ORS Haircare has become a much-loved beauty staple in the world of Black hair care. I myself am a big fan of the ORS Olive Oil conditioner in my hair care lineup. There’s no question that ORS Haircare has rolled out some pretty effective and holistic solutions to common African American hair care woes.
Some of you, like myself, might be wondering whether or not this much-loved company is a Black-owned business.
The push for buying Black has been around for years. But in recent times, social injustice and the continuing freedom struggle are putting black racial issues in the national limelight, and the push has only gotten stronger.
Black-owned hair care lines versus those that aren’t can be an especially touchy topic, so I’m going to try and tread carefully here.
No matter which side of the argument you’re on, it never hurts to know a little bit more about the history of your favorite products.
So—is ORS Black owned, or not?
No, ORS Haircare is not Black-owned. That said it was black founded, which we’ll discuss below.
The original company that marketed ORS Haircare, Namaste Laboratories, was sold to fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) manufacturer Dabur Ltd in 2010. Dabur, a multinational company based in Ghaziabad in the Uttar Pradesh region, is headquartered in India.
This may be bad news to some, but hold up! ORS Haircare definitely has a history rooted in the Black community, so don’t write it off just yet.
I’ll be honest, finding out more about the history of ORS Haircare surprised me. Even though I’ve been an avid fan (and buyer) of ORS and the different product lines for years, I didn’t know much about the company itself.
And while I did find out that ORS isn’t currently a Black-owned business, a quick visit to the company’s website will inform you that it is Black founded.
Intrigued? Read on.
ORS Haircare actually started in the mid-nineties (I thought it was much older). In 1996, Gary E. Gardner, a Black man, founded Namasté Laboratories in Chicago along with his wife Denise. The ORS hair care products we see in the beauty supply store are the creation of Namaste Laboratories.
Gary Gardner had grown up working for the family business, which happened to be the haircare giant Soft Sheen Products Inc. So it’s no wonder that the man might have had some good ideas when it came to caring for Black hair.
According to Gary, he and his sister spent their younger days in the family home packaging up Soft Sheen hair care products. He went on to attain an undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and then a J.D. at Northwestern University.
After graduation, Gary returned to Chicago and to the family Soft Sheen business. That was in 1982, and three years later he became the company president. Gary’s father, Edward Gardner, continued to serve as Soft Sheen’s company head.
Together the Gardner father and son ran a multi-million dollar, from-the-ground-up Black-owned empire for roughly the next decade. And then Gary took his next step.
In 1996, Gary branched off from Soft Sheen and founded Namaste Laboratories. Gary’s new company aimed to address health-conscious consumers in the Black and multicultural hair care market.
Namaste Laboratories, which was also based in Chicago, researched, created, and marketed natural and holistic solutions to common hair care problems.
The name ORS, which has always been the company’s marketing name, stands for their Organic Root Stimulator, the original product that set ORS apart as Black beauty must-have.
In 1998, the company shortened the Organic Root Stimulator brand name to ORS, and ORS went on to create and market several different product lines, including ORS Olive Oil, HAIRepair, and Curls Unleashed
By 2010, Namaste Laboratories had acquired three subsidiaries (Hair Rejuvenation & Revitalisation Nigeria Limited, Healing Hair Laboratories International, LLC, and Urban Laboratories International, LLC).
Gary had decided to sell the company to FMCG giant Dubar for $140 million. And so, in December 2010, Dabur acquired Namaste Laboratories and its subsidiary companies, although Gary still maintained his status as company CEO.
Today, ORS continues to produce its classic products, many of which have become staples in our hair care repertoire.
I love this company’s diverse array of hair care products. Even though it was originally geared towards naturals, they aren’t leaving out our relaxed sistas or those rocking a wig.
The Gardners, both the elder and younger, have certainly done their part in terms of giving back to the community that made and raised them. The younger Gardners set up the Gary and Denise Family Foundation in 1999 to help foster youth interest in the arts.
Indeed, the couple has always had a close relationship with the arts, featuring a substantial private collection of African-American artists themselves. Denise Gardner currently serves as the chairperson of the Art Institute of Chicago, the first Black woman to do so.
Beyond the Gardner family, ORS Haircare has continued to give back to the Black community. In the wake of the 2020 pandemic and spotlighted racial violence, ORS created a relief fund for Black hair stylists, aimed towards beauty professionals that had suffered a loss of income, clients, and more.
You can actually find a list of relief fund recipients on the ORS website, which I found pretty cool.
And as far as how the products themselves are received? Looking around online, at various customer and influencer reviews alike, you’ll see that ORS products are pretty popular, especially the Olive Oil line and, of course, the original Organic Root Stimulator.
Customers generally appreciate the ORS commitment to natural ingredients that aim to heal and renew hair, skin, and the whole body.
So now you know a little bit more about a haircare favorite!
And while it turns out that ORS isn’t actually Black-owned, it is nice to find out that a from-the-ground-up and Black-founded hair care empire is still sticking close to its roots.