She Turned A Layoff Into An Opportunity To Launch A Beauty Brand Employing The Homeless
For most of us, being laid off from a job can be a stressful event. Especially if you are supporting a family. But for one woman, it became the start of an exciting opportunity that she created for herself, that would also become a way to help and empower many other vulnerable people.
Tracy Gunn is the founder of UR Bath and Body, but before that she was a pharmaceutical sales rep. As a single mom looking after two kids, a layoff was certainly not part of her life plan, and it was devastating. But it was not the end of her story. For Tracy, doing nothing was not an option, especially being the sole provider of her family. She decided to get creative, and in 2010 started making soap bars in her kitchen.
As the idea grew into a thriving business, Tracy realized she could use her new venture as an opportunity to give back to others in a powerful way. Not only are all of the products handmade, but the company employs those transitioning out of crisis, including the homeless and domestic violence survivors. The company offers a place of employment that empowers and promotes women’s independence from challenging family and abusive circumstances. The mission is too help uplift, reshape and rebuild the lives of those looking to regain their independence.
The Bronx isn’t just the birth place of hip hop – It’s the inspiration behind the UR Bath & Body brand. While visiting a women’s homeless shelter in New York City, Tracy noticed the director greeted each woman that walked through the door with a “UR” affirmation. “You are strong”, “You are brave”, “You are fearless”, that inspired Tracy to create products to inspire a sense of self, naming each product after an uplifting attribute.
In a time of so much uncertainty politically and socially, Tracy and her company are a beacon of hope, showing how the best of humanity can show up in unexpected ways. We had the chance to speak with her about her mission, and her journey from struggle to success.
Tell us about the events that led you to create a business first started in your kitchen:
Being a single mom that was laid off without notice was the event that led up to the beginnings of my adventure. I had an addiction to soaps that I had found in Las Vegas and I couldn’t afford them at the time so I ordered $32.00 worth of soap making supplies to support my family and the rest is history. I poured my heart and soul into this company and failure was not an option.
What kind of products can customers buy from Ur Bath & Body?
Bath Soaps, Bath Bombs, Bubble Sands & Sugar Scrubs.
Aside from what UR Bath & Body sells, you also have a very noble mission behind the scenes with your employees. Can you tell us more about this?
I wanted to offer a place of employment that allows more than just minimum wage and a job that offers no advancement. Being a single Mom of 2 children I knew what it felt like to be under valued and under paid. I wanted a job that allowed me to be Mom. Being a Mom is the single most important job one can have but you also have to provide for them when you are single.
To be able to provide a living for your children and be available to them if they are sick or have a baseball game or dance recital is important. I wanted UR Bath & Body to offer a place of employment for women that need assistance getting on their feet and to be able to be the best parent they can be. When you help the mom you help the children and to offer that means everything to me.
How did a visit to a homeless shelter in New York City give you the idea for the name?
When I visited Susan’s Place in the Bronx, the director would visit with every woman as they left the shelter to go about their day. She would tell them “ you are amazing”, “you are beautiful”, “you are capable”. On my plane ride home after the visit I couldn’t stop thinking about how she encouraged them and how that must change their outlook as they go about their day and their life. I shortened the You Are to UR and that’s how the name came to be.
Why is it important for you to focus on the issues of homelessness and domestic violence with your mission?
It was almost me. I could have been homeless at any moment. Thank goodness I wasn’t but I have been close. When I actually witnessed it first hand at Susan’s Place I realized how difficult many women have it. Most people don’t choose to be homeless and if UR Bath & Body can change that for some then I feel we are successful beyond profits and bottom lines.
There is a growing knowledge about the need for financial stability and independence in the lives of vulnerable women, not just donations. How do you hope to educate consumers about this important issue?
Everyone feels really good when they put a few dollars in a homeless persons hand or maybe they volunteer for a day during the holidays at a homeless shelter but a handout is not what they need. Most women in these situations come from generations of being beaten down or living in poverty. To teach a different way of life and to teach that to their children is my goal. By providing more than minimum wage and a place that values them is far more important than a donation
Can you share any powerful stories from the survivors you employ and how it has impacted the way you do business?
One in particular comes to mind. She came from a very troubling childhood then into a very abusive relationship. She came to UR Bath & Body very broken and hurt. After several months of doing very well she chose to go back to that situation. Thankfully she returned to UR Bath & Body and is still with us today and doing well. The lesson I learned from this is that sometimes you can’t save them all but if you love them enough and try to offer a place of growth it will stay with them and in the end it will help them in their life.
What is the most rewarding aspect of starting your own business?
The most rewarding aspect to me is hearing what UR Bath & Body means to our employees. The lives that have been changed because of a job and company that cares about their well being and future. For Thanksgiving, we had a potluck in the office and went around the room asking everyone what they are thankful for. To my surprise, many people on our team chose to speak about what UR Bath & Body means to them.
A few of the ladies here are Cuban immigrants and they don’t speak any English, we have another co-worker that translates for us, and seeing how emotional they became when speaking about the company made us all emotional. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for them being from a foreign country and not speaking the native language. They are awesome women and it was an unforgettable experience.
A question we like to ask our interviewees: what makes you a powerful woman?
I refuse to fail. I have been put in situations that forced me to realize failure is not an option. I am a fighter and will always fight for those that don’t know how or are afraid to fight for themselves. I have a mission to empower those less fortunate through the gifts of the talent I have been given and I fully intend to see that mission through.