Obesity is a growing health epidemic in the U.S., and according to federal statistics roughly four out of five African American women are overweight or obese. One of the biggest reasons has been linked to their hair, according to Regina Benjamin, the former Surgeon General, who said that African American woman must stop using their hair as an excuse not to work out, because it is killing them.
Jill Osur and her business partners, celebrities Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe, are working with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to help African American women lead a healthier lifestyle, with a product called Save Your Do.
Osur and Parker worked together to create a hair wrap that could keep moisture away during physical exercise.
“Nicole wanted to use her celebrity status to create a product that encouraged healthy living and one that would also help fund a charity. We were talking about hair products and she mentioned that women often use their hair as an excuse to keep them from working out. This is quite common among African American, Latino and some Caucasian women who invest heavily in their hair," Osur, the supplier CEO, told The City Wire, during a recent interview.
Parker mentioned that she too, had used that excuse when her husband Boris Kodjoe asked her to work out. So she took one of Kodjoe’s $70 Nike shirts and cut it up to experiment with a hair wrap that would keep the moisture away during intense workouts.
Some 17 prototypes later, Osur said they had their first prototype the Save Your Do GymWrap, which now is patented. The product is made in Mexico by the same manufacturer used by QuickSillver and Oakley.
She said Parker brought in Dolvett Quince, one of the trainers on The Biggest Loser television show, to test the product with his group during extensive workouts and fitness training.
“We wanted the product to have a somewhat universal appeal so it was designed with the active women in mind, whether that’s garden work, cleaning house, running or extreme fitness routines. It’s even been tagged as a solution for night sweats and it’s fashionable enough for women to wear out to the grocery or other stops they may need to make during a busy day,” Osur said.
The company did an infomercial on targeted cable channels, opened up sales on its website along with a building a wholesale business with salons. But the big break came last year at the Democratic National Convention.
“We were introduced to Lesley Dach, Wal-Mart’s former head of corporate affairs, at the Democratic National Convention in 2012. Nicole and I talked to him about our hair wrap product ‘Save Your Do’ which helps keep hair dry during exercise or other activities which usually generate sweat,” Osur said.
Dach referred the women to Michael Byron, director of supplier diversity for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and within a couple of months they attended a supplier diversity meeting in Bentonville.
“It went incredibly fast. The people at Wal-Mart were very willing to help us get the product into test mode. Save Your Do GymWraps debuted in a test mode in two major markets Atlanta, Ga., and Dallas, Texas earlier this year,” Osur said.
Their “GymWrap” product is now on the shelf in 42 Walmart Stores in the two test markets and recently became available at Walmart.com. Parker and Kodjoe have used their celebrity status to conduct in-store demonstrations and grand opening events in two test areas. Wal-Mart has welcomed that interaction, according to Osur who said, “Wal-Mart really does care about making a difference with their health initiatives.”
Wal-Mart spent more than $11.6 billion last year with women and minority owned businesses. This includes $8.9 billion in direct spending and $2.7 billion in second-tier spending, according to the retailer’s corporate website.
“We have an existing network of more than 3,000 diverse suppliers, and we continue to look for new partners to help us serve our business and customer needs. When we evaluate suppliers, we are looking for industry expertise and insight, along with the capability to deliver to a company of our size. This means we seek suppliers who are focused on helping deliver our value statement along with product quality, competitive cost and superior service, who understand our business model, have a solid foundation for capacity, and financial stability," Wal-Mart notes on its website.
“We have worked closely with Kevin Hester, Wal-Mart’s regional manager out of Atlanta, who has done a great job helping to ensure we get into the right stores, those they have a diverse shopper base,” Osur said.
One of the biggest challenges the small company has faced is where the product is displayed in the stores where the test markets are being conducted.
“Our GymWrap retails for $19.94 and we can’t be paired with the hair accessories, scrunchies or $2 headbands. Ours is a fitness product that wicks away moisture, allows heat to escape and keeps her firmly in place, saving one’s hairstyle,” she said.
Right now the product is being sold in a side-kick display, and it’s up to store manager where it is placed within the store.
“We like to have it near the higher margin ethnic hair or salon products, but without going to each store, we can’t be sure where it’s positioned. Right now we are being considered for a modular display which would mean a wider rollout of the product,” Osur said.
Another big challenge for this small supplier is getting up to speed on Retail Link as there are just one full-time and one part-time person working the day-to-day business operations. Parker has a recurring role on NBC’s series Revolution and Kodjoe appears on BET’s The Real Husbands of Hollywood.
“There has been so much to learn with this Wal-Mart venture. Even though I have a business degree from University of California Berkley, I sometimes feel like an idiot. I will say coming in through the supplier diversity and woman’s empowerment doors, we have received a great deal of help along the way,” Osur said.
The firm said they are also working to get the GymWrap into Walgreens and have scheduled meetings with Target in addition to working on an expanded rollout at Wal-Mart.
Part of Save You Do’s core mission was to create product that could promote a healthier lifestyle while also provide some funding source to charity.
Sophie’s Voice Foundation, is near and dear to Parker and Kodjoe as it was named after their daughter who was born with spina bifida.
Osur said 10% of the Save Your Do sales go to Sophie’s Voice, based in Atlanta, an organization that strives to elevate the quality of life for children and adults diagnosed with spina bifida.