Meet Julianna Gardener, Founder and CEO of J. Monique's Naturals
As told to Alecia James Friday, May 9, 2014
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
What is the formula for success? This is one question that is sure to elicit a plethora of responses–there's no hard and fast rule here, but what you'll get from Julianna, Founder and CEO of J. Monique's Naturals, is a clear outline with effective, tried & true methods if you are ever fearful of taking that first step. "Take that first step" says Julianna, "Success does not happen overnight but it is achieved through dedication and hard work."
What started as a passion for experimenting and making her personal hair and skincare products has undoubtedly blossomed into a successful business. In her own words, "J. Monique's Naturals has toiled for months and tried hundreds of combinations of each product before coming up with the optimal blend for each." This mixtress altruistically gives her all, carefully whipping up the recipe for each of her goodies, by hand, while simultaneously infusing a generous serving of love in each package.
J. Monique's Naturals is no ordinary brand; "Rum 'n' Raisin Body Butter," "Mango Papaya Soap," and "Irish Moss & Cocoa Deep Conditioner" are some of the fascinating products you'll find under this label. Julianna ensures that her products are made with the finest natural ingredients that are sure to pique your curiosity. The clear infusion of rich Jamaican elements keeps her island paradise close at heart while strategically setting her brand apart from other brands on the market.
As a naturalista living in a world with so many misconceptions about textured hair, Julianna candidly dispels some of these notions, like reminding us that natural hair is versatile, and that it is unique as opposed to being inferior to other hair types. If you struggle with hair breakage as much as I do, she dishes some winning strategies that are sure to save the day.
Her faith is unwavering; always starting the day with prayer, which sets the tone and builds resilience to staunchly tackle challenges as they arise. And if you think this is all on her agenda, you better think again. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, Julianna works full-time with foster youths, supervising testing procedures for them. But there's even more; this is one woman who loves a challenge, and is a step closer to fulfilling her dream of becoming a Neurosurgeon as she starts medical school next month. Got all that?
So as a fellow alum of the notable and esteemed St. Hilda's Diocesan High School, I implore you all to get your drums, and let's sing and dance to the tune of "Res Severa Verum Gaudium," because "Hard Work really Brings True Joy."
Creative Ajay presents the charismatic, spirited and beautiful soul called Julianna Gardener!
It was in 2012 when J. Monique’s Naturals made its official debut. What inspired you to create a skincare and hair care line that utilizes products with natural ingredients, that are eco-friendly, as well as beneficial & safe for the body?
I had actually decided to take the natural hair journey in 2011 and tried to use organic products. The cost of most was really high and just did not have the safest ingredients. I started to experiment and created several products for my personal use. I had amazing results and then started to share with friends who in turn, wanted more. I then realize I could create these products that were safe and also affordable for other people.
Mango Papaya Soap, Freshly Brewed Coffee Soap, Rum ‘n’ Raisin Body Butter, and Sunny Shea Hair Butter to name a few.
- Just saying these names sets me in a relaxing mood with the desire to escape to a tropical paradise. How were these names coined? Some obviously have a deep connection to rich Jamaican elements. Can you speak more about this?
I am Jamaican and my culture & heritage inspires me in so many ways. I always try to infuse the colorful and amazing scents of my 'paradise' into the products I create. I mix fragrances & oils and my hope is that as a container or package is opened, that the individual would be whisked away to the islands. This is also a way for me to keep the thought of my homeland close to my heart...and nose of course. Lol.
When you started your company in 2012, were there any doubts in your mind that it would be successful? Or did you know that one day it would be a household name? Have you soaked it all in?
I was very skeptical about the path the company would take, to be honest. It was a personal venture that I had no idea would broaden in the way it did and be received by so many people. However, I did place a lot of effort in creating the first set of products even though they were first used by individuals I knew personally. I still wanted the best for them and myself. It is still shocking that J. Monique's Naturals is growing the way it is. I am trying to soak it all in...slowly. :)
How do you stay competitive in a market that some may describe as saturated? What are some key elements that make J. Monique’s Naturals stand out from other brands?
There are so many other natural hair & skincare companies out there. It is not an easy task to remain competitive at all. However, I have ensured that our prices are competitive and affordable by all. The goodies are high quality, healthy, and they cost lower than those on the market. As well, I try to distinguish the brand from others, by creating interesting products with awesome ingredients that are unheard of, and pretty much will create & stir curiosity. For example, our Hibiscus & Broccoli Deep Conditioner and Irish Moss & Cocoa Deep Conditioner.
As well, each customer is treated as a person, never as a dollar bill. I ensure that I am available to speak with customers one-on-one, questions and concerns answered. Customer service for us is key. Everyone who calls or inboxes us is treated with priority.
As a female entrepreneur who one day woke up with a plan and toiled endlessly until a successful business was created, what tips do you have for those who may still be fearful of taking that first step?
1. Discard the fear of being rejected or being considered not good enough.
2. Put a plan in place. Write down short & long term goals. Review them often.
3. Take action. Do not put your plans and goals aside.
4. Take the first step. Success does not happen overnight but it is achieved through dedication and hard work.
5. Celebrate your accomplishments.
What have been some of the proudest and most rewarding moments for J. Monique’s Naturals so far?
The proudest and most rewarding moments have been getting the goodies on shelf in Jamaica as well as daily feedback and reviews from customers, bloggers & youtubers.
From your Facebook posts, it’s evident that you are extremely busy, always conceiving and whipping up ingredients for a new product, what is a day like in your shoes?
Oh yes, my days get real crazy! I always start my day off with prayer and then get right to answering emails and messages on social network etc. I also work full-time with foster youth so my days also entail supervising testing procedures for these kids. I have to check in with the company reps I have in Jamaica and the stores as well to ensure stock is okay. Some days are allotted to filling orders which means making products and shipping. My day ends with exercise and having a good meal, then cozying up to a movie or chatting with friends.
Are there any challenges that come with owning your own business? How do you manage to always keep a positive outlook?
There are many challenges that come with owning a business. Those below are some I face often:
1. Time management. It is so easy to become burnt out from working long hours and trying to supervise every detail of the company.
2. Pursuing the best opportunities. I receive many requests for sponsorship and partnership. It becomes difficult to know which to choose and what would be most beneficial to the success of the business.
3. Finding the right staff. Hiring the right individuals can be a daunting task. It is difficult to find trustworthy people.
4. Uncertainty. Not every month is a great month for the company and at times, I do become uncertain about its longevity and success and would want to focus more so on the short term goals rather than focus on long term strategies.
5. Marketing. It is challenging to market to the right customers or potential customers. Knowing what medium to use and how to, can be difficult as well.
When challenges arise, I maintain my focus by never forgetting my initial goals and remaining determined. That keeps me positive, regardless of the circumstances. I couple that with lots of exercise and prayer.
As a fellow “naturalista,” are there any myths about textured hair that you would like to dispel at this time?
Yes, there are several:
1. Women of color have inferior hair compared to other races. We all have different curl patterns but there is none better or worse. We are all beautiful & unique.
2. Black women cannot grow long hair. This is so untrue. With the right products and good hair care, hair will grow.
3. Natural hair isn't versatile. The longer your hair grows, the more styles you can create such as, Bantu Knots, Twist outs, Braids, Coils, Afro Puffs etc.
4. Natural hair is difficult to manage. Once you have learnt how to treat natural hair, tools & methods to use, it is manageable.
You recently launched a YouTube channel called "J.Monique4C." How do you feel about the whole hair typing system? Do you think it serves to educate, or it causes more division within the natural hair community?
There is way too much focus on distinguishing hair types. Many people also use this as a platform to encourage the notion of what is good hair & bad hair, which to me, is just ludicrous and does cause divide. Focus should be placed on just helping each other on issues such as hair care practices, transitioning and staying the course from a TWA (Teeny Weeny Afro) onwards.
What do you love most about your naturally curly hair, was it difficult for you to embrace your mane upon going back to natural?
I had been rocking a perm for 17 years. It took some time for me to embrace my natural curls after the transition. It definitely took some 'getting used to'. I had to recondition my mind and just remind myself that I was beautiful as is. Now, I love the fact that I do not have to suffer through a perm, the burns....lol. I love that my hair is dynamic and just fun!
Hair breakage is one of my greatest enemies, due largely in part to my tightly curled coils, what products/practices would you recommend to combat this?
Yes, many naturals have this issue. I am a 4C so I can totally relate. Deep treatments & conditioning is key as well as daily leave-in treatments & lots of moisture. Scalp care is very important, and a regular detox with a mask or hair rinse is good at combating breakage & split ends.
There are clearly no boundaries where Julianna is concerned, and when Oprah encourages us to “live your best lives,” you are a true embodiment of this. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, I understand that you will soon be embarking on a huge undertaking called medical school. Congratulations!
- Why have you decided that a career as a medical doctor is the next step in your colorful journey?
It took me some time to take this big step. I actually quit a PhD in Public Health. I just love a challenge and my goal is to help others and to give back to my community. I hope to eventually become a Neurosurgeon. I also hope that with my studies, I will be able to reformulate some of the products and make them even better for everyone.
What are your online channels for additional information and business inquiries?
Instagram: @jmoniquesnaturals or http://www.oninstagram.com/profile/jmoniquesnaturals
"The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
It doesn't happen overnight my people! Julianna highlights the importance of taking action in lieu of putting your plans and goals aside. What do you do when served with the harsh blow of rejection? Do you cower in shame, or do you press forward with renewed spirit and vigor? How many of you have been told at some point that you weren't good enough? Juilanna encourages us to "Discard the fear of being rejected or being considered not good enough." It's important that you remember your initial goals when faced with challenges. After all, challenges are really opportunities in disguise.
Let's continue to support our amazing sister and friend as she proceeds on her extraordinary journey. Julie, keep shining your light so brightly for all to see. And if you haven't gotten your hands on one of J. Monique's sensational goodies, what are you waiting for?
Thank you Julianna for keeping it real; yes challenges do arise, but tenacity conquers fear, and finding your own ways to stay grounded is sure to keep you afloat. "When you feel like quitting, just remember why you started."