Leslie Williams says she’s always known that she was meant to be her own boss. COVID-19 wasn’t going to stop her from realizing her goals.
DETROIT—When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared that all Michigan businesses would close to help slow the spread of the little-known pathogen called the novel coronavirus in March, this journalist was unphased.
I’d seen the writing on the wall for weeks and had already stocked my home with enough food and paper products to last me a couple of months. Rona who?
As work forced everyone online, I found that more and more people expected Zoom communication with cameras on. And I was not camera-ready.
I bundled myself and masked up for my trip down the empty lanes of I-696. I foolishly assumed that my favorite beauty supply store would be deemed essential to the state, as it was to the state of my hair and self-confidence.
The store was closed.
I bit back feelings of bitterness toward our beloved Big Gretch. Surely she was not the enemy of Black hair or the beauty industry at large! But how could I stay camera-ready with no access to my preferred hair care products?
Enter Leslie Williams, founder and CEO of Lavish Box Beauty, and savior of Black hair throughout Detroit.
Who is Leslie Williams?
The Detroit native says she always had a feeling that she was meant to be her own boss. She grew up as an independent thinker, something she says her family always encouraged.
“I always knew I wasn’t supposed to work for somebody,” Williams, 26, told The ‘Gander. “Any time I’ve ever held a job, I’ve always had that strong will to go out and do my own thing.”
So when the catastrophe of a lifetime hit Michigan, Williams was undeterred by the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, she was inspired.
“I just want generational wealth,” she said. “So I’m always going to invest in myself to realize that goal.”
Economists have said for years that government, retail, and health care are fairly recession-proof industries. Beauty industries have been added to more lists in recent years as US consumers bump personal care products and appearance up a few notches on their list of priorities.
Williams has taken note.
‘Lavish Has Always Been There’
The Lavish brand was born years before the pandemic, as Williams worked her way through the local fashion scene. She started as a model and later as a casting agent and fashion event producer.
“It was hard being a model,” she recalled. “And harder being a five-foot-six model—and Black—in Detroit.”
Rather than lament the modeling career that would not be, Lavish Productions was birthed to keep her in the fashion and beauty industry in ways that better suited her talents. Williams ultimately put the project on the back burner because of the significant time and capital investments it demanded.
“Lavish has always been there, but the quarantine is what made Lavish Box happen.”
Williams says that she and her family had similar experiences to this reporter’s in those earliest pandemic days.
“My mother, my sisters—even my brother,” Williams laughed. “People who have hair and hair issues, we were so lacking and messed up in the quarantine.”
When the pandemic swifty changed the normal methods of conducting business, the future CEO immediately realized who her customers were and how she would reach them: a vending machine.
The first Lavish Beauty Box was located on the 2nd floor of the New Center One building on W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit. Williams credits her faith with all of the puzzle pieces coming together so smoothly.
As a Wayne State University (WSU) student studying political science and public relations, the New Center area seemed like a logical and convenient location for the venture.
One day on a whim, she called The Farbman Group who manages the New Center One building where Williams’ doctor’s office is located. They were willing to give her space.
“They’ve been so supportive with my whole process and I’m so thankful for them. Especially Christina [DiBartolomeo],” who is vice president of the Southfield-based commercial real estate firm.
From there, things seemed to move even faster than the idea itself took shape. Within days, Lavish Box Beauty had a home, but eventually needed to move on to a new location that was more easily accessible to customers.
Working for Herself, Never By Herself
Williams handles the ordering for and stocking of her vending machines by herself, but sometimes lets her 16-year-old sister, Leyla, apprentice so she can learn about entrepreneurship.
Leyla also gets the honor of testing and reviewing some of Williams’ product offerings before they’re available to the public.
“I go through wholesale vendors that the Black community specifically really uses,” Williams explained of her product-selection process. “We cherish these brands. Kiss brand and iENVY, the brands that are usually at the front of the beauty supply store are available in the Lavish Beauty Box.”
Williams’ mother helps her with orders and other administrative duties, truly making it a family affair.
“My family has always steered me toward being an entrepreneur,” Williams said, adding that both her father and grandmother were business owners.
“It’s just amazing when you have a family that’s behind you.”
So Much More to Do
Williams is already beginning to scale the business. She’s purchased two more Lavish Boxes and has two active vending machines in Detroit.
One is located on Linwood Street on the city’s west side, and the other is on East Jefferson Ave. Williams says she already knows what her dream Detroit locale would be.
“I want to be at Wayne State,” the WSU Warrior (who is also pre-law) said, noting that dormitories or the student center would be great locations for her on the college campus.
Beyond the WSU campus, she wants a Lavish Beauty Box on the campus of every HBCU (historically Black college or university) in the country.
Williams says she wants to leave a mark on the world that specifically—and unapologetically—impacts Black women in positive ways.
“The Black woman is the most neglected person in America. That’s what I’m trying to combat with anything, everything I do.”
Williams collaborates with beauty brands and also offers advertising opportunities through her social media accounts. Both Lavish Box locations are open 24 hours a day.