CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
Next we're going to talk to a young entrepreneur who's all about hair. Leanna Archer was just 9 years old when she launched her own line of natural hair-care products. Her great-grandmother in Haiti had a special recipe for hair pomade, and Archer used that recipe to begin a line of oils, hairdressings, and conditioners.
And now, at the ripe old age of 17, she handles more than 350 online orders a week, and generates more than $100,000 in revenue every year. Leanna Archer joins us now to talk about her company, and her experience as a teen entrepreneur - or what many people called a "teenpreneur." Welcome to the program.
LEANNA ARCHER: Thanks for having me.
HEADLEE: As I understand it, and correct me if I'm wrong, your company kind of began organically because your friends started asking you what you used in your own hair, right?
ARCHER: Definitely. It was my friends, my - you know, my neighbors, and just people I would cross paths with on a daily basis.
HEADLEE: And at first, you just made them a little bit of the same pomade that you made for yourself?
ARCHER: Well, actually, I just gave them, I guess you could say, samples from what Grandma would send for us. I packaged them in Gerber jars and gave it out for free.
HEADLEE: And then you realized that the desire for this pomade was strong enough to support a business.
ARCHER: Yeah, I mean, I had no intention of really selling it. I just knew that they wanted it and I made it available for them, and next thing you know they're showing up on my doorstep, you know, throwing checks at me and asking me how much of it will it get them. So from there, I decided to start the company.
HEADLEE: And how did that transition happen, to go from, you know, just making the odd batch and selling it to the person at your doorstep to where you are now? When did it become a real, viable business?
ARCHER: I believe after I did my first couple of local newspaper interviews and I had my first magazine article. I was about 11 or 12 at the time, and the business started, you know, acquiring customers. Not only from New York, but along the East Coast, and then throughout the country, and now the world.
HEADLEE: Your products are completely, 100 percent natural. They're made of things like avocado and natural oils. You know, it's - to a certain extent, a coincidence that at the same time you're developing this hair line, there was a change coming among black women in the United States; that they were trying to return to more organic and natural hair treatments, stop chemically processing their hair.
What exactly is behind that? What's motivating this return to natural hair-care products?
ARCHER: The movement began pretty much because people became more educated about the products they were using in their hair and the kind of damages they might have, you know, depending on what kind of chemicals are used in it. People didn't really know how bad it was to perm your hair - and then dye it and bleach it and color it, all within the same time frame - and how it could affect them; not only their hair loss but them - you know, health wise. Now, they educate themselves to, you know, sometimes, natural is better.
HEADLEE: Are your hair-care products only for African-American women?
ARCHER: No, I actually sell my products in 80 different countries now. And surprisingly enough, Singapore, you know, one of the countries that you wouldn't think would need these kind of hair products, is probably one of my biggest - where a majority of my customers come from now.
HEADLEE: Let me talk a little bit about the involvement of your family. But let's begin with your great-grandmother. This is her recipe that you began with.
HEADLEE: I understand she died two years ago, but she was there to watch your progress for quite some time.
ARCHER: Yes, she was.
HEADLEE: What did she think?
ARCHER: Up until the moment she passed away, she was always an active member of my company and helped me - helped supervise the work I was doing, and make sure that I was doing it the way she taught me. And for the newer products, give her own input on what I should add, what I should take out. And she helped out a lot.
HEADLEE: And I understand one of your employees is actually your father, is that right?
ARCHER: Yes, that's correct. My dad is my main employee, actually.
HEADLEE: So you're his boss?
ARCHER: Yes, I am.
HEADLEE: What is that like?
ARCHER: You know, he's the parent - you know, do-chores-do-homework kind of thing. And then once we step into my office, I'm the one in charge. I have fired him plenty of times and twice on national television, but he always - he's one of those people that I just can't let go of.
HEADLEE: So your family's Haitian, and all the ingredients for the products - in your hair-care products - are from Haiti. And you've begun a foundation there. Tell me a little bit about your relationship to Haiti.
ARCHER: My first trip to Haiti was when I was 13, back in 2008. And going down on that trip was a culture shock for me. I became face-to-face with millions of kids in the streets, you know, not going to school, and pretty much just fending for themselves. And that was hard for me to take in because the only difference I saw between me and them was that I had the opportunity to be born in a different setting.
So I didn't want to leave without, you know, seeing if I could make a difference. And I did, so I started my - the Leanna Archer Education Foundation. I mean, I have 200 kids under my foundation that I work with on a daily basis, to provide food, shelter, and an education for them.
HEADLEE: So I understand you just graduated from high school. Congratulations, first of all.
ARCHER: Thank you so much.
HEADLEE: And you're headed off to college. Are you majoring in business, I assume?
ARCHER: No, actually, I'm majoring in political science. Not only do I have a knack for business, but also I have a knack to, you know, communicate and motivate. And I feel like eventually, I might get tied into politics of some sort. So I...
HEADLEE: You might run for office?
ARCHER: Yeah, definitely.
HEADLEE: Let me ask - I'm sure they're out there somewhere listening - is some 9-, 10-, 11-year-old who has their own idea for a product or a service that they could start a business with. What would be the best advice you can give that kid?
ARCHER: Take advantage of the resources that are available for us. Fortunately, we grew up in a time where the Internet has just about anything to offer. I didn't know anything about business; my family didn't know anything about business. But I see it as a learning process, and I'm continuously learning as I go.
And just most of all, when you have an idea, stick to it. Follow it through even if that's not what you're meant to be doing. It could lead you into something else that you become passionate about.
HEADLEE: Like hair-care products eventually leading you to become a senator or president.
HEADLEE: Leanna Archer is the 17-year-old CEO of Leanna's Inc. It's a company that specializes in natural hair-care products. She joined us from our studios in New York. Thank you so much, and good luck.
ARCHER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.