According to the Grand View Research firm, the market for natural and organic beauty products is worth $36 billion, and it is expected to reach $54 billion by 2027. M. Antwane Sheppard is a local entrepreneur working hard to meet this growing market. She recently opened Raw Essence Natural Soaps & Bath Company to supply homemade natural and organic personal care products to Midlands residents.
Sheppard is a native of Charleston. She graduated from North Charleston High School before attending college.
“I originally went to college for nursing, but then I had a few kids,” Sheppard recalled. “So that kind of got in the way. But then I got a certificate training and education in medical assisting. So that's what I did.”
Sheppard worked as a medical assistant for a few years, then got a job at the Medical University of South Carolina. A few years later, she relocated to Greensboro, North Carolina. While living in Greensboro, Sheppard went back to school to get a degree in Accounting.
“I wanted to buy a house and didn't realize that I didn't have knowledge about credit scores and how to manage money,” Sheppard recalled. “Although I had a really good job making decent money, my credit score wasn't where it needed to be. So when I started learning about what I needed to do to get my credit right. My parents didn't teach me how to manage money. And so I wanted to be able to teach people, especially black people, about money management and financial planning. So I decided to go to school to get my degree.”
Sheppard worked as a business office manager, then got a job as a manager of an assisted living facility. She loved it, and wanted to advance to the position of executive director. She got certified in healthcare administration and eventually ran three family care home facilities.
During this time, Sheppard began to wear her hair naturally.
“I decided I was going to go natural with my hair,” she recalled. “A lady braided it so tight that the back of my hair fell out. So I went online to research ways to naturally stimulate the growth of my hair. And I learned about oils and the benefits of different types of oils and different types of essential oils. And I put together what I call my edge growth treatment. After about four months of using it, my hair grew back. It was longer than it was before I lost the hair.”
That experience sparked her interest in a variety of home-made natural personal care products.
“I continued to learn, research and study different oils and taught myself how to make soap, lotions and deodorant,” she recalled. “And I discovered I had a passion for making soap.”
Sheppard and her husband began selling soap at vending events. Their products were a hit.
“It got to a point where people were calling and saying, ‘Hey, I ran out of soap I need more’,” Sheppard recalled. “I'd be meeting people after work, on the side of the road and at different places. I told my husband that I was tired of meeting people on the side of the road and we needed to get a store. By this time, we had moved to Rock Hill, so I put in my two weeks’ notice and opened our first store.”
Sheppard and her husband opened her first natural soap and natural personal products in 2016.
“We sold soaps, lotions, toothpaste, deodorant, bath balms, oils, African Black soap, and raw shea butter,” Sheppard said. “Our location in Rock Hill wasn't the best location, but we did really good. We just didn't have foot traffic. We had a lot of repeat customers, but no customers just walking in saying ‘Hey, let me check this stuff out’.”
Sheppard began searching for a new location, and posted her intentions on Facebook.
“An investor saw that I was looking for a new place and came out and saw the store,” Sheppard said. “He decided that he wanted to invest in the company. Part of the agreement was that we had to relocate to Columbia.”
Sheppard closed the Rock Hill store in October 2018. With the help of her investor, Nathanial Scott, she found a location in Columbia and opened Raw Essence Natural Soaps & Bath in June 2019.
The new location has allowed Sheppard to greatly expand her list of products and services. She creates every product sold in the store.
When asked why she makes all of her products in-house using natural ingredients, Sheppard says “To educate people is my inspiration, and a lot of people aren't educated with natural skincare. I have people who say ‘My skin is so sensitive.’ But the fact of the matter is that your skin may not be sensitive, it's just that all the toxins that you put on your skin, your body doesn't know what to do with it. I used to tell my kids, if you can't pronounce it, your body probably can't break it down. And that's the reason why we make products with natural ingredients that you can pronounce. If we can't pronounce it, our skin probably doesn't know what to do with it.”
“We have a haircare line that consists of shampoos, conditioners, edge growth treatments, and leave-in conditioners,” Sheppard continued. “We are working in our research and development department to develop thermo-protection for people who might want to blow dry their hair.”
“Our natural deodorants don't include baking soda nor aluminum,” she continued. “It's good for people who want to find an alternative to commercial antiperspirants. We have a 14-day money back guarantee on our deodorants, because it actually works. We have a charcoal activated toothpaste. We make candles and we make our natural laundry detergent. And of course, we have bar soaps, lip balms and lip gloss. Our lotions are made from scratch. We have shea butter lotion, hemp seed lotion, silk lotion and a goat milk lotions. You choose which lotion best suits your skin type, and choose the fragrances to add to the lotion.”
The store also has a complete line of products specifically for men.
“We have a men’s line that consists of beard oil, beard balm, men’s soap, shave soap, after shave, and a beard and body wash for men,” Sheppard says.
The store also sells pet products.
“We have a pet care line that consists of shampoos and bar soaps for pets,” Sheppard said. “We have perfume for dogs and cats. We have a pet foot balm that helps keep their paws protected from the hot pavement or from snow and ice. We also have CBD (Cannabidiol) for pets. So if you have a dog that has anxiety separation, hyperactive or maybe get skittish during lightning storms, our CBD works well for that. Or for older dogs who have may have arthritis, we have our CBD for that.”
“We also have CBD products for humans,” she continued. “We make a CBD salve, CBD cream, CBD vape oil and CBD bath oil.”
The new location also provides Sheppard the opportunity to host “Soap & Sip” parties.
“You and up to seven other people (minimum of four) come in, and we provide all the tools you need to make your own soap. You can color it the way you want. You can fragrance it the way you want. We provide wine, cheese, crackers, fresh fruits or vegetables, and you bring your own baked goods. It’s great for bridal shower, girls night out, couples night, date night, that type of thing. We also do ‘make it take’ parties with 20 or 30 people. You and your guests come out and they all make something like a sugar scrub or lip balms or bath bars.”
Raw Essences also hosts a monthly soap-making class.
“It is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Sheppard says. “We teach you how to make hot process soap.
Sheppard doesn’t limit her services to individuals. Raw Essences can also create products for other companies.
“We do wholesale and private label,” Sheppard said. “We've had people who owned salons or boutiques and who wanted to have a salon hair care line. We will produce the products for them and put their own their labels on it.”
To celebrate its new location, Raw Essence is hosting a Grand Opening on Saturday, August 10, 2019. The event will begin at 11 a.m., and there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony at 11:30 a.m.
“We're going to have a good time, have our products on sale and give people the opportunity to see what we have to offer,” Sheppard says. “And just introduce us to Columbia.”
Raw Essence is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The store is located at 9003 Two Notch Road, Suite 12 in Columbia (in the Food Lion shopping center). The store can be reached by calling (803) 843-6576 or via email at email@example.com. Products can also be purchased online at www.RawEssenceSoaps.com, or at their booth at the Soda City Market every Saturday in downtown Columbia.