Ramona Griggie Founder of Express Smile Atlanta
By Erickka Sy Savané

It was 2015 and Ramona Griggie’s oldest son was graduating from Duke University. It was an extra special time because after years of wearing braces, he was finally getting them taken off. So as a gift, Ramona promised to get his teeth whitened. Unfortunately, prices were out of control, ranging from $700-$900. But knowing that she couldn't let it end there, Ramona put on her super mom cape and began researching alternatives online. Eventually, she found a great product and a $250 machine to use for practice at home.

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Ramona Griggie & Son
“I started using my son, my husband and anyone else who came to the house as guinea pigs to practice the one-hour treatments,” says Ramona. “And it worked.”
 
Not only did her son get to have a beautiful set of pearly whites for his graduation day, but word spread, and people were standing in line for her teeth whitening services. Knowing that it was time to shift from her house to a legit working space, Ramona found a $300 per month rental and got going.
“It was a cute little setup where people would come and pay $100-$200 for a one-hour procedure,” explains Ramona. All was going well until she fell one day and suffered a concussion. With time off to think, she realized that she didn't like being away from her family for such long hours.

“I’m really a housewife with a side hustle, work-from-home, work-from-my-phone kind of person,” says Ramona.
Plus she noticed that people liked buying the $35 do-it-yourself kits.

So during the time it took for her to heal, Ramona closed the shop and began researching how to take her business online. She learned to build a simple website from scratch, at a cost of $20, got a free business telephone line and prepared for a January 2015 launch.

Knowing that marketing would play a key role in the success of her business, Ramona chose Instagram as her promotional platform of choice. From there, she called in a favor from local celeb ‘JuJu,’ aka rapper Cam’ron’s girlfriend, and convinced her to post a picture with a kit, along with a simple ad that Ramona put together.

She paid instagram $150.00 to run the promotion for 4 hours. What happened next was life-changing. Within a few hours, $8,000 came in and her Instagram following shot from about 500 to 10,000 followers.

“My local post office didn’t know what to do with all these orders, and neither did we,” recalls Ramona, of how she and her husband/business partner had to handle the unexpected load. “Our main goal was to make sure that people didn't have to wait for their orders.” It was around this time that Ramona realized that a significant number of African Americans don’t have dental insurance, but they could afford a $35 do-it-yourself teeth whitening kit.

Sensing that she had struck marketing gold, and knowing that the goal was always to reinvest, Ramona continued to study Instagram and made a list of other celebrities that she wanted to work with. Soon after, she paid $1,000 for her second sponsored post and made close to $50,000 in one day!

Amber Rose
And thanks to even more star power- Amber Rose, The Kardashians, Kevin Hart and plenty more- she’d made one million dollars in her first 60 days! With so much celebrity backing, one has to wonder if Express Smile Atlanta Teeth Whitening really works or if it’s just the latest insta-gimmick? To answer, Ramona says,
“First and foremost, the product works. We have very few returns, people buy multiple kits at one time, and we get tons and tons of reorders. And sure, the celebrity backing helps because people look at their teeth and they want to use the same product that celebs use to keep them white.”
Thanks to the overwhelming success of her online business, Ramona has since opened a flagship boutique in College Park, Atlanta where celebs like Blac Chyna, college students and even bridal parties can come and get one-hour treatments from certified technicians.
Courtesy of Express Smile Atlanta
So how does this multi-millionaire housewife stay grounded? 
“I’m a mom before anything else, so I make sure to live carefully. I have a CPA, a lawyer and people in place to make sure that we have money for retirement. I don’t buy expensive purses, and when my husband,who is an economics major, says ‘no’ to a purchase, it’s a no. It’s about balance and building generational wealth,” says Ramona, who grew up in Section 8 housing in St. Croix.

If there’s any piece of advice that Ramona would offer to other budding entrepreneurs it would be,
"Hustle, drive, keep it simple, research, do your do-diligence and know that it’s attainable. Also think about a product that people need and make it affordable. I was clear from the beginning that I wanted everyone to be able to afford to get their teeth whitened.”
 Looks like everyone now can! 

This article appeared on Essence.com. Click here to learn more about Express Smile Atlanta Teeth Whitening and follow the brand on Instagram.  

Would you use a DIY teeth whitener?  
 
Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of CurlyNikki.com, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in Essence.comEbony.com, Madamenoire.com, xoNecole.com, and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or ErickkaSySavane.com

Allyson Lupovich, Photographer

"My name is Allyson Lupovich [@alupovich]. I'm 26, and I live in Queens, New York. I am a freelance photographer and photo retoucher. Photography is all about beauty—the way we perceive things, especially other humans. When I look at an image that needs 'correction,' I'm quick to remember that it is solely based on the current cultural aesthetic expectations and never my own. If it paid the bills, I would shoot untouched raw film photographs all the time. When I have free time, I like looking at negatives in a light box. It's kind of like seeing somebody naked or without makeup on, in their natural state. If anything, photography has expanded my view on beauty and has helped me realize that there are all kinds of beauty that you witness throughout your lifetime.

When I look at all of the the products and things that I use on a daily basis to enhance my appearance, before anything else, there is my retainer. Growing up, my parents spent a lot of money to fix my teeth. I wore headgears, lip bumpers, palatal expandersbraces, and this weird spike thing to stop me from sucking my thumb...With that being said, my smile is worth a lot of moola, and I am eternally grateful for it. So yes, my retainer is very much number one in my beauty routine.

But I guess more conventionally, I start with skincare. I've always had really sensitive skin, so I stick to Cetaphil's Gentle Skin Cleanser for my face and Johnson's Baby Moisture Wash for my body. I used to use Cetaphil's Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 15 as primer, but I always found it to be too greasy. No matter how much I really massaged it into my skin, it didn't absorb. Then, I tried my friend's Glossier Priming Moisturizer, and it literally felt like satin to me. I love it so much. It smells like a baby's butt, which is also chill.

It's taken me forever to find skin makeup that feels right for me. It couldn't be drying, it still had to give me some coverage, but I wanted it to keep what I wanted to show, like my freckles. I found love in Perricone MD's No Foundation Foundation Serum.

And when it comes to eye makeup, I only wear it at night if I go out. I use Bobbi Brown's Caviar and Oyster Palette, which has a lot of charcoals, golds, and browns in case you can't find it because it's sadly discontinued. I actually use the pink and gold cheek highlighter during the day. It was the perfect palette—broad yet minimal.

So the reason why my eyebrow game is naturally not on point is because I burned them with a lighter when I was an out-of-control teenager. They never grew back properly, and now I have to fill them in. I use Benefit's High Brow to highlight and Anastasia Beverly Hills' Brow Wiz in Auburn to fill—it has just a little bit of red in it, which I prefer because it matches my hair.

I grew up with a lot of beauty-related anxiety, which caused me a lot of unnecessary stress even though it might seem silly to me now. I started self-tanning when I was young only because a classmate told me that I still looked like a ghost after I got back from a vacation in Florida. I remember then going out to buy my first bottle of Neutrogena Sun Fresh Sunless Foam and impatiently smothering it all over my bony, white body in hopes of emerging golden, but instead I looked like an orange freak. After years of trial and error with tanning, I've come to terms with my complexion. The most I'll do now is wear blush. My favorite is Bobbi Brown's Blush in Nectar. With that being said, I feel that when it comes to beauty products, it's all a matter of trial, error, and research. This blush works for me because I didn't like self-tanner, but I realized I still wanted color—just not the same kind of color. Everybody is different. What might work for your best friend may or may not work for you. It's all a matter of experimenting and figuring it out for yourself.

Sometime in high school, I also bought Bobbi Brown's book Teenage Beauty. It talks about enhancing your looks as a teen, but it's mostly about how you should just love yourself and treat yourself right. In the book she says 'Sleep, rest, and happiness are the backbones of beauty,' and I couldn't agree more. I know when I'm sad about a boy who hasn't texted me back, I'll probably get a pimple from it. Then I remind myself, 'Sleep, rest, and happiness.'"

—as told to ITG

The #ITGTopShelfie series puts the focus on the lives and beauty routines of Into The Gloss's lovely, accomplished, and loyal community of readers. Show us your own Top Shelfie on Instagram—tag us @intothegloss, and include the hashtag #ITGTopShelfie.

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The Easy Way To Floss More

I’ve always enjoyed brushing my teeth, even as a kid—I mean, I swallowed a lot of that bubblegum toothpaste. A clean mouth is a universal joy. But I never knew how clean a mouth could feel until I started flossing, which is, perhaps to my shame, a more recent development. I’ll admit: there have been stretches of my own personal history when the only time I flossed was when someone did it for me at the dentist’s, or on an as-desperately-needed basis, like getting an air-popped popcorn husk wedged between tooth and gum.

But I’ve been flossing like an early-aughts rapper now that I’ve found these little individually-appropriated flossers. DenTek Comfort Clean Floss Picks are the best—the tape is slim enough not to get stuck between your teeth, and the handle bends but never breaks. The flosser, as a whole, looks like a miniature version of a lost ancient weapon, and it tastes like a baby mint leaf. I’ve gotten a little hooked on that scoured feeling that comes after a good floss, and also on the habit itself. If you ever bite your nails (and are trying to quit), consider switching to flossing. It’s a soothing ritual. Not only is it great to sit in bed at the end of the day with a flosser and an episode of Homeland—and go at, like really blindly digging in your gumline—but they’re also super-portable and discreet, so you can do it anywhere. Well, I should revise that: they’re discreet if you are.

It got to the point where I was taking them everywhere—there was a flosser in every pocket of every garment of mine that had pockets. Because you never know when you’ll get an unpleasant morsel stuck in a molar, right? There were Chaplinesque moments of these little unmentionables falling out of my pockets when I took my hands out. There was a flosser, mauled and trampled, at my usual supermarket parking space—I didn’t pick it to throw it away up because I wasn’t sure if it was mine (not realizing what a diseased notion it is to assume everyone else loses flossers at the same rate as mine). I flossed in restaurants, movie theaters, at bars, and weddings. Eventually its gets so automatic that you whip that little flosser out over the denouement of dinner with casual acquaintances, even as you’re holding forth on some lofty topic. I knew I needed to cut back when flossing was actually interrupting me while I was speaking.

But it was all worth it to hear at my routine dental visit: “I can tell that you’ve been flossing." Coming from a hygienist, this was the most heart-swellingly wonderful, gratifying thing I’ve ever heard. “Oh,” I coyly gum a reply, her hands and tools still scouring my mouth, “You no-thiced.”

—Trace Barnhill

Photographed by Tom Newton.

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On Whitening Your Teeth With Hydrogen Peroxide

The barriers of entry are stacked against whitening strips and my mouth—the main one being that I don't spend over $25 on a single product at Walgreens.

Sometimes white strips come into my possession, and I do find them useful if you're trying to lose weight and most of your closest relationships are built around affirmations that it's OK to have two dinners. Just smush one on when the delivery man arrives and you don't even need willpower. Still, this only provides me with one or two opportunities tops in the span of a week to use them. Maybe five.

I've found that just as effective as a complete go-round with white strips is swishing hydrogen peroxide in your mouth before brushing.

The concept has been around awhile, and you may have noticed that toothpastes are always crediting hydrogen peroxide as the most impressive ingredient on the front of the tube. While drugstore whitening systems have evolved into a confusing array of strips, pens, and trays, good ol’ H2O2 has been right in front of your face, an aisle over, the entire time. A 16 oz. bottle is $1.39—get the 3 percent solution that says "to use as rinse or gargle" on the label.

Your first go at this will feel strange. Your body will tell you no, but just toss some back into your mouth and swish. At first hydrogen peroxide tastes like distilled water, but the flavor evolves into something reminiscent of chewing on a damp poly-blend sweater. It will foam and thicken into rabies, at which point I like to take a very soft, wet toothbrush and lightly polish the bubbles into my teeth. Then I jump right into the rest of my routine by brushing with regular toothpaste.

A graphic account might not be the strongest sell, but after five days of brushing with hydrogen peroxide once a day is when I usually start noticing a real difference in the overall whiteness of my mouth. Now that I don’t have to worry about teeth stains I can finally be the person I’ve always wanted to be: that cool, mysterious girl who only orders black coffee.

—Annie Kreighbaum

Photographed by Annie Kreighbaum.

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