Atlasphere member Kimberly Wingfield runs Serpentine Hair, a small web-based business dedicated to producing sulfate-free hair care products with a variety of attractive scents and a bold, urban aesthetic.
After learning of the proposed FDA Globalization Act, which is poised to cripple her own business and many others like it, she penned an Atlasphere article on the subject, titled "Directive 10-289 for Indie Businesses."
Francisco Villalobos caught up with Ms. Wingfield in this interview for the Atlasphere.
The Atlasphere: How did you get involved in the hair care business?
Kimberly Wingfield: Basically, I wanted to make effective and affordable hair care products, with scents I liked, and that wouldn't aggravate my allergies. I also wanted to create products with a certain kind of aesthetic. A lot of natural soap and hair care businesses were a bit too married to the “granola” thing for my tastes.
The more detailed story: after I got out of my teens, my skin became much less oily — which was good in some respects, but bad for my hair. I'd always had skin that was sensitive to harsh chemicals. But when I turned twenty and my skin changed, my hair went from fairly tame to hopelessly tangled and frizzy. Fancy conditioners and hot oil treatments got to be too expensive and time-consuming, and the sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners I got turned on to were expensive, and didn't come in any scents I liked.
So, I did some research on allergy-friendly fragrance oils, and started experimenting with different recipes, until I nailed a recipe that worked.
TA: Who has the better hair, Governor Palin or Michele Obama?
Wingfield: (Laughing.) Good question. As disappointing as I find the major party tickets, it has been a damn fine election year for well-coiffed ladies.
Between Palin and Michelle Obama, though, I’d have to go with the latter. I've never seen a hair out of place on Michelle Obama’s head; she always looks impeccably styled and well-groomed.
That said, Cindy McCain also has a gorgeous head of hair. Her husband, not so much.
TA: What aspect of running a business gives you the most pleasure?
Wingfield: This may sound cliché, but for me, the best part of the business is seeing a positive review on a website, or getting an e-mail from a customer that loves our products.
It’s great to make and distribute products that help people who had the same hair care headaches I used to go through — it’s a wonderful feeling.
TA: And what’s been the most challenging?
Wingfield: Well, the hardest part was at the beginning, just trying to figure out an effective recipe. I had a lot of failed batches. Many were just too greasy. I also had to deal with, and learn how to avoid, burns from lye, one of the main ingredients of soap. If you've ever gotten burned with a cigarette, you have a pretty good idea what a lye burn feels like!
But with all the difficulties, that moment of finally getting an effective shampoo recipe, and being able to get it consistently right, was a great moment. As was the first day in business.
TA: So how does the FDA Globalization Act of 2008 figure into this? Give us some context.
Wingfield: Well, this is an act that would significantly affect independent cosmetic and food businesses. Basically, and among other things, you would have to pay a $2000 registration fee to the feds, just to be in business. And, each and every individual product sold would have to be approved by the government before you could release it.
If you wanted to add a new ingredient to an old product? You would need to go through all of that again.
Donna Maria Coles-Johnson, who runs the Indie Beauty Network, has an excellent video on this subject that you could link to — it gives a good overview of what indie businesses would face if this legislation were to pass.
The Act is ostensibly designed to make the cosmetic and food industries safer, but in reality it serves to add excessive red tape and oppressive fines to safety laws that, for the most part, already exist — and that few indie businesses, to my knowledge, have ever violated.
TA: Who is behind the legislation?
Wingfield: The sponsor of the FDA Globalization Act is Representative John Dingell of Michigan. I’ve got a link that lists Dingell’s biggest campaign contributors. Click around that same site a bit, and you’ll also find that Representative Dingell is the second largest recipient of campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical and health-product industries.
Note too that, after it became clear consumers preferred the gentler, higher-quality products that used to be made exclusively by smaller companies, the larger corporations started making similar products — Maybelline's new mineral makeup line, for example.
And while this bill will cripple smaller businesses, the larger enterprises — which can afford massive campaign contributions and lobbyists — will not be so crippled, and will enjoy reduced competition.
So, I think the conclusions we can draw from this about who’s behind the legislation are pretty clear.
TA: What are you doing to combat the Act?
Wingfield: I've been talking about it to absolutely everyone I know who will listen. I’ve been posting about it on every relevant Internet forum I can find. I’ve been writing my representatives about it and encouraging others to do the same.
The article I wrote for the Atlasphere was just one more way to sound the alarm.
TA: You also have a link on your web site that allows small business owners to sign a petition opposing the legislation.
TA: What would you recommend other small business owners do to oppose this legislation?
Wingfield: Keep writing and calling your representatives. If enough people express their disgust at this Act, our representatives will listen. So let them know how angry you are. Let them know you won't go away with a boilerplate letter and a pat on the head. Don't let Washington off the hook.
As Ben Franklin once said, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
TA: In light of this hurdle, have you given any thought to the upcoming presidential election?
Wingfield: Yes, and the choices on the major party tickets are disappointing to me in the extreme.
My vote will be a write-in for Frank McEnulty of the New American Independent Party.
To be frank, I find the hardcore partisanship in this country distressing, and I’m astounded by people’s general unwillingness to vote for a third party, to try to break this duopoly we presently have.
TA: Of the two major party candidates, who do you think would be most harmful to small business?
Wingfield: Well, Obama plans a cut in small business taxes, but also suggests "windfall taxes" on large corporations in the same breath, which means punishing excellence and achievement.
John McCain seems to support keeping most tax rates as they are, though he also targets big businesses for higher taxes.
This is why, to me, the two major parties are just two sides of the same coin. I fail to see a substantive difference between them. And so I wind up voting third party in every Presidential election.
The best way to help small business, or any business — I agree with John Galt — is to "get the hell out of the way."
TA: Speaking of Galt, how has being a fan of Rand’s ideas affected how you run your business? On your web site, for example, you have a section about the importance to you of inspiring people to buy your products, rather then motivating them by fear. Was that a result of the Rand influence?
Wingfield: Well, to answer the general question first: in terms of directly influencing my business, the idea of just going ahead and making the best product you can, without looking over your shoulder at the other guy, has been an important one for me.
The passage you're referring to, though, on the web site (from the "About Sulfates" page) was inspired less by Rand, and more by a lifelong irritation at "green" companies that use guilt or fear — along with dodgy reasoning or heavily selective use of facts — to get people to buy their products.
I hate that. And there was a lot of that authoritarian, Greenpeace-style mentality when I was growing up in the '90s. You know, "If you flush toilets, warm your homes, use rapid transit, or make use of anything else that wasn't around in the caveman era, then you're a wasteful pig — and your eating habits, incidentally, will give you cancer!" And some of that still exists today.
For example, sulfates are often characterized online as cancer-causing, which is unfounded and based on rumor. As far as I'm concerned, sulfates suck enough as it is. Why spread the lie that they'll give you cancer?
In any event, if you need to lie in order to promote a product, there's something wrong there.
TA: How have you found Rand’s ideas useful in your life in general?
Wingfield: I’ve really enjoyed reading that you should never settle for mediocrity in love, art, or production. That lies should be fought aggressively with hard facts, not sugar-coated buzzwords. That authoritarians shouldn’t be appeased. And that you don't have to compromise the core of your being to succeed in life.
TA: Final question: Which product on your web site are you most proud of?
Wingfield: I'd have to go with our gift baskets. The combination of the bold colors of our shampoo bars, the record bowl that holds them, and the black fishnet pouches that our solid perfumes come in, really embodies the whole "rock-and-roll-sophisticate" aesthetic I was going for with Serpentine Hair.