Soft Sheen hair care company founders give back through Black on Black Love non-profit

June 28, 2012 9:04:26 AM PDT
The couple who built one of the nation's largest and most profitable hair care companies says their biggest source of joy is their family and community.

Ed and Betty Gardner keep a low profile. Just a month away from celebrating their 62nd wedding anniversary, the couple most enjoys spending quiet time in their South Side home -- the same place where Mr. Gardner spent his boyhood years and the same place where the Soft Sheen hair care company was born in 1964. A Chicago Public Schools teacher at the time, Mr. Gardner took a part-time job selling hair care products to help support his family.

"I felt that I could make a product as good as sometimes I was selling," said Gardener. "So, I got down in the basement and started stirring the pot and trying this with petroleum and lanolin and perfumes and so forth and finally I got a product that was pretty good."

With no formal training in chemistry, Gardner's first product, a hair and scalp conditioner, marked the beginning of Soft Sheen Products.

"I did have that in mind, that it was really going to be something," said Betty Gardner.

Headquartered on 87th Street, the company grossed nearly $100 million annually at its height. The Gardners sold the business to L'Oreal in 1998.

"The business was not the only objective of our company. We were still a family that felt that we needed to give back as much as we possibly could," said Ed Gardner.

They started the non-profit Black on Black Love in 1983 as a media campaign to help stop the violence.

"Black on Black Love was born out of an act of violence," said Frances Wright, president and CEO, Black on Black Love. "When one of Mr. Gardener's employees was shot in her chest while she was out working ? He put an open letter to all of the major newspapers that read 'black on black crime must stop.' And in this letter he actually appealed to our community. Just stop this senseless violence, learn to love yourself."

Black on Black Love now runs several anti-violence programs including My Sister's Keeper. It aims to give female ex-offenders new direction. Adriane Harris first came to the program nine years ago and is deemed a success.

"This organization has set the foundation for me as far as regaining my self-respect, my self-dignity my self-worth my self-esteem," said Harris. "They have encouraged me to go back to school, which I have done, and I continue to do I am working on my masters degree in social work."

After giving so much to the city, the city is now giving back to the Gardners. On July 12, the city will be dedicating a street name in their honor - East 87th Street at Dobson. That's the site of the former home of Soft Sheen cosmetics and the current home of WVON Radio and Black on Black Love.

If you'd like more details about the ceremony or on how you can contribute to Black on Black Love, visit www.bobl.org.


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