Thank God It’s Natural Founder Chris-Tia Donaldson Talks Empowering Black Women, Brand Building & New Target Partnership
Harvard graduate Chris-Tia Donaldson is in love with her hair – her God-given natural hair, but that wasn’t always the case. When the Detroit native landed her first job at a law firm, she began wearing wigs to disguise her real hair, in order to make her white colleagues feel more comfortable around her. If you can think back all the way to 2003, you’ll recall there were very few products that were being designed for Black women who had the desire to wear their hair in its natural state. What did Chris-Tia decide to do? She started doing research and 10 years later, she launched her own line of products called, Thank God It’s Natural, which was inspired by her 2009 self-published, best-selling book, “Thank God I’m Natural: The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Natural Hair.” And as of March 1, TGIN’s Moist Collection for Natural Hair is available is more than 250 Target stores nationwide – nearly a year in the making!
So, what makes TGIN stand out from all the other brands on the market today? Well, every product is created using natural and organic ingredients, contains zero parabens and phthalates and has never been tested on animals. But, TGIN is more than just shampoo, conditioner and styling aids. TGIN also sells handcrafted body soaps, body creams, lip balms, and t-shirts. But wait, there’s more! In the upcoming years, Chris-Tia plans on expanding her company to include healthy snacks, cookbooks, supplements and fitness apparel. Simply put, TGIN is not just a line of products. It’s a lifestyle.
BlackDoctor.org recently spoke with Chris-Tia Donaldson about her natural hair journey, her partnership with Target, as well as her plans to take TGIN to the next level:
BDO: Why don’t you start off by telling us about your “natural hair story” – did you always embrace your natural hair?
CD: It was quite a journey. The answer is no – not always. I think like most Black women, there’s been a time in your life where you were straightening your hair, whether it was your choice or your mom’s choice because that was what most of us knew for the longest because they weren’t really any products on the market until recently that were designed or formulated to allow Black women with textured hair to wear their hair in its natural state. And so how I came to the decision to start wearing my hair natural essentially was during my final year of law school at Harvard. I was just tired of spending so much time and money caring for my hair, perming it only to have it break off. And so with the assistance of my stylist, we decided that we should start pressing my hair, which he was really good at. It was less chemicals, but if I still wanted to wear my hair straight, then he could just press it.
So, my hair was growing and it was super healthy and it was still expensive, but I did like the results. I decided to get braids just to give my hair a break and that’s what I did. So, I got the braids and when I took them out, my hair was a mess. I didn’t detangle it and I had to chop it all off so that was my big chop. It wasn’t planned – I didn’t have any choice. And from there, I just started on this journey. I had this short, dry, brittle, teeny weeny afro and it took me a while to just fall in love with my hair even though in the beginning, it was not awesome. It was something different and new to me and I just knew that I would figure it out and I did, so that’s kind of my story.
BDO: What inspired you to then want to launch your own line, Thank God It’s Natural?
CD: Well, when I made the decision to go natural, it was 2003 and there was not anything mainstream or commercially available. You would walk into a Walgreens or CVS and you didn’t see anything like Shea Moisture or TGIN. You were looking at products like Blue Magic, Pink Oil Moisturizer or some kind of a pomade, so I knew deep down inside instinctively that there had to be a better way. Now, did I have the distribution and everything else figured out? No, I just knew that there had to be a better way of doing this and so I saw a void and it wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to figure this out and then we’re going to be in Target.” It wasn’t like that. I just wanted to find something that works for me. And so, when I started doing that, it was research, trial and error and talking to people, and I eventually learned everything I needed to know.
BDO: How does TGIN work to empower and uplift women and girls?
CD: I think it’s in a number of ways. Not only from encouraging women to embrace their natural curls the way God made them – I think that’s one way and that comes across in the product, but even in the – like I woke up this morning and I was thinking, “You know how we are a content provider.” A big part of what we do is not just making products. We’re educating women on how to care for not only their hair but how to care for their bodies. And it’s funny, but with this Target campaign, it’s even a higher approach of empowering women. The buyer said to me, “You’re telling people it’s going to be in Target on March 1. What are you going to do on March 1 if it’s not there?” And I was like, “Well, I’ll figure it out.” And it turned out to be a blessing because we turned our campaign from “It may be there” into “Ask for it.” If it’s not on the shelves in your Target store, ask for it. So, it’s empowering even from that perspective. Yes, you’re asking for hair products, but in life when you want something, ask for it. So, those are three ways that I think we empower women.
BDO: TGIN is now available in more than 250 Target stores nationwide. First, how exciting has this been for you? And secondly, how did you manage to make that happen?
CD: In a situation like this, it’s important to stay even-keeled because we’re a small company. There are a lot of ups and downs. Target is an up, but there are a lot of little things that go on behind the scenes. Is it exciting? Of course. It’s a huge accomplishment. If it weren’t for God and all my team members that have assisted me, we wouldn’t be here. And how did we do it? I think Target is constantly on the lookout for new things and new brands that they would like to partner with that they think would fit their image and company and I think they identified us. And that was great because we were working to go national, and they were looking for a partner to add something new to the category, something that was fresh and interesting so it was a great match.
BDO: What would you say has been the most rewarding aspect so far and the most stressful aspect so far?
CD: I think the rewarding part is just seeing my employees grow as people and how working for me is empowering them. I’m a perfectionist. I’m like a psycho control freak [laughs] and I expect a lot and I think for them, they are forced to push themselves to their limit and just realize, “Hey, I’m good at something. Not only am I good at something, I’m great at it.” Whether it’s putting labels on a product or making the actual products, it’s like you can’t be here if you’re not amazing at it. A lot of times, I see things in them that they may not see in themselves, and I think for them the experience is like not only are you good and amazing at something, but you’re amazing at something that’s sold in Target, you know what I’m saying? Like, I couldn’t do this without you all. So, when I’m riding them about how the boxes have to be perfect and there can’t be any shave marks, they will walk into a Target and be like, “I did that.” Even though I’m in charge of more of the higher-level things, it’s rewarding for me to see people of all levels feel that they’ve have contributed to this and that they’re good or great at what they do.
I think the most stressful part at this point is I can’t keep up with my emails like I used to. And now it’s either my email versus getting stuff done. I have to keep a mental list of what I’m working on and focus on more tasks versus responding to emails. It’s not the most efficient thing, but it’s the way I work right now.
BDO: What would you say to naturalistas who have tried nearly every product and every brand out there and they don’t see results? What makes TGIN different?
CD: It works [laughs]. I think what makes it different is again, that level of detail, that level of it has to be right. I bring that to the table, my employees bring that to the table. We’re like Apple in the sense that you may try one of our products and you really love it, but we’re always behind the scenes trying to make it better. So, you may be on Butter Cream 2.0, but we’re behind the scenes working on Butter Cream 5.0. Like I said, we’re like Apple in the sense that it could always be better. Like the iPhone could always run faster, always have a better camera, we’re constantly thinking about our products in that sense. I want it to always be better like you may love this, but I don’t want it to be good. I want it to be great and then when it’s great, I want it to be amazing. That is our philosophy. We’re always reading customer feedback and then we try to incorporate it into our products.
On a more practical sense, our products do what they say they’re going to do. I don’t promise it’s going to grow your hair down to your bra strap – that’s not what this line does. What we do is make your hair softer, more moisturized and more manageable. And when you use our products, you will say, “Oh my God, this shampoo makes my hair so soft and so easy to detangle and so fluffy.” And I don’t think a lot of products on the market give the softness that we are helping women to achieve. So that softness, that moisture, that manageability combined with wanting to be the best and constantly improve our products is what separates us from the pack.
BDO: What are some of the daily challenges that you face with being an entrepreneur?
CD: It’s hard for me to get my stuff done. When you’re running a company, a lot of what you’re doing is delegating and that means throughout your day, you’re delegating and things are coming back to you so you’re hearing what other people are doing and helping them get their work done, but a lot of the things that really fall on me I can’t get done until the weekend and so that’s one of the things that kind of frustrates me [laughs]. Another thing is I want things to be right and so it can be frustrating sometimes where you’re like, “There is a reason why I’m asking you to do something, there’s reason why it has to be this way.” You have to get people to a point where they see the importance of excellence, especially as a Black-owned company in a national retailer. The responsibility that comes with that is huge so we cannot slack on any little detail.
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BDO: What advice would you give to other Black female entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
CD: There are three things I like to tell people. The first thing is to make sure your personal finances are in order. The first step you need to take care of is like Chris-Tia Inc. or Chris-Tia LLC., meaning like your credit needs to be cleaned up because all of the stuff will come back to bite you so make sure your personal finances are in order. The second thing is have a business plan. A lot of people just want to jump in and that’s great, but just have a little document. It doesn’t need to be anything over the top or super impressive. Just have a business plan that basically gives your guiding principles on what you as a company are trying to achieve or work toward. And then the third thing is get a grip early on what’s coming in and what’s going out as far as numbers go. Those would be my three pieces of advice.
BDO: What are ways Black women can combat negative stereotypes, like the recent comments that were made by Giuliana Rancic regarding Zendaya’s dreadlocks, that really tear at the self-esteem of Black women and girls?
CD: That level of ignorance doesn’t even merit a response in my opinion and to be honest, in most situations – you know, I’ve been in this game for a long time and in most situations, it’s not just white people making those comments – it’s other Black women making those comments. So, it’s not like, “What can we do for the Giuliana Rancics of the world?” It’s more like, “What can do we do for the people of the world that hold these types of beliefs?” And at the end of the day, you’ve got to know deep down inside that you’re beautiful. You cannot wait for someone to validate you.