Yolanda Owens, a driven entrepreneur with a strong social conscience, dies

His friends, family, and associates have all described Owens as a driven entrepreneur with a strong social conscience, a woman who dared to risk it all and never gave up. That is even when she faces the prospect of losing her natural skin care and spa services business to a potentially career-crushing pandemic and the possibility of her dying of cancer. Owens, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2019, struggled with both at the same time. Those close to Owens said that if she feared financial ruin or her own death, she pretty much kept it to herself.

“It was brave,” said Owens’ daughter, Maya Johnson. “She was taking things day in and day out, and we were on that journey with her.”

Owens’ journey began in Atlanta, where she has spent her entire life, except for college and her early career. She grew up in the Adamsville neighborhood in the city’s southwest, played soccer in the street and pursued a variety of creative interests, including dancing and painting. But it was her summer visits to Shreveport, Louisiana, to see her grandmother, Cusata Blackmun, whom everyone called “Mother,” made the greatest impression on Owens. These experiences eventually led Owens to turn to an entrepreneurial career.

Owens felt drawn to her grandmother’s wild and eclectic garden, where not all growing things were arranged in neat rows. From that garden, Blackmun cured Owens’ childhood eczema by bathing him in a mixture of onions, garlic, and collard greens. And when the Charles Lincoln Harbor High School graduate goes to college—first Tuskegee University and then Albany State University—Blackmun will send care packages containing natural skin treatments she made from fruits and vegetables from her backyard.

It took many years for Owens to return to the roots her grandmother had planted. After convincing her parents to follow a reasonable career path, Owens, who attended college on a mathematics scholarship, earned a computer science engineering degree and graduated from Albany State University. She then followed a corporate career path, first with IBM in Dallas, and later at Home Depot and SunTrust Bank in Atlanta.

But over time, Owens felt a pull in a different direction. She left SunTrust to develop her new fledgling company. Owens called it the initial acronym “IWI”, which stands for favorite slogan: “It is what it is”.

Her decision unnerved the family members. After all, Owens was the first to graduate from college. In the “Made in America” ​​interview, Owens recalls telling them “I gotta go after who I really am”.

Owens downsized, converted her home into a small factory, and made a name for herself by setting up booths at public events and trade shows. She taught staff in the spa areas about the benefits of natural products that require refrigeration and how to use them.

In 2010, Owens opened the Fresh Farm-to-Skin Spa in Castleberry Hill, Atlanta. She invited other entrepreneurs, including musicians and artisans, into the space and gave workshops on entrepreneurship. Celebrities began visiting her spa, and in 2017 her products began appearing at the local Whole Foods store.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Owens moved by expanding her business online, offering curbside service, and successfully convincing Whole Foods to sell iwi products in more stores. Owens applied for and received grants and business loans to help keep the company afloat and delayed opening a 12,000-square-foot “Resting Retreat Spot” on Jonesboro Road.

This facility is now open and Owens’ business is recovering despite her departure.

“Yolanda was incredibly determined. Once she sets her eyes on something, she’ll work until she gets it,” said Shanta Robinson, the cousin, who works at iwi. “She used to say, ‘How would I know if it didn’t work out? If I don’t try?”

Owens is survived by two sons, Jordan and Austin Johnson, along with a daughter, Maya Johnson, within days of giving birth. both parents, Ralph Hill and Maury Henderson; two brothers, Corey Henderson and Berald Hill; and one grandson, Jah Johnson.

The family will soon announce plans for a memorial ceremony.

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