She doesn’t plan to stop there, either.
“My goal is to be in Ulta, Sephora, Kroger, and to set up my own manufacturing in Detroit,” the businesswoman says.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into her works, Cartwright admits, but she has found support, and even growth, in some unexpected quarters.
“My go-to word for 2020 has been ‘pivot,’ ” she says.
Accustomed to flying across the nation to pitch her beauty line to retail buyers, Cartwright lost her networking opportunities when the pandemic set in, along with approximately 75% of her revenue during 2020.
“I was at my wits’ end, wondering what to do.”
Customers sent in photos to support the Help a Sister Out campaign.Fortunately for Cartwright, her certification with the nonprofit Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) meant that she had some wider support. When the network asked business owners what they could do to help, a brainstorming session resulted in a social media campaign called Help a Sister Out. Cartwright says it saved her business.
“People all over the country were sending in photos,” she says. “It helped me because I felt disconnected, I am a hands-on person and I was devastated that I couldn’t connect with my customers. This was a way to help feel the energy and support.”
With further assistance in the form of a grant from LISC Detroit, Cartwright was able to keep up inventory, purchase supplies, and increase her online presence during the crisis. It’s something she’s gained valuable business knowledge from.
“I never would have worked so much online,” she says. “I learned that the store shelves aren’t the only avenue. I was hosting parties like Avon and Mary Kay and the pandemic forced me to realize I can do those online, those are things I will take away. I won’t be putting my eggs in one basket.”
Cartwright’s beauty line didn’t start out as a business, but rather as a search for alternative ways to treat her 3-year-old daughter’s eczema, formally known as atopic dermatitis.
“I started mixing concoctions in my kitchen,” she says. “Her skin was so sensitive.”
With ingredients like mango, coffee, brown sugar, lavender, strawberry, and citrus, Cartwright focuses on essential oils and natural ways to hydrate skin, with no chemicals, additives, or preservatives.
Cartwright certainly isn’t alone in watching her child struggle with eczema, or even in seeking natural remedies to meet a need for Black sufferers of the skin condition. Approximately 9.6 million U.S. children under the age of 18 have atopic dermatitis (AD), and studies have emerged pointing to higher percentages, and more severe cases, for children who identify as African American.
A 2018 study found that the socioeconomic burden of AD represents a measurable public health concern that needs to be addressed, but social and environmental factors, access to care, as well as under-representation, has been identified as a barrier, particularly for communities of color. One recent study found that just 4.5% of images in medical textbooks showed conditions on dark skin, something groups like the Skin of Color Society are hoping to change.
“There is an increase in research and awareness of eczema’s impact in communities of color,” says Dr. Andrew Alexis, director of Skin of Color Center and Professor of Dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He points to recent studies highlighting racial disparities in enrollment in clinical trials, and higher rates of school absenteeism because of the condition.
“Non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic children were 1.5-fold and 3.4-fold more likely than non-Hispanic white children to have missed at least six days of school because of atopic dermatitis, respectively,” Alexis says.
“Organizations such as the Skin of Color Society are working to raise awareness of these disparities and multi-pronged efforts in the dermatologic community are under way to help improve the care of atopic dermatitis in populations of color.”
When Cartwright’s daughter was diagnosed, she was disenchanted with big-box beauty retailers’ lack of diverse products and unhappy with the recommendations she was receiving from dermatologists, particularly because her daughter was very young.
“Dermatologists wanted to prescribe steroids and chemicals, I wanted to try natural things,” she says. “They did work, it was a great in-home recipe. I would mix them and give them out to friends and family.”
But it wasn’t until Cartwright received a pink slip at her role as an administrative law judge that her business plan started forming.
“I went from presiding over unemployment hearings to collecting unemployment,” she says. However, her brother, the founder of a faith-based business network called Global Empowerment Ministries, saw potential in her skin care experiments.
“He said ‘that’s a business you are sitting on, you’re an entrepreneur,’ ” Cartwright says. “I thought, what do I have to lose?”
Cartwright registered the business officially in 2015, and showed up at TechTown Detroit to pitch the concept to ABC reality TV series “Shark Tank.” Her business plan was accepted, giving Amarra products a significant leg up, and it was soon after that success that she heard Walmart was seeking American-made products and she saw an opportunity to pitch her products to the chain store. She hasn’t slowed down since.
Despite COVID-19 setbacks, Cartwright still has big plans for the year ahead, specifically targeting her own state.
“I am talking to Target, who have selected me as a vendor for Black History Month, I’m applying to Meijer, and Detroit marketplaces.”
Her goals are not just focused on the sales side of her products, either. Cartwright wants to establish a manufacturing base in Detroit, and hopes to have secured a space by the end of month, with an eye on hiring and training women who have previously been incarcerated.
“Oftentimes people will not hire them,” Cartwright says. “It’s why our recidivism rates are so high. My goal is to give an opportunity to people who don’t have one.”
“People say we need jobs, and my position is we do need jobs, but we need job creators,” she says. “Unless we become job creators we won’t break that cycle.”
This is part of a series supported by LISC Detroit that chronicles Detroit small businesses’ journey in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.