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The Demise of BSW Natural Products Manufacturing Company - Heru-Ka Anu

Botanical Skin Works

We would be remised if we did not acknowledge the loss of Botanical Skin Works (BSW), one of the best natural care products companies to come our way. Few companies could have achieved what they did before meeting their demise. Botanical Skin Works (BSW), of Baltimore, Maryland manufactured natural hair and skincare products. However they were not just any company. Of significance was the unique background of its founding and managing women - Sharon Kinnier the outstanding chemist, whose talent propelled her own company but was sought after by numerous other companies to formulate for them as well; and Dr. Nana Anu a leading holistic doctor whose knowledge and experience with the medical use and benefits of natural products was second to none. Another unique factor being that they both are African American – a rarity in the natural products industry. Through their combined scientific knowledge they created an excellent line of hair and skincare products that customers were completely satisfied with. Which of course begs the question, if so, why didn’t the company survive.

What Happened?
Like many hopefuls the ambitions of the BSW owners were to have their products in major chain stores. The thoughts were if they succeeded they would achieve financial success and security, a desire held by many with similar desires.

On September 11, 2001 Sharon Kinnier quit her job and went home. In explanation to her husband she said she was going to make soap. To his query about her knowledge of doing so she exclaimed: How hard can it be. Sharon researched the process of making soap and out of this initiative BSW was created. Not long after she added lotions to her product line. Here is an excerpt from an earlier I did:

Sharon Kinnier Anu: How did you come to engage in this particular business?
Sharon: My company Botanical Skin Works started out making natural bath and beauty products including soaps, bath gels, skin creams, and a variety of other products; in doing so our commitment was to manufacture products that were safe and health oriented for which we became successful that is in the manufacturing side. Over time I became aware of Mineral Makeup including some of its health benefits. During my research and investigation of Mineral cosmetics I realized that none of the companies I came across, and these were all large companies, made shades for Black people or people of color. I'm chocolate colored yet it appeared the darkest color they produced might just work for a light-skinned Black person or other People of Color, so after getting over my anger and being pissed-off at the thought of us being neglected I decided there and then to begin manufacturing Mineral Makeup for Black people and all People of Color, including Caucasians.

Ada Cosmetics Dr. Nana, on how she came to the business: As a holistic doctor I saw and treated a lot of skin conditions; when I met Sharon through one of my employees I learned of her products. I tested them and talked with her about them and realized they were safe products so I would direct patients, especially those with skin conditions or sensitive skin to use them instead of those that were not made with natural ingredients and or were creating skin problems. I've known Sharon for a few years, and I've carried her products at my office and in my store. I came to partner with Sharon indirectly; I guess you could say it was fate. I retired from medical practice…we were constantly talking about her venture into manufacturing Mineral Makeup (i.e. a second company - Ada Cosmetics), a topic that somehow always involved health concerns and color. While I was looking to get back to being an active artist I recognized that manufacturing Mineral Makeup involved one of the things that I loved to do - playing with colors. I volunteered to assist in exchange for the opportunity to play…with the colors I mean, and our business partnership grew from there.

The Products
Show Gel BWS went on to make soaps, lotions, shower-gels, shampoos, foot cream; a men’s line including aftershave, face cream, and beard oil; a baby-line products including lotions, shampoo, skin cream, soap, and baby-powder. The company spent years and many thousands of dollars developing its products, image and, brand such that they stood toe-to-toe or above other high-end natural products. BSW did better than compare to other companies by way of having its products independently lab tested, the ratings for which it proudly displayed on its labels. Another of its outstanding features, of course due to the combined knowledge of the two ladies, was its product lines attention to skin issues, especially eczema and skin tone.

Though successful at creating outstanding products getting them into the major chains proved difficult in some instances and unsuccessful in some others. BSW managed to get into some of the Wholefoods stores - however not nationwide - and into some of the local health-food stores. The owner’s ambitions were to land accounts with major outlets including CVS, Walgreens and a few others not known for natural, chemical free products. However the sales and acquisitions process for these major chains proved difficult for a small company whose cash-flow depended on a faster acceptance. Consequently was saddled with a timing conflict plagued. The company struggled with conflicting demands of production, growth, sales, and revenue. In spite of current and new product development the company was hampered the lack of financial resources to produce and market them.

Hair Food To help its cash flow the company turned to the internet giving it an expanded customer base and a sales approach that required fewer staff people; they created the BSW website, and marketed on Yet, in spite of its limited success it proved not enough to yield the revenues needed to fund the company’s needs. BSW was treading water, with the hopes that soon at least one of its prospects would say yes and enable the company to move forward; or that investors would make it happen. Apparently neither did happen. Sometime in 2013 or this year 2014 BSW shut down their website, closed its doors and ceased to manufacture and sell natural hair and skincare products. This was not only a loss to BSW but to the industry and to the end-users as well; for surely few companies are on par to what they achieved. Today some of their remaining products can be found online through various outlets.

An answer from Nana Anu about the fate of BSW did not leave out the possibility of a future re-launch of the company under the BSW brand or under another name. Nevertheless it is noteworthy to the industry that one of the best natural products companies to come along has shut its doors, at least for the time being.

Note: While writing this story a glance at my calendar revealed the day to be September 11, 2014, the anniversary of the beginning of Botanical Skin Works (BSW). I pondered the coincidence in a moment of silence.

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