Anita Grant uses heathful ingredients such as papaya, top left, in her products, which include Shampoo Bars, Whipped Butter and Creamy Cafe Latte.
Three years ago, as Anita Grant was getting ready for a job interview, she poured some hair lotion into her hands.
"They started to burn," Grant recalls. "In a matter of minutes, blisters began popping up all over my hands. I was seriously freaking out."
She made it to the interview, but ended up in the hospital with a serious allergic reaction to propylene glycol, a chemical solvent commonly used to absorb extra water and to maintain moisture in certain medicines and cosmetics.
"When I was sitting in the hospital, I began to ask myself some questions: Why am I here? Why didn't I look at the ingredients? What do these ingredients do?" she says. "As soon as I got home, I decided I was going to make my own product."
So began her obsession with ingredients -- a fascination that has spawned her 7-month-old Anita Grant line of natural hair and skin-care products. On this particular evening, Grant was getting ready to mix up some of her Rhassoul Deep Condish and her Creamy Cafe Latte in her kitchen, in her home outside London. Early the next morning, she would start making some of her Whipped Butter. Her products all contain natural ingredients such as Brazilian and African butters, virgin coconut oil and coffee oil.
"It's all very, very fresh," Grant says.
Her products were created after several years of scouring books about ingredients and learning about their beneficial properties for hair and skin. She would wander the aisles of grocery and beauty stores, picking up bottles and studying the ingredients. Once she was kicked out of a store when she spent too long reading the labels.
The timing was ideal for Grant to begin experimenting with ingredients because she had just begun transitioning to natural hair -- a decision spurred by her trip to the hospital and her newfound knowledge about chemicals.
Grant began mixing up hair products for herself, swapping ingredients and recipes with women on natural hair Web sites around the world. Grant realized she could make a business out of her obsession when these women began asking to buy some of her own homemade concoctions.
"They started putting ideas into my head," she says.
Grant had worked in technology, but was more than ready to make a career change. She found herself working on her Web site and her business plan at work. She quit that job, and on Dec. 5 launched Anitagrant.com. She started her business with the Whipped Butter, her Creamy Cafe Latte and her Rhassoul Deep Condish. The line now includes three organic oils (watermelon, papaya and marula), five organic herbs (lavender flower, nettle leaf herb, blue malva, chamomile and horsetail), Pure Shaving Oil for Men, Handmade Shampoo and Exfoliating Bars, Virgin Mango Butter Coconut Whip, organic rose petals & buds and her popular Lippy Puckers.
"I am having a lot of fun," she says of her new endeavor.
Grant says her Web site isn't just about the "goodies" she sells, but also includes useful information, such as tips and tricks to help people whip up natural hair products themselves with ingredients in their own kitchen -- whether it be honey or yogurt.
One day, Grant says she would love to have her own store, with a workshop in the back where she can mix up her creations. She would like her customers to be able to call in their orders and then pick them up fresh later that day.
"That would be my ideal situation," she says.
Grant says she is excited about the growing momentum for natural hair, which she sees in Europe as well as the United States. She cites the popularity of natural hair Web sites and the proliferation of conferences for natural hair as proof of this growing acceptance for curly, kinky hair.
"When I go anywhere in London and wear my hair in an afro puff, I get looked at by both curly and straight-haired people," she says. "They look at me with a mixture of curiosity and admiration. That's the vibe I get."