Founder of McKinney-based wellness brand Herbal Goodness

Founder of McKinney-based wellness brand Herbal Goodness

Unoma Okorafor’s childhood home was known for its flowers. In Asaba, Nigeria, the garden produced bright roses and vegetables, and goats and chickens roamed around. It was tended by her mother’s green, nearly golden, hands.

Okorafor believes the garden is where she inherited her mother’s love of plants and her belief that they can supply people with a healthy life.

“The universe has given us everything that we need,” Okorafor said. “I’m trying to introduce people to the connection to plants.”

That belief is fundamental to why Okorafor started Herbal Goodness, a McKinney-based superfood company that’s grown to a seven-figure business over the last decade.

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Interior of Herbal Goodness, a Black-owned superfoods business, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024...
Interior of Herbal Goodness, a Black-owned superfoods business, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 in McKinney. (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

The brand selling papaya leaf tea, sea moss and a variety of herbal tinctures opened a storefront off U.S. 75 and ElDorado Parkway last year, and is working to get the proper licenses to transform the shop into a cafe, selling smoothies and teas. Online, Herbal Goodness fills more than 5,000 orders a month and many of their supplements are recognized as Amazon’s Choice, or a product that many other shoppers choose frequently.

Okorafor, 49, began selling on Amazon back in 2013, before the online marketplace was the giant it is today. Her brother, who worked in Silicon Valley, nagged her to list her teas and herbs on the platform. As a final form of encouragement, he fronted her the $40 subscription cost.

“That has been one of the big things that we did right,” Okorafor said. “Because as Amazon was growing, we grew with Amazon.”

By the third year of listing Herbal Goodness products on Amazon, sales had overtaken those coming directly from their website. Last year, the company’s sales grew by 70% on Amazon, Okorafor said and the brand added more than 60 new products.

“It’s opened up a whole world,” she said about listing products on Amazon. ”They’ve given us a spotlight and a platform, so it’s just been amazing.”

Amazon has committed $150 million over four years toward its Black Business Accelerator, a program meant to empower sustainable entrepreneurship for Black-owned businesses in its storefront, said Danyel Surrency Jones, head of Amazon’s Undiscovered and Small Business Growth Accelerator.

“Increasing the discoverability of businesses like Herbal Goodness is a big part of how Amazon helps to empower the success of Black-owned businesses,” Surrency Jones said in a statement. “All year long, customers can easily discover, shop, and support our selling partners by looking out for the small business and Black-owned business badges.”

Black-owned businesses made up 3% of U.S. firms in 2021. There were more than 160,000 Black-owned businesses, up from 124,000 in 2017, according to the latest estimates from the Annual Business Survey. The group’s gross revenue grew by 43% during the timespan, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, from an estimated $127.9 billion in 2017 to $183.3 billion in 2021.

The small business employing five full-time employees and a few part-time workers in McKinney and 10 remote workers in Nigeria donates 10% of profits to Working to Advance Science and Technology Education for African Women, the nonprofit Okorafor founded in 2007, while earning her Ph.D. in computer science at Texas A&M University.

Okorafor and her husband pooled together $500 from their $1,200 joint monthly income as graduate students to fund the first scholarship. She cried while she read the 400 applications for that one scholarship.

“There is so much need and we could only give one,” Okorafor said. That first recipient has given the scholarship back three times.

The nonprofit has transitioned out of solely granting academic scholarships and asks recipients to form chapters at their universities that evangelize science, technology, engineering and math by mentoring middle and high school students.

There are more than 400 volunteers, across 60 university chapters in 22 countries.

“I feel a lot of pride, I’m humbled,” Okorafor said. “I’m amazed at the power of these young girls.”

Founder of Herbal Goodness, Unoma Okorafor, a native of Nigeria, posed for a portrait inside...
Founder of Herbal Goodness, Unoma Okorafor, a native of Nigeria, posed for a portrait inside her store, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 in McKinney. (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

Okorafor left Nigeria for Texas in 1999 to earn her master’s at Rice University. After graduating from Texas A&M, she worked at companies like Intel and moved to Dallas-Fort Worth in 2008 for a role at Texas Instruments where she developed software for technology students used in the classroom. She left the corporate world two years later out of exhaustion and took her three children back to Nigeria for five weeks.

During that visit, she was reminded of how papaya grew wild and how she and her kids felt healthier eating fresh fruits. After returning to the U.S., she realized that the papaya she ate tasted different. She tried Asian markets, Latino grocers, organic food stores and it still wasn’t right, she said.

The researcher in her kicked in, she said. She learned that papayas were among the first genetically modified fruits. Then began her quest to find non-GMO suppliers of papaya leaves to make tea and soon after, began Herbal Goodness.

Since 2011 she’s worked with a certified farmer in Sri Lanka to source organic papaya leaves. The brand’s Papaya Leaf tea is their signature product, meant to offer blood platelet support and immunity and digestion aid.

In recent years, the demands of the wellness industry have shifted, Okorafor said. It’s no longer a niche market where consumers come into the store looking for single-ingredient products like graviola leaf extract and moringa leaf extract. Instead, shoppers are expecting herb teas, tinctures and supplements labeled with what they can offer: solutions for stress relief, a better night’s sleep or energy.

Some of the products at Herbal Goodness, a Black-owned superfoods business, on Wednesday,...
Some of the products at Herbal Goodness, a Black-owned superfoods business, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 in McKinney. (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

The U.S. wellness market is estimated to be worth more than $480 billion, according to McKinsey & Company’s January Future of Wellness research.

By not spelling out what each ingredient could provide, Herbal Goodness was missing out on a big chunk of potential clients.

“Last year was a big aha moment,” Okorafor said. “We’ve got to go with the trends and people want functional.”

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