Tanika Harper is a single mom and small business owner out of Knoxville, Tennessee. Three years ago, she was diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome, a systemic autoimmune disease that affects fluid-producing glands in the body. As a result of the disease, Harper is hyper-sensitive to the chemicals found in many store-bought cosmetics; when she was diagnosed, she realized that the soaps and shampoos she used left her with pain and inflammation. That was when Harper decided to make a change.
“There is not a cure for Sjogren’s, but with a healthy lifestyle change, one can hope to function and live a better life,” Harper says.
So she began to develop her own skincare products, ones made without the chemicals that irritated her sensitive skin. “I started with the exfoliating and moisturizing body scrubs because Sjögrens… tends to dry out the skin,” she said. From there, she moved on to facial scrubs and moisturizers. Soon enough, Harper had a small line of products she was proud to make and use. “After sharing these awesome products with family and friends,” she says, “Harper’s Naturals was created.”
Harper’s Naturals is an entirely chemical- and paraben-free skincare line consisting of everything from soaps and scrubs to moisturizers and lip balms. Harper has even developed a line of products specifically for pain relief. “I have clients who are cancer patients, who have MS, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Eczema, Psoriasis,” she explains, “and they have found comfort and healing with Harper’s Naturals skin care and healing brand.”
Currently, the store exists primarily online, which Harper says has been the most challenging aspect of running a successful business. “I do not have a storefront, and it has been difficult promoting my brand through social media and getting people to my website,” she says. “I know that I have great products, I am changing people’s lives, but it’s just getting people to see what I offer.”
Harper is working with organizations in the Knoxville area to help her grow her business and scope out her marketing strategy. “It takes a village when starting or owning a business,” Harper admits. “Nobody can do it alone. The Knoxville Area Urban League has been awesome. Not only do they have great resources, but they are a bridge between the business owner and other resources.”
Harper says her relationship with the Knoxville Area Urban League has opened doors to other organizations that have helped her greatly, like the Knoxville Entrepreneurial Center (KEC) and the Knoxville SCORE mentoring team. “I have met several other people along the way that has offered their support and encourages me,” she says. “I’m definitely not in this alone.”
Harper has completed a Co Starters class through Urban League to prepare her for the challenges that face Harper’s Naturals. According to Harper, this venture is completely different from anything she has done before. “The Co Starters class made me think differently about my target market and about my break even point when it came to the retail industry,” she says. “The class made me go back to the drawing board on pricing to ensure that I was not losing money while trying to make money.” Since Harper’s Naturals is operating under a small budget, advice like that goes a long way.
Harper plans to continue working with local resources to refine her marketing strategy. In the meantime, she’s working hard to meet the needs of the customers whose lives have already been changed by her skincare brand.