In honor of Black History Month, we’re featuring Jasmine Lawrence, who started her skincare and beauty company EDEN BodyWorks at the age of 13. Find out what inspired Jasmine to launch her own business, how she built it from scratch, and when she decided it was time to let go—somewhat.
It was 2004, and 13-year-old Jasmine Lawrence was perfecting the sales pitch for her new hair product in the back seat of her parents’ car. Dressed in a suit, Converse sneakers, and armed with business cards for the company she’d named EDEN BodyWorks, Jasmine was headed up to New York City with her mom from their home in New Jersey, to visit as many Black-owned beauty shops as they could.
The young girl was confident that the all-natural hair oil she’d spent the previous two years formulating in her parents’ kitchen, would benefit others with afro-textured hair in the same way that it had helped her when she had a horrifying experience with a hair relaxer.
“I would go to a salon and say, ‘Hey, here’s the product, here are the benefits, here’s what we’d say to your customers. And I’ll come back in two weeks and whatever you use or sell, you can pay me for. Whatever you don’t use or sell, I’ll come and take back. No cost to you,’” Jasmine remembers.
Some adults were skeptical while others were downright hostile. “One of the first challenges was the social acceptance of my age,” she says. “Many people thought I was a puppet for my parents, that they just wanted to use me. There were times that I would do pitches in different pitch competitions and get feedback of, ‘Shouldn’t you be watching cartoons?’”
She didn’t give up, and the customers who did try Jasmine’s hair oil loved it, leaving glowing reviews about their healthier hair on her parents’ home voicemail and on the company’s website. Word spread and she landed a spot on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah had also experienced a damaging relaxer application that left her temporarily bald. It wasn’t long after this that retailers came calling.
Just two years later, EDEN BodyWorks was a thriving natural beauty and skincare business, dedicated to helping restore and grow healthier hair in an affordable manner, and to empowering women to feel confident regardless of their appearance. And at the age of 15, Jasmine was running the whole business.
A hairy situation
As a child, Jasmine participated in pageants and modeling, including the Little Miss Hawaii competition in 1994. It was through those events that she learned firsthand the pressure placed on participants to conform to certain beauty standards:
The feedback I was getting was, “We’re looking for someone who fits more of a Eurocentric standard of beauty—long, straight hair.” Especially in the early ‘90s, it was all about having your hair relaxed and straightened. And those treatments are not only unhealthy for you, they’re also expensive. But that was the price of success. I had a really bad reaction to one relaxer, and it caused me to lose huge chunks of my hair, with burns to my scalp. And after that, I was just like, it’s not worth it anymore for me. If this is what it takes to succeed in this area, I don’t want to do it anymore.
Unable to find any solutions to treat her hair loss, Jasmine, 11 years old at the time, turned to the local library to research natural ingredients that she could use to help nourish and grow healthier hair. With her newfound knowledge, she started experimenting with natural tea oils and herbs to see if they would work for her hair—and they did.
“It was a breakthrough for me,” she says. “I didn’t want long, flowing hair, I just wanted to not be bald. And then because I’ve always been really focused on individuals, it stopped being just about me and started being about what I could do for other people, and understanding and empathizing with their concerns.”
Initially, Jasmine had just a small inkjet printer and her notebook of formulas and spreadsheets. She would manually produce and apply product labels, one at a time. Eventually, the trickle of customer orders turned into a rushing stream, and she was able to purchase a $7,000 labeling machine.
After Jasmine appeared on Oprah, she soon learned that success had another price. News crews would show up at her school—one station even asked to interview her while she was in the middle of a chemistry test. She was also asked to leave her school’s basketball team because officials did not believe she could devote the time, or the focus, required for practice.
“I rejected that ‘no’ and decided, ‘I may not be able to attend every practice or participate in drills, but I still want to be a part of the team,’” she says. Instead, Jasmine took on the role of team manager for three years, designing plays, helping players understand how their numbers were growing, and what they needed to work on. She went to every game, and handled the books, but instead of going to basketball practice, she would go home and fill EDEN BodyWorks orders.
I just wanted to not be bald. And then because I’ve always been really focused on individuals, it stopped being just about me and started being about what I could do for other people.
Beyond the products
Now, almost 20 years after she first launched EDEN BodyWorks, Jasmine relies on an executive team to help run day-to-day operations. The team was first assembled when it was time for her to go to college, and she has worked with them ever since.
A high-achieving scholar, Jasmine gained admission to Georgia Tech to study computer science, following it with a Master of Science in human-centered design and engineering from the University of Washington.
“When I was going to college, it was about, ‘Can I find that balance? Can I find that freedom to still have these normal life experiences?’” she says. “I was able to study abroad. I started a bunch of clubs in college, at the same time figuring out what was the appropriate cadence to engage and interact and communicate with my team who’s making everything happen for me day to day [at EDEN BodyWorks] as I try and pursue this parallel life.”
Handing operations over to a team has allowed Jasmine to focus on furthering her interests in other areas. For the past 10 years, she has also worked fulltime as a product manager in the tech industry. “I knew from a very young age that I wanted to work in tech, in robotics, and these two careers have never felt at odds for me,” she says. “For me, my work, whether in the beauty or the tech industries, has always been very human- and people-centered.”
Regardless of whether she’s putting in four hours of work a week or 40, Jasmine’s vision for EDEN BodyWorks remains focused on staying true to the company’s values of affordability, naturalness, and effectiveness. She constantly challenges her team to maintain these values while still innovating and expanding their product line. The business now has over 50 products, including haircare collections like Papaya Castor and Jojoba Monoi.
“That mission and focus behind each product line is really where my heart is,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Yes, we will help you with your hair and skin, but we also hope that your life will be transformed by being in a relationship with us.’”
Help for the helper
Jasmine also leans on her brand’s ability to sell in Amazon’s store, describing the experience so far as being “huge for us.” According to her, joining Amazon was a major milestone for EDEN BodyWorks. The primary attraction to Amazon for her and her team was the convenience of having a larger audience reach. According to her, the company’s ability to integrate its existing operations with Amazon’s third-party logistics services has also been particularly helpful.
EDEN BodyWorks is also a part of Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator (BBA), which Jasmine says has helped to increase the brand’s exposure, in addition to leveraging discovery tools such as the Black-Owned Business badge and the Women-Owned Business storefront:
Amazon is definitely one of my favorite partnerships that we have to date because of the support. It’s having someone available to coach you through things like, “Hey, we built this new thing, how are you leveraging it?,” or “Did you know you could do such and such?’” And to be able to be in a community of Black-owned businesses and really share our learnings and our insights with one another, and really support each other—as a retailer, I would say that’s really differentiating. I’m not in a community of sellers or of Black women at other retailers. I appreciate being brought together, being able to connect, and seeing a difference in sales because of this space created by Amazon.
Creating the future
EDEN BodyWorks recently sponsored a wellness retreat in Antigua, and during the flight there, Jasmine made sure to finish her tasks, which included completing outstanding emails and prepping for meetings taking place the week she returned to the office.
“I came back to work and I was like, ‘Thank you, past Jasmine, for this baton, I receive it,” she laughs, referring to her proactive self from the week before. “And I was able to dive back into work and knock some things out and still sleep in and take it easy. With these routines, I just try and set myself up for success. And I say, ‘Okay, I’m doing this for myself right now, but also future me is going to be very happy.’”
One can only assume that future Jasmine will be very happy given all of her success thus far. And as for today, EDEN BodyWorks continues to help women grow healthier hair at an affordable price and feel good in their own skin, just as younger Jasmine had envisioned when she perfected her sales pitch all those many years ago.