Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in personal care but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Aja Walker-Rice, founder of AJA Naturals, located in Asbury Park, NJ, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Hey there! My name is Aja, and I’m the Owner & Lead Artisan at AJA Naturals. I’m a skincare alchemist and handcraft all the bath & body essentials within AJA Naturals.
I specialize in creating pieces of functional art in the form of skincare that works holistically with your natural chemistry. There are so many toxic and unnecessary ingredients that go into the products that we use on a daily basis, and many of those products are mainly marketed to us black, indigenous women of color. Because of this, I’ve pledged from the very beginning to create skincare that is plant-based, fragranced naturally with essential oils, and free of common irritants such as: soy, canola, and parabens.
I only use what is helpful and needed. No fluff. No fillers. Each product starts off as a concept that is built upon with my knowledge of herbs and the experience I’ve gained while working to heal myself. Every detail of the products is created by me. From design to meticulously researching each ingredient to ensure it provides the right healing properties. I pull together the best of what nature provides to create something new, effective, and skin-loving. My customers are everything! The majority of them are women of color, all in different stages of their lives, searching for ways to smell amazing and feel even better without the use of toxins or products that cut corners.
I’ve worked with teens navigating this self-care space to guide them on a path to being conscious consumers, to women with children who suffer from skin ailments. My customers come from diverse backgrounds & lifestyles, but what links them all is that drive to provide what is best for the overall health of them and their families. I’ve had the pleasure of working one on one with many of them, helping them to resolve their wellness concerns. I’m grateful for each and every one of them.
Tell us about yourself
I’m a happy-go-lucky hippie at heart, and I believe it is that spirit that has helped me on this journey. I’m also a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. A natural birthing mama of two incredible little guys, and I’m happily married to my high school sweetheart. My entrepreneurial journey began back in 2008, but the foundation of that journey was laid seven years prior, only four days after my 18th birthday, when I had surgery to remove multiple, significantly sized lumps from my breasts. Thankfully, the cysts were benign and were removed without complications.
I was also fortunate to have had a surgeon that emphasized education. Conversations with her about my daily routines, more specifically the personal care products I used and the foods I ate, brought to light just how naïve I was about products and their ingredients. It’s still up for debate as to whether or not my eating habits and the everyday products I used were to blame for my body producing so many cysts, especially at such a young age. But, in my heart, I knew that making a change in those areas would serve me well. This health scare encouraged me to become more conscious about what I put into and on to my body. Which ultimately leads to a better understanding of the important role that skincare plays in our overall health.
This is what sparked my “Natural State of Mind” and sent me on a journey of Self Care & Conscious Consumerism. During college, while studying Biomedical Engineering, I learned even more about ingredients and their impact on the human body. I experimented with creating my own skincare products to avoid any further impact on my health. I spent all of college figuring out what worked for me and what I needed to avoid. This experimentation fed my interest in formulations and what it takes to make an effective product that’s also gentle. My science background, combined with my business acumen and natural artistic gifts, made it almost effortless for me to dive deeper into product development. Upon graduating, I began a career with The United States Army as a Systems Analyst. This opportunity afforded me the time and funds to dive deeper into my interests. This was when I began making soap, and as crazy as it may sound, it changed my life.
It started as just a few bath & body products shared with friends & family.
Then, almost out of nowhere, it turned into a business. That health scare made such an impact on me and my lifestyle that it continues to be one of my greatest motivations. My desire to share information and self-care products that positively impact our health, especially as black women, is part of that motivation. Life is difficult enough without having to worry about something that should be simple- like your skincare. If I had a brand like AJA Naturals around when I was younger, it could’ve helped me to change my life for the better much sooner. Perhaps even helping to prevent certain health concerns.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I’ve had many proud moments as a business owner. I’ve collaborated with West Elm, worked with non-profits to encourage breast cancer awareness, and have educated high school students about learning to read Ingredients and taking an active role in their health. With that, one of my biggest accomplishments continues to be working one on one with customers. When people visit me online, they know that I’m here to help. From the beginning, I’ve received many questions about health as it relates to skincare, and I’ve taken great pride in guiding folks to the information and products that would best serve them - even if those products were not my own.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Being a business owner is not for the faint of heart. It comes with many hardships and even more uncertainty. I didn’t have any grants, angel investors, or any other financial support for my business. I took all that I made & re-invested it, hoping that if I kept going, it would all pay off.
As a solo/mompreneur, obstacles were a plenty. I recall breastfeeding my son while teaching myself everything from product photography to creating standard operating procedures so that AJA Naturals could thrive on a daily basis. These are just some of the things that come with this path. But, it’s all helped me to develop into the best version of myself.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
It’s clear to me that this is the era of entrepreneurship. So many people, especially BIWOC, are starting businesses, and it’s very exciting to witness. But, even with that excitement and good intentions, it’s important to know what they’re signing up for. When I’m approached by someone interested in starting their own business, I like to leave them with a few things to consider:
- Educate yourself.
Whether it means going back to college, obtaining a certification, or attending YouTube university to help you along your entrepreneurial journey, whatever education looks like to you, and that fits your particular business needs, just do it. You will save yourself so much heartache, time, and money if you approach your business with certain tools already on your belt. Educating yourself on the structure and details of your business will serve as a guide for you throughout your business. It’s truly priceless.
- Pursue something that you’re passionate about. At the end of the day, folks want to have financial freedom. That’s usually the cornerstone of many’s entrepreneurial dreams; however, it’s not easily reached. Therefore, pursuing an idea that you’re passionate about will help keep you engaged for the long haul - even when no money is being made.
- Do. Not. Give. Up! Plain and simple. If you’ve taken the time to truly consider your what’s and why’s, and have determined that this is your path, then stick with it. As the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day.” It’ll take time, but with education, dedication, and having the ability to pivot when necessary, you will reach your goals. I know firsthand just how shiny, and perfect everyone’s business looks -especially in the age of social media. But, the fact of the matter is that there is not much that is shiny or perfect about being a business owner. Passion + dedication will get you where you’re meant to be.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I’m proud to announce that AJA Naturals is now able to assist many more on their natural journeys as we are a partner and featured brand at The Natural Beauty and Body Shop, located at 623 West Front St. Suite 500 Hutto, TX 78634. Follow us on Instagram to get all the latest on health, beauty & fitness from BIWOC.
As we align ourselves to be even more of service, we’re in the process of migrating our Instagram page to its new home: @TheAJANaturals Please follow us there for all things Natural, with skincare tips, ingredients/product education, and overall good vibes.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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