Zoom and garnered lots of interest in their line. The Marshalls are proof that research, networking, and continuing education equal opportunities.
What’s next for Inahsi Naturals? Rhonda continues her live streaming events and has conceived new products. Brian continues to think of ways to scale the business. They are leveraging their relationship with their Middle East distributor into a distributorship in another country. Expanding into more markets in Latin America is on the horizon.