South Charlotte

Sisters launch toxin-free baby products

When Landra Johnson, 38, was expecting her first child, she made some life changes.

"I became more concerned about toxic chemicals," she said, "and I tried to find products that didn't have any in them."

Johnson looked for toxin-free baby products for her son Davis, but there was nothing geared to babies like hers, "with brown skin and curly hair."

Every shampoo, soap and lotion featured a picture of a cherubic, blonde, blue-eyed child.

"Where are the products for my kids?" Johnson, who is African-American, recalls thinking.

Johnson searched stores and scanned the Internet, but, as she puts it, "there was nothing out there."

"We're different," Johnson said. "We need different products."

Knowing there were other parents like her searching for the same toxin-free products for black children, Johnson had an epiphany in the middle of the night. She sat on her closet floor, so as not to wake her husband, Lance, 38, and sketched a product line.

Johnson brought her sister, Kristi Booker, 31, on board in the summer of 2006, and together they launched CARA B Naturally, a line of all-natural shampoo, body lotion, soap and sunscreen products for African-American children.

Johnson and Booker took their time, meeting the criteria for all-natural certification from the National Products Association and seeking a manufacturer who was comfortable working with all-natural ingredients.

"We were very methodical," Johnson says. "We were not in a hurry. We wanted to do our due diligence and do this right."

After an extensive national search, the two found a manufacturer in Pennsylvania that agreed to continue to work with the NPA to ensure they were in compliance with the all-natural certification.

"We wanted our customers to recognize that extra credibility, since there is no government regulation and anyone can simply slap on a label that claims to be all-natural," Johnson said.

The day their first shipment of inventory arrived, in June 2010, "it was like Christmas," Johnson said. "Something we'd been waiting for forever and it was finally here."

But Johnson also knew their work had just begun.

"We had all of these bottles in a warehouse, and we had to get them out of their boxes and out of the warehouse," she said.

For that task, she relied on her sister's marketing expertise, while Johnson is tasked with business development, vendor relationships and operational oversight.

CARA B Naturally products are now available in 50 stores across the country, with the biggest concentration in the southeast. Their biggest customer is Whole Foods, and they can be found in several Charlotte retailers, including Earth Fare, Healthy Home Market and Lock Star Natural stores.

The name of their product line is a loose acronym for "Children Are Always Beautiful Naturally," which also epitomizes the philosophy behind it.

"We wanted to promote positive body images to ethnically diverse children," said Johnson, who lives in the SouthPark area.

She is glad the business is successful, but she sees an upside even if it had not taken off.

"My kids" Davis, 7, and Avery, 4, says Johnson, "will have a lifetime supply of all-natural products."