Call Me Baby Oprah: My Earthtones Naturals Interview

Did you see yesterday's review of Earthtones Naturals? I'm still sitting here, fluffing up and twirling my hair in all its glorious softness. I've gotten great multiple day wear out of the products, so my hair is happy!

Last week, I was able to get in touch with Susan Walker, ND, owner and creator of Earthtones Naturals. I had a few questions for her about the line, Naturopathic medicine, and entrepreneurship, and she was gracious enough to oblige me! She had some great answers, y'all. Take a look below, and get to know Susan and Earthtones Naturals a bit better.

Introduce yourself to the '83 To Infinity readers! Tell us three interesting facts about yourself.

My name is Susan McDonald and I was born in Barbados 30-some odd years ago! I have 2 beautiful daughters who inspire me everyday to pursue my purpose and build a legacy for them. As hard as I try to resist I LOVE Aero Bubbles which will probably get in the way of one of my goals of entering a fitness competition this year.

What was the impetus behind the creation of Earthtones Naturals? Who or what inspired you?

Earthtones was conceptualized about 5 years ago in 2007. I love makeup and, while not a makeup artist, I am into playing around with different products creating different looks on myself. I was having some trouble finding a foundation or powder that matched my complexion properly. They were either too red or too yellow and it didn't look natural. Additionally I found that there weren't a lot of makeup lines for women of colour. Then I started looking into the ingredients in the makeup that I did find and discovered that many of them can be toxic to the body. I was inspired at this point to create a make-up line for women of colour that was actually beneficial for the skin. I chose women of colour because being someone of this demographic I've noticed that we are often an under-serviced and overlooked population; hence the reason I wasn't able to find a lot of makeup specifically for us.

I discussed this idea with my husband and tried to think of a name of the line. It was he who thought of the name Earthtones and I loved it! It encompassed everything about the product line including the demographic - the skin tone of the women using it and the "earthiness" of the line. The line remained in its conceptual stage for a few years due to various reasons. And then the real inspiration to take it to completion came after the birth of my first child. I'm adopted and have no knowledge of my birth parents or family. When my daughter was born it was an unbelievable experience and I was just in awe at this baby that had my DNA. She was the only person in the world I knew of that looked like me. What really had me curious is where she got her hair from! She was born with a lot of it and we were told by many people that it would fall out and grow back again. Her hair was beautiful and unlike my texture or my husband's. When her hair didn't fall out and actually started to grow longer I realized that I had to teach her to love her beautiful hair, and that the only way to do that was to be an example to her. I tried products that were made "just for her" hair and they absolutely did not work. They would moisturize her hair initially and then her hair would become dry soon after. I knew about the negatives of good old fashioned hair grease and was not really able to find a product for her. And the Earthtones Naturals product line was born.

You're also a Naturopathic Doctor. Could you give us a crash course in Naturopathic medicine? Did that background help you with the creation of Earthtones Naturals?

A Naturopathic Doctor is considered to be a general practitioner of natural medicine. Naturopathic doctors are guided by six fundamental healing principles:

  • First, to do no harm, by using methods and medicines that minimize the risk of harmful side effects.
  • To treat the causes of disease, by identifying and removing the underlying causes of illness, rather than suppressing symptoms.
  • To teach the principles of healthy living and preventative medicine, by sharing knowledge with patients and encouraging individual responsibility for health.
  • To heal the whole person through individualized treatment, by understanding the unique physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental and social factors that contribute to illness, and customizing treatment protocols to the patient.
  • To emphasize prevention, by partnering with the patient to assess risk factors and recommend appropriate naturopathic interventions to maintain health and prevent illness.
  • To support the healing power of the body, by recognizing and removing obstacles to the body's inherent self-healing process.
As naturopathic doctors we are taught to address underlying dysfunctions that can lead to physical illnesses, and be vigilant of what we put into our bodies, as well as on our bodies in order to minimize toxin exposure. The Environmental Working Group has a database called Skin Deep which outlines potentially toxic, allergenic and problematic ingredients and the products they're in.
Some of these dangerous ingredients are linked to hormonal conditions such as low thyroid function and infertility, and certain cancers. As a result, we need to be concerned with the use of certain chemicals and ingredients in our cosmetics. With this in mind it was my goal to create products that work with ingredients that are actually beneficial and nourishing to the hair and body, instead of being harmful.
It seems that many natural hair care lines available in Canada have high price mark-ups. What factors help you to keep Earthtones Naturals cost effective?

This is a great question. When I was looking for natural hair product lines to use on myself and my daughter, I found that same thing. One product that was my favourite for wash n' go hair for a short time period was available for about $22 online from the U.S. That same product was selling here for $34! Even when I purchased the products in bulk and paid for shipping, it was still cheaper to order the products from the company in the U.S. than to purchase the same amount of that product here. I thought it was absolutely ridiculous and way too expensive. I would go into a store and by the time I purchased a shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer I was looking at spending over $70! The mark-ups are just too much. I feel very strongly about supplying quality products at reasonable prices. Now don't get me wrong - you're not getting poor quality products with inferior ingredients. You're getting products with extremely high quality ingredients that actually work. I just don't believe they need to cost an arm and a leg.

And while making a profit is always important in business, I believe that first and foremost, providing extremely effective products that are affordable for everyone is equally as important. As much as possible I try to source my raw materials from Canadian suppliers. In the event that I can't and I think the ingredient will be extremely beneficial in a product and there is no substitute, I'll purchase raw materials from the U.S. Buying from Canadian suppliers really helps to keep my costs down. And for my customers, buying from a Canadian company will keep more money in their pocket. It gets expensive for boutiques and stores to import products in from the U.S. and this cost is passed onto the consumer. On top of this they need to make a profit. This is why a lot of natural products cost a fortune in Canada as it's costly for them to be imported.

What is your personal hair story?

My natural hair journey began and was put on pause in 2002. I went to a popular salon in Toronto to get a wash n' wear relaxer which was a texturizer. My hair started breaking after the texturizer and I went through a period of braiding before finally doing the Big Chop a few months later. After my hair was cut the stylist said to me "Is your hair normally this dry?" I was devastated! She gave me no advice on how to care for my hair and I didn't know what to do or what products to use. I promptly made an appointment to get my hair texturized and did that for about 7 years. I experienced a lot of growth (past my shoulders) and it was the longest my hair had ever been.

My natural hair journey started again in 2009 after the birth of my first daughter Nyssa. I was becoming unhappy with the way my texturized hair was looking. My hairdresser over processed some sections and I ended up having straight and curly sections to my hair. After Nyssa was born my hair started falling out in clumps. This is typically normal since during pregnancy the shedding phase is put on hold and the hair can grow quite a bit. I decided to do the Big Chop for good this time in December 2009, motivated by the desire for my daughter to love her own hair when she got older. I was definitely scared! I didn't really know what my natural hair texture was like, nor did I know how to care for it.

After my Big Chop my hair was so short! I started to look for various products to "define my curls". The only thing is that I didn't see any! So through Youtube videos I became aware of specific products and tried many of them. I spent a fortune and most of them didn't work. I finally found a curl defining gelly that did work for me that wasn't one of the popular ones. My hair started growing out and the curls started becoming more apparent. I would get so many compliments on my hair and people would constantly stop me to ask me what I was putting on my hair. In November 2010, almost a year after my big chop I hosted my first Natural Hair Party. The response was incredible and I educated my guests on what I had researched about hair care and beneficial ingredients for hair. I showed which products I used in my hair and how to use them. As my hair started to grow longer and the weather became colder, the product I used for my wash n' go style no longer worked. My hair felt dry and I didn't like it. I made the decision to create my own product and I really started to diligently research ingredients and began to formulate the products for the Earthtones Naturals line. The first product took 10 months to perfect. Originally the products were for myself and my daughter; however I started using them on other people with phenomenal results. And the rest is, as they say, history.

What advice do you have for others who want to take the plunge into entrepreneurship?

Like the Nike slogan, Just Do It. Don't get me wrong it's scary to start a business. There is a huge fear of failure. However, you need to get out what is IN you. When I come to the end of my life I don't want to have any regrets about not pursuing something because I was scared. It's hard work but extremely rewarding. There will be times of failure but that fear of it shouldn't stop us from pursuing our purpose. We always ask the question, "what if I fail?" However the most important question we don't think to ask is "what if I succeed?" You'll never know unless you do it.

What's next for Earthtones Naturals? If you look 5 years into the future, where do you see the line?

To be quite honest and extremely confident I want Earthtones Naturals to be the top-selling natural hair product line in Canada! I know this is extremely ambitious but I'm dreaming very big. I am also working to add body care and makeup to our product line up.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I think it's great that so many women of colour are embracing their natural hair texture. I'm approached very often by women whose hair is natural but they don't wear their hair in its textured style because they don't know how to or which products to use. We need to be proud of our God-given hair, understand our texture and how to care for our hair. It's great to be able to develop these products and I'm humbled by the comments I receive from people when they've tried them and realize that they work really well for their hair or their childrens' hair.

This is what Earthtones Naturals is all about; allowing women to be able to embrace who they truly are by providing products that enhance their natural beauty with ingredients that are actually beneficial and nourishing to their bodies. It's my hope that everyone who tries the Earthtones Naturals product will truly be inspired to experience the freedom of rocking their curls and coils, and truly love their hair.

Many thanks to Susan for providing such amazing insight! If you can tell me that you a) didn't learn something new, b) couldn't relate to Susan's personal story, or c) weren't inspired by her drive and determination, I'll give you a cookie. And conclude that you are devoid of human emotion.

My first mini-interview, y'all! I tried to come up with interesting questions, and questions that you all might want answers to - what did you think? Is there something you want to ask Susan that I didn't think of? Hit up the comments section or get in touch with her at susan at earthtonesnaturals dot com!

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