Greenvillian hopes she's found the right mix

Beautician Marketing her hair creations

Move over Vidal Sassoon, Nexxus, and Paul Mitchell. Zelma Gambrell wants some of your shelf space.

The Greenville beautician-turned-inventor says it's only a matter of time before her line of Tropical Silk hair care products is available in salons throughout the country.

Getting there, though, is proving to be the toughest battle.

Since turning her 14-year old setting formula- once known as the Zelma special into a patented, marketable product four years ago, Gambrell has been on a quest. And it's one she said she won't quit until the nation knows about her hair care products.

Money is the only thing holding her back. " she said. "I refused to be stopped. I know the demand is out there. "

In her salon 18 years ago, Gambrell mixed moisturizers and oils in plain plastic bottles producing a setting lotion that restores the moisture balance to dry, dry brittle hair.

"I was frustrated with what was already out there," she said.

The setting lotion was just the beginning. Cream relaxers, shampoo, and conditioners followed- whatever she said that her clients needed to restore their hair to health.

For the next 13 years, she spent late evenings in her kitchen mixing the lotion blends. About 10 customers acted as guinea pigs, checking to see if Gambrell had found the right formula, she said.

"This is what nature intended, " she said, " I would mix and measure to get what I wanted the relaxer to do."

Four years ago, she began the earnest attempt to perfect the formula. After a year of work with a chemist, she got the right mix. The formula was patented, and the product went into production at a plant in Chicago.

Three years later, she has two lines of Tropical Silk- one for retail and another for licensed beauticians.

I'm always building and adding to the line, "

She said anything that I see that's needed, I'll try to get it. She said her products add the moisture needed to restore the ph balance that chemicals take away from hair.

Area residents can buy the products at the retail store next to the Washington street salon. Others throughout the country, though, have to wait for a sales representative to hit their market.

Gambrell believes so strongly in her growing hair care line that she sold her Home, invested her retirement money and withdrew her savings.

But even after investing nearly $150,000, the determined 34-year veteran of hair styling business said big hurdles are ahead.

After learning first-hand the recent reluctance of some banks to lend money, she's looked to the U.S. Small business Administration for financial help.

Using a financial package put together with help from Allen Bristow and his team at the Greenville-Spartanburg Minority Business Development Center, Gambrell said hopes to get a loan by September. With the money, she said she can nationally advertise the product and find sales representatives, and with any luck, get the product on the salon and bathroom shelves in the next few years. Any profit she makes from the business, she rakes right back into the business. It's one of the success tricks she said she's learned over the years.

"You can't spend the profit, she said. "It's like a baby. You have to take care of it until it's able to walk on its own.

Contact Us

Tropical Silk Beauty Products
46 Nottingham Road
Greenville, SC 29607

Laura Gambrell

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