Born and raised on the beautiful island of Jamaica where her family used herbs and oils for medicinal purposes, Annya White turned to the natural remedies of her childhood when her first daughter was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, and needed help soothing severe skin breakouts due to a number of surgeries. When homemade blends of essential oils, herbs, and natural butters were what finally provided her daughter relief, Annya channeled her passion and knowledge into developing NaturalAnnie Essentials. The product line, which now mostly focuses on candles, is all handmade in small batches without chemicals.
For this interview, Annya was joined by Zach Roberts, a member of the Faire sales team. Zach joined Faire in September of 2018 after dedicating his time as a partnership representative for NoRedInk, an edtech company focused on improving grammar and writing skills for students. Zach enjoys working with small business owners and entrepreneurs because he’s inspired by their passion and dedication to making the world around them better. He is also a founding member of HUE, Faire’s resource group for employees who identify as BIPOC. In his free time, Zach enjoys reading fantasy novels and crocheting blankets while watching 90 Day Fiance.
Zach Roberts: I know you grew up in Jamaica. My parents are actually from Liberia, but I grew up in New Jersey. Tell me about your upbringing and how that inspired the branding for NaturalAnnie’s.
Annya White: I moved to the United States when I was about 18 years old. In Jamaica, I grew up with my grandparents because my parents were living in Italy at the time. I think the culture of Jamaica has shaped what NaturalAnnie’s is today much more than any of my schooling. I pull a lot from my culture when it comes to what I create and how my brand looks. It’s very vibrant, it’s very tropical. The ingredients that I use, especially in the beginning, were pulled from the herbs and oils my grandparents used to use.
You studied applied psychology and worked for a number of companies prior to starting NaturalAnnie’s. What motivated you to go out and begin the journey of building your own brand?
When I look back on it, I’ve really been making entrepreneurial steps ever since high school. I was always selling something or starting some kind of business. But back then, it wasn’t really something anyone took seriously as a career. When I got my first computer, I was living in rural Jamaica — so it was very rare to have one and it was a big deal. I was very into graphics and computer technology so I started designing programs for different events. I designed one for my church and then other churches started asking me to help them. I began to realize, “Okay I guess I have a business.” Then one day my computer crashed and that was the end of that business.
But what really got me started was my daughter. She was born in 2014 with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, and had to have a number of surgeries. When we came home her skin was breaking out from all her medications, but the treatments they gave her didn’t heal any of the rashes on her skin. I started to mix shea butter with the herbs and oils that my grandmother used on me as a child. From there, I began making all kinds of things for the household. I started giving them to my friends and family, and they all loved them. I realized once again, I might have another business.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned throughout the process of creating your brand and scaling the company?
The most important thing that I’ve learned is that you have to be open to trying different things and pivoting as necessary. Not everything that works for one brand is going to work for another. That has been essential to my business — to hone in on taking those pivots and trying something new.
That makes a lot of sense. I know you run production in your home — how have you grown your operations as the business has scaled?
I started originally in my kitchen at home. As we grew, my husband said this is not going to work — he didn’t know what spoon to use anymore. We moved everything down to one part of our basement, but as we added more products and started selling through multiple platforms, I needed more room. We took over the entire basement and then the garage — so my husband lost his kitchen, then his mancave, and his garage. Now we are busting out of the garage so our next step will be looking into getting a space that can hold everything we have and keep up with the production we have going now. My husband is definitely going to celebrate when he gets his space back. Right now he’s in the garage wicking jars and placing labels.
You mentioned that you find inspiration from your upbringing. What does the process look like for developing new scents?
Originally we started with skincare and bath and body products. Then about three years ago we did a market in Brooklyn and had a lot of customers ask if we had candles to go with the skincare products. My husband suggested we start adding candles to the line, so we tried it. By 2018, the candles were doing so much better than the bath and body products that we scrapped that line and moved forward with candles. Now 90% of what we do is candles.
I get inspiration from the littlest things to the biggest things. I often ask my community what they would like to see us carry, and pick and choose from there. And then I also get inspiration from the smallest moments in my life. We have a ‘Thoughts’ collection that I released last year that is really popular. The inspiration for that came from me just working in the office one day and going from thinking “I have no idea what I’m doing” to “Yes, I got this!” I started jotting my feelings down and made the collection from there — it’s motivating, inspiring, and funny. Right now, I can’t keep those on the shelf.
Tell me about your ‘Be The Change’ candle and what it means to you to be able to use your brand to support a cause important to you.
We have a monthly candle subscription, every month it’s a new candle, a new scent and a new thought. With all the protests happening, I was talking with my parents about how we could make a difference. But I didn’t want to just post something on social media. It’s affecting real people, it’s affecting us, so I wanted to make a real impact and donate something to an organization. We brainstormed a bit, but nothing felt right. Then I slept on it and it came to me — “Be the Change.” I thought about that quote “be the change you wish to see in the world” – I wanted not only for me to be the change, but for everyone who got that candle to look inside themselves and think “How can I make something better?” Or, you may know someone you think could make a big impact, and send them the candle.
We are donating 20% of our sales on the candle this month to the Black Lives Matter movement. So far we’ve raised about $3,500, so it has been doing really well.
It’s really powerful that you’re able to use your brand and your voice to amplify what we’re all feeling right now. What are words of encouragement you can give to little Black boys or girls who want to start their own business one day?
Just go for it, whatever it is. Even if you have no idea how to do something, there will be someone else that can help you. Ask questions, just try something one time. Don’t let it keep nagging you and keep pushing you to the side. You just have to start and you learn along the way. I didn’t know anything about running a business — but as you go through the experience, you learn first hand and grow from there. Position yourself around the right people and you’ll be just fine. You may lose the first time, but you will be ahead the next time you try because you learned something.