Sarah James Saunders’ journey to becoming a local producer and small business owner is multi-faceted. Her passion for natural living and inclusion coupled with her strong work ethic, have led her to create a new line of hair and skin care products called Black’S oil.
Sarah was born, raised and homeschooled in Kansas City, Kansas. She says that her parents set a strong example for her when they identified a need for inclusion within the homeschool education system, and then ran for the board of their local homeschool chapter. Upon election, they renamed the chapter to reflect the broader communities in which they served. As an extension of that work, her parents started a black homeschool parenting support group.
“We’d visit each other’s homes to study different subjects like art and math. That’s where I first learned about natural hair care.” Sarah said. “Growing up, I didn’t appreciate my hair. I would get my hair relaxed to fit in with my straight-haired, mostly Caucasian friends. But, there are a lot of chemicals in relaxers, so [through the support group] a family friend encouraged me to go natural.”
Sarah says that transitioning to natural hair was a process and a learning curve for her.
“I went back and forth several times before committing to it,” Sarah said. “There were many days that I would stand in front of the mirror - defeated, crying. I had to unlearn some harmful subliminal messages about my self image.”
Sarah says her wife, Sandra, helped her through that time and served as inspiration in confidence building and product development. In the research stages, Sarah was introduced and encouraged to use shea butter and coconut oil in her products. “Astounded” by the results of these ingredients, Sarah and Sandra founded Black’S oil, LLC.
Sarah credits her ancestors for the recipe in Black’S oil Gold product. The silky blend of shea butter and coconut oil can be used for natural hair styles and all skin types to lock in moisture.
Black’S oil’s second product is Love Oil, a custom blend of coconut oil, castor oil and neem oil mixed with essential oils. For daily use, it is concentrated and intended to be to be diluted with spring or rose water, then applied via spray bottle from the roots to the ends of the hair.
The two products are intended to be paired together. Black’S oil actively sources quality ingredients, uses organic when available and purchases materials from black owned businesses when possible.
“I wanted to keep it simple and natural. These products are designed to complement the user’s routine, not to change it,” Sarah said. “It’s a simple two step process. Simple, so it’s not discouraging.”
By day, Sarah works with survivors of domestic violence. She describes her work as “a service that helps survivors create a plan during and after experiencing domestic violence.” She serves underrepresented communities such as LGBTQIA survivors, survivors living with disabilities, and people of color. Meanwhile, her hair and skin care line is produced on weekends and evenings. She says it’s simply a matter of making smart goals, deciding what she wants for her business and making the time in her busy schedule.
Sarah’s timing in launching Black’S oil and approaching the co-op to carry it could not have been better. The co-op had received several requests for more inclusive body, beauty and hair care products and was beginning the process of researching brands.
“Sarah and I first met in the aisles in February 2018. She spoke passionately about what our co-op could do to meet the needs of more shoppers,” Valerie Taylor Richardson, Marketing Manager said. “How there are a variety of people in our community, including people of color, who want to shop locally and cooperatively, but simply cannot find what they need here. Then, she told me that she had created a line of natural hair and skin care products and wanted us to carry it. It was fate.”
Now, not only can Black’S oil fill a void within the co-op, but it can do so with a locally made product. Sarah looks forward to bringing Black’S oil into more locally owned and black owned businesses and hopes to launch a website with educational videos and testimonials. She admits it’s not easy with the cost of materials and is interested in community investment.
“I want Black’S oil to be a key source of pride in the community. It’s not just about me. Almost any person can become a business owner, but it takes dedication and a strong support system to keep it going,” Sarah said. “Owning a business transcends beyond barriers like income and class and I want to make an influential and loving difference.”
Find Black’S oil in Aisle 4 of your co-op. To keep up with Sarah, Sandra and Black’S oil, visit them on Instagram: @blacks_oil_llc.
Image above: Sarah (left) and her wife, Sandra, were married in July 2017. They met on a KU bus in 2013 when Sandra approached Sarah and said, “I like your hair.” Photo by Alicia Ruscin, Oh Snap! Photography