Last year's cinematic odes to the '70s, "Boogie Nights" and "The Ice Storm," depicted the decade in all its tacky glory--a time when polyester reigned supreme, synthetics inspired oohs and aahs, and prepackaged TV dinners delighted convenience-seekers.
But during that same decade, a few daring dissenters shunned the synthetic lifestyle and tapped into a more natural way of life. During the '70s, for example, Tom's of Maine began selling nonphosphate liquid laundry detergent, natural toothpaste, natural shampoo and, eventually, natural deodorant, mouthwash and shaving cream.
In 1962, Riquette Hofstein, now 50, began working furiously in her kitchen slicing and dicing grapes, strawberries, pears and apples to put in her all-natural beauty-care products--products that shunned chemicals and preservatives and weren't tested on animals.
At the time, some thought Hofstein's idea was a little on the fruity side. The plastic-loving masses labeled these types of natural businesses "granola" or "hippie." When people heard the word "natural," they immediately conjured up images of love beads and Birkenstocks.
Today, more than a quarter of a century later, the concept has come to fruition naturally. Riquette, for one, plugged away and created a niche for her all-natural beauty-, skin- and hair-care products--not to mention an impressive business. Riquette International Inc. now includes a retail space in Beverly Hills, and Riquette has written three books and made frequent appearances on TV talk shows.
But those pioneering entrepreneurs from the '70s are no longer the only players in the field. Indeed, the whole nation is taking notice of what could be called a "natural" phenomenon.
Sherrie Strausfogel, beauty editor for Let's Live magazine, began writing a column on natural beauty products in 1997 and has seen a marked increase in consumer and corporate interest in the natural arena since then. "The recognition of the selling power of natural products is growing," says Strausfogel. "Even the big guys, like Lancome and Maybelline, are taking notice and adding natural ingredients to [some of] their products," she adds.
You may think that if the big guys are entering the market, there isn't any room for newcomers. Actually, the opposite is true. The participation of the cosmetics giants is actually driving the growth of the natural products industry and helping to educate consumers about the benefits of nonchemical-based products. And as the desire for all things au naturel rises, so does the opportunity for entrepreneurs.
Frances Huffman, a freelance writer in Pacific Palisades, California, is a former senior editor for Entrepreneur.