We had the good fortune of connecting with Ashley Guinn and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ashley, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
In 2016, after about four years of working with LA County, I started to realize I had to prioritize my own growth and development, rather than that of the company. I didn’t see myself working a mundane office job for the rest of my life, so I quit to pursue my undergraduate degree at UCLA. I knew I had to figure something out, but at that time I didn’t know exactly what that would be. Little did I know the answer would come to me two years later.
My introduction to natural health and beauty began as I journeyed to heal myself naturally from the inside out. I’d gotten sick after a couple of international trips and herbs were my saving grace and healed me when antibiotics failed. As a teenager and in my early twenties, I struggled with acne and eczema. For my skin, when I started looking for chemical-free products, I was led to the holy grail for naturalistas: black soap and shea butter. They actually worked wonders on my skin and I haven’t been without them since.
In 2017, I found myself studying abroad in Ghana, which happens to be the land of black soap and shea. I did some research and I was able to meet with farmers and key players in the black soap and shea industry. I came back home so inspired and so charged up. I finally had a way to merge business with my passion for natural products, women empowerment and Pan-African production and trade. I brought some soap and shea back with me as a pilot experiment and started selling it to family and friends. When I ran out and people kept asking me about it, it was then I knew I had to get serious. In the summer of 2018, shortly after graduating, Natural Nana was born.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Natural Nana is a holistic health and beauty brand committed to using ancient African botanicals to nurture the body. We specialize in 100% natural handcrafted self-care essentials gentle enough for various every day uses. Natural Nana is all about toxic-free natural alternatives but we’re also keen on making a social impact. We do this by supporting Pan-African producers (mostly women) and grassroots education projects like Help Educate the African Child (@_HETACFoundation). Most recently we teamed up with Little Tokens Foundation (@LittleTokensFoundation) to help with their library building project in Ada, Ghana.
I started Natural Nana in 2018 as a self-taught solopreneur bootstrapping a home-based business in Fontana, CA with only two products. Within two years I since worked up to eight products with one local worker, two remote workers in Ghana and imports coming from Ghana and Jamaica. Initially, it was challenging doing something I’ve never done before, never had any guidance or training in and no one to ask questions to. I started with very little knowledge of running a business and I realized if I wanted to grow, I had to get help. I was able to overcome my challenges by simply doing research and utilizing the resources in my network which was basically getting help from family and friends. This definitely helped push me in the direction towards progress and growth. Essentially, I am where I am today because of the support from my network, my willingness to learn and my undying commitment to the cause.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
LA is home to some of the best food spots so our first stop would be Airport Royal Cuisine in Inglewood for some delicious Ghanaian food. For dessert we’d head to Koreatown for shaved ice cream at Holy Roly, for the vegan options of course. South Bay is my old stomping grounds so we’d definitely chill and get some sun at Hermosa Beach, maybe do some hiking at Portuguese Bend in PV. In a perfect (covid-free) world, we’d end the night with some R&B open mic at Tha Juice Joint in Hollywood. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My shoutout goes to my professors during undergrad. Specifically, Dr. Cat and Jillian Alexander at Santa Monica College, Dr. Brenda Stevenson and Dr. Ifeoma Amah at UCLA and, last but not least, Dr. Irene Egyir at the University of Ghana. Their encouragement, thought provoking curriculum and business + research projects pushed me to go beyond academia to create solutions to problems and be the change I want to see in the world. I also want to shoutout Zogli and Yvonne in Ghana for seeing and being a part of Natural Nana’s vision. Huge shoutout to my mom Lelia and big brother Mike for their endless encouragement, support and love. And a special shoutout to my grandma Atha Lee who, as a child, I watched whipping up cakes from scratch and whose spirit keeps me company every time I whip up a batch of shea.
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