Welcome to our series, How I Made It, where we talk to beauty brand founders about their come ups, their origin stories, and how they finally, well, made it. The recurring series talks to beauty founders from all walks of life to uncover what inspires them, what pushes them, and the secret to their success.
What started in Calvin Quallis’ own kitchen has now expanded onto store shelves.
Calvin is the founder of grooming line Scotch Porter has always been passionate about helping other men feel their best. Scotch Porter is based around the idea that men should be able to self-care without spending major bucks, and that those products should not be filled with toxic chemicals. So Calvin began experimenting with botanicals and other non-toxic ingredients to create the perfect products for men.
Today, those experiments have led to the creation of Scotch Porter. Handmade, multi-purpose products to help men look and feel their freshest. This week’s How I Made it Series focuses on Calvin and how his humble beginnings led to major success.
What was it like starting Scotch Porter?
The journey to the Scotch Porter that you see today started in my kitchen – creating and packaging products while also taking care of distribution every day including Saturdays. In the early stages of starting Scotch Porter, I actually worked for myself and someone else for almost two years. It was exhausting but allowed me to fund the business in its initial stage, without accruing debt or giving up equity. I left the cushy desk job over four years ago to devote my time and attention to seeing Scotch Porter really take off.
What made you want to get into the skincare and grooming industry?
Before the launch of our product business, I owned a barbershop/salon. Neither my partners nor I had any experience running a shop. It was such a foreign world to us, but we had a cool idea to also use the barbershop as a cultural hub/meeting place for artists and musicians. The goal was to build a profitable business around the community. Although we built a name for ourselves in the community, the business just wasn’t profitable, and we ended up having to close the doors.
However, while building the business, I created a line of grooming products that were for sale in our shop and were becoming a hit with the shop’s customers. The products were gaining such popularity that people were driving in from neighboring states to buy them. The products that I’m referring to led to the inception of Scotch Porter.
From this experience, I’ve learned that there is no such thing as failure. Failing is life’s way of correcting the course and placing you on the right path. Scotch Porter is a by-product of our short stint with the barbershop. Without the barbershop, there would have been no chance of developing a successful product line.
Growing up did anyone influence or spark your love for skincare? If so, who and how?
I would have to give credit to my mother. Between childhood memories at my mom’s beauty parlor and my own trips to the barbershop, one thing really stuck out to me: even on some of my worst days, when I’d go to get a haircut I’d come out feeling like I could take on the world. So at a very young age, it was instilled in me that grooming and self-care had the chance to make you feel better about yourself.
What were some of the first steps you needed to take and possibly some challenges you had to overcome? In other words, how did you take your vision from ideation to execution?
The biggest challenge when I started was maneuvering and avoiding the many pitfalls that can leave a business flat-lined. From proper management of your financial books to building a great team, to addressing operational inefficiencies, to developing effective marketing and sales plans – it can feel very overwhelming at times.
Shifting the way we think about challenges is the first big obstacle. What’s also important is what I believe are the core values that an entrepreneur should possess to bring their vision from ideation to execution.
Being resilient is one. There are some days where you’ll feel completely defeated, tired, and at the point where you want to give up, but on the other side of all of those dark thoughts is a success. When I feel overwhelmed or defeated I always remind myself that the bigger the goal that I’m trying to accomplish, and the greater the impact I want to have, the more resistance and frustration I’m going to face, but I owe it to myself and my loved ones to keep going. You have to keep going.
You have to be passionate about this thing that you’re building. You might have no idea how to monetize whatever this thing is that you love to do, but passion will drive you to figure it out. When you’re exhausted, broke, and utterly frustrated, passion will make you jump out of the bed and work late into the evening, because no dream can become a reality until it’s become an obsession.
Figure out your true “why.” There are so many reasons to quit or not start a business. Business is risky and has so many unknowns. You could destroy your credibility. You could get punished by debt. You could even lose everything. However, your “why” is much more powerful than every reason to quit or not to start, and it’s what you need to go back to when you start feeling lost.
What does it mean to you to be an African-American entrepreneur?
Being an African-American entrepreneur is a role that I’ve always viewed as bigger than myself. In fact, as a Black business owner, I feel I have a responsibility to my community. One of the things that have always been important to me is providing access, opportunity, and employment to people that look like me. It’s really intentional. I’d say about 95 to 98 percent of the folks that work with us look like me. We provide opportunity, and we provide what I consider great pay.
I remember when I was working for somebody else, feeling like I had to fight to climb the career ladder, the limitations that were put on me had nothing to do with my skill set. When I was starting Scotch Porter, I made it very important to hire people who look like me and give them an opportunity to climb up.
What has been your biggest accomplishment along the way? Has anything surprised you during your time as an entrepreneur?
Five years ago, when we launched Scotch Porter, the team and I had absolutely no clue what lie ahead of us. There was no money. This was a passion project. We had this intense desire to bring what we believed to be an especially important mission – to help men look and feel their best, and live their best most fulfilled lives.
That included mostly an underrepresented group of Black and Brown men, whose swag and specialness deserved to be honored and held high. And who deserved high-quality, safe products from a brand that understood that specialness, and always worked hard to protect it, even if others couldn’t understand or appreciate this focus on him.
That specialness that we’ve always respected and protected, was recognized very recently by WWD. Scotch Porter was ranked amongst “The Emerging Powerhouses,” in WWD Beauty Inc’s list of The Most Powerful Brands in 2020. We were amongst established players like Shea Moisture, MAC, Estée Lauder, and emerging players like Mented Cosmetics and Briogeo. I consider this one of our biggest accomplishments – even bigger than our recent launches at Wal-mart and Target – because this recognition is a nod to him, and that he is special and that he deserves focus, intentional focus.
How has launching Scotch Porter and seeing its success inspired and encouraged you in your daily life?
Launching Scotch Porter and seeing its success has encouraged me to be a bit easier on myself. I think we all suffer from imposter syndrome, the feeling that we may not be as good or as smart as the next person. That we somehow may not have what it takes to get to success or the next level. I wish that five years ago I would have been more kind to myself.
Entrepreneurship and/or building something new is difficult. It’s a journey, and it will likely be a struggle. You will fall down, get scrapes, cuts, and burns. Everyone does. This is the recipe for growth. I’m now encouraged and inspired to grow through obstacles and setbacks.
Instead of trying to avoid obstacles and setbacks, I have learned to embrace and grow through it. We can’t stop challenges from appearing in our lives, but we can choose how we respond and choose to learn from them. Challenges may be a temporary hindrance, but if we persevere then we can discover favorable opportunities that wait for us on the other side of the table. And as we get better with this process, we enable ourselves to see optimism in even the toughest situations.
Where do you hope to see Scotch Porter in the next few years?
Our mission is to promote internal and external wellness while arming men with the tools needed to live their best, most fulfilled lives. In recent years, men have become much more interested in wellness and personal care. We feed that interest by educating and providing experiences that showcase how health, wellness, and taking care of oneself shifts how one feels and performs in their personal and professional lives.
Scotch Porter is in a unique position to continue to educate and arm our customers with information and products that are aligned with internal and external wellness. Just like beauty isn’t just lipstick and makeup, grooming isn’t just a haircut and shave. You can expect a diverse product assortment from us in the near future.