“Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.”
Balzac’s famous quotation is quite likely an accurate description of the economic climate of authoritarian 19th Century France.
But as any fan of Ayn Rand’s novels — and indeed the American dream in general — can attest, a great many fortunes can be, and often are, made quickly and ethically when people are left to pursue their own interests via free enterprise. Warren Buffet and Linus Torvalds are two among millions of examples, here.
It’s only the insecure, the “second-handers,” the inferior producers of inferior products — the Peter Keatings and Orren Boyles of the world — that need to create and maintain their wealth by unethical means.
For myself, I am a middle-class woman, born in the Rocky Mountains and raised in the rust belt, who has a particular love of coffee, chemistry, excellence, and liberty. I have a collection of excellent friends that serve as both inspiration and test market, who are a fabulous amalgamation of style, substance, and hilariously wicked senses of humor.
Amidst the laughter, the food, the wine, the coffee, the travels, and the great conversations that define the life of yours truly, I founded a small, independent haircare business called Serpentine Hair, a company born out of pure frustration with not only mainstream companies’ sulfate-laden shampoos that damaged my tresses but also the other indie companies out there that rarely offered scents or products that justified their higher prices.
After learning, through a process of trial and error, how to create the haircare products I always wanted, Serpentine Hair was born. My products have now been available to the public online and doing well for the better part of a year.
I’m far from alone in my reasons for starting a business, and I’m hardly alone in my field of endeavor, either. There’s an entire booming cottage industry of independent bath and body companies that share a similar mission and back-story. And many of them — like Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, Villainess, and the indie aggregator Etsy — have done extraordinarily well in this arena.
Possibly the ultimate example of an indie bath and body business gone super-successful is The Body Shop, a billion-dollar business that was recently purchased by L’Oreal
All of these companies made their mark with unique, gentle products that offered a better choice to the consumer, and were justly rewarded for their hard work and fine output. Basic Capitalism 101 in action, right?
Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. It would seem — witness the near-ubiquity of things like Burt’s Bees sulfate-free products in large chain stores, and Maybelline’s new mineral makeup line — that many of the qualities that have traditionally distinguished the small indie personal care businesses in the marketplace have made the large multinational conglomerates sit up and take notice.
This would be terrific if the big boys were simply improving their own products in response to a rising consumer demand for better, gentler products — again, exactly how the system was designed to work. But apparently the Orren Boyles of the world would prefer to slowly crush the system that made their companies so big in the first place by introducing their very own “moratorium on brains” for the 21st Century.
What is this real-life version of Directive 10-289, you ask? It has the very Orwellian tag of the “FDA Globalization Act of 2008.”
In a nutshell, this shining socialistic example of government interference would force all cosmetic/personal care businesses to pay the federal government an annual $2,000 “registration fee” — for which neither the business owner nor consumer derive any benefit — in addition to the accompanying bureaucratic time-suck of extra paperwork to fill out every year.
While the annual $2,000 fee and added paperwork are nothing to Proctor & Gamble, L’Oreal, Revlon, and their ilk, it’s the difference between profitability and bankruptcy for many fledgling small businesses in the personal care industry.
It’s a truly shameless, anti-free trade stance taken by certain Congressional representatives — who, by the way, receive large campaign donations from some of these same mega-companies — to protect the interests of their corporate sponsors.
The fact that there’s been little or no mainstream media coverage of this bill, especially in an economic downturn, when our economy needs all the viable businesses it can support, is particularly disappointing.
Like the fictional Directive 10-289 from Atlas Shrugged, the FDA Globalization Act of 2008 is couched in the euphemistic, Orwellian language of “helping the people,” and will have the absolute opposite effect of preventing many honest people from making a living.
Small businesses today are the lifeblood of the American economy, employing over half of the nation’s private workforce. The FDA Globalization Act will only sever another economic artery.
This Act is nothing more than second-rate, second-hander “producers” buying off the legislature in order to protect their market share against people of greater ability.
Please add your voice to the petition against the FDA Globalization Act of 2008, and let our representatives know that the interests of we the (thinking) people will not be ignored.
Kimberly Wingfield is an entrepreneur and founder of the indie hair care business Serpentine Hair. She lives in Albany, New York.