Today, Sew What? and Rent What? together employ about 35 people. But Duckett does not spend all her time supervising and sewing. In 2010, shortly after she turned 40, she decided to return to her first love, performing. She is now the lead singer for a rock band, Without Warning. “I never really even considered owning a business,” she says. “Then I came here, and suddenly I started doing it. What is best is that I’m doing it in an industry I love.”
What she does: Makes beauty creams and hair products
What her business brought in: $35 million
While other young people in the ’80s were skateboarding and playing Atari, Lisa Price was making fragrances. “I had heard that Prince would custom blend his own scents,” she says. “That became my inspiration.” By the time she was in her early twenties, Price was mixing oils and scents into lotions and creams and puzzling out how to keep her compounds stable. In 1991, the year she got married, she was working on body butters. Just as other women might make presents of cookies, Price would give her products to friends and family. One day her mom, Carol, suggested that Price try to sell the products at the weekend flea market held at a church near their home in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
“I really looked at that first flea market in 1993 as a day out with my family,” Price says now. “At the time, my uncle was making and selling T-shirts. A cousin was on strike from her job with the phone company, and she was selling silk floral arrangements.” But then Price, who worked as a freelance television production assistant, sold all her butters. She’d made about $20 more than her initial investment of $100, so she decided to mix another batch for an upcoming crafts fair.
Through the summer, Price kept selling her products, rolling the money she made back into the business. When the weather turned colder, she invited people into her home to buy her quickly expanding line, which she named Carol’s Daughter (carolsdaughter.com). Her customers were enthusiastic about her body products, but they were begging for help with their hair. “In the early 1990s, some African-American women decided to stop relaxing their hair and go natural,” Price says. “And they needed products to deal with this new hair.” Price experimented with different recipes, then did her own form of testing. “I’d send samples to hairdressers I knew, to try out on themselves and their friends,” she remembers. “They’d say, ‘Oh, could be a little bit more moisturizing.’ Or ‘Less oil.’”
The business grew steadily for three years. When Price gave birth to her first child, in 1996, her line was making enough money that she could afford to leave her job to stay home with her son (her husband also works in television). Then, in 1997, when Price was in the hospital giving birth to her second son, an article about her products appeared in Essence. “My husband told me, ‘The phone has really been ringing a lot,’” she says. “I checked the messages. There were 67 new ones! It got to the point where we had to tag team each other every two hours to check the machine.” In two weeks, the company’s mailing list went from about 1,500 customers to 6,000. The next year, Price began to pay herself a salary and hire her first employees, and by the end of 1999, the company was bringing in about $1 million in sales.
It sounds magical, but Price says the rapid growth was a nightmare. “We were producing more than 1,000 products, which is insane,” she says. “We were operating without sales data, and I was afraid to take away something a customer might want. And we were making everything ourselves in our own basement. Seriously.” In 1999, Price and her husband emptied their savings account to finance a $3,500-a-month lease on a storefront in Brooklyn. Price didn’t move production to a warehouse facility until 2002, shortly after she appeared on Oprah.