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

Friends, family and business 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. It’s even in the face of the prospect of losing her natural skincare and spa services business to a potentially career-crushing pandemic and the possibility of her own death from cancer. Owens, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2019, fought both at the same time. Those close to Owens said that while she feared financial ruin or her own death, she largely kept it to herself.

“She was fearless,” Owens’ daughter Maya Johnson said. “She took it day by day, and we were with her on this trip.”

Owens’ journey began in Atlanta, where, with the exception of college and her early career, she has spent her entire life. She grew up in the Adamsville neighborhood in the city’s southwest, playing kickball on the streets and pursuing various creative interests, including dancing and drawing. But it was her summer visits to Shreveport, Louisiana, to see her grandmother, Cosata Blackmon, called “Mother” by everyone, that left the biggest impression on Owens. These experiences ultimately led Owens to an entrepreneurial career.

Owens felt drawn to her grandmother’s wild and eclectic garden, where not all the things that grew were arranged in neat rows. From this garden, Blackmon treated Owens’ childhood eczema by bathing her in a mixture of onions, garlic, and collard greens. And when high school graduate Charles Lincoln Harper went to college — first to Tuskegee University, then to Albany State University — Blackmon sent her care kits containing natural treatments for the skin she had prepared from fruits and vegetables from the garden.

However, it took many years for Owens to return to the roots planted by his grandmother. Persuaded by her parents to pursue a meaningful career, Owens, who went to college on a math scholarship, earned a degree in computer engineering and graduated from Albany State University. She then followed a corporate career, first at IBM in Dallas, then at Home Depot and SunTrust Bank in Atlanta.

Over time, however, Owens felt pulled in a different direction. She left SunTrust to grow her fledgling new business. Owens tagged it with the loose acronym “IWI,” which stands for a favorite catchphrase: “it is what it is.”

His decision puzzled the family members. Owens, after all, was the first of them to graduate from college. In the “Made in America” ​​interview, Owens recalled telling them “I really have to pursue who I really am.”

Owens downsized, turned his house into a mini manufacturing plant, and made a name for himself setting up booths at public events and trade shows. She taught local spa employees the virtues of her natural products that required refrigeration and how to use them.

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

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Owens pivoted by growing its business online, offering curbside service and successfully persuading Whole Foods to sell iwi products in more stores. Owens applied for and obtained grants and business loans to help keep the business afloat and delayed the opening of a 12,000 square foot “Rest Retirement Spot” on Jonesboro Road.

This facility is now open and Owens’ business is bouncing back even though she is gone.

“Yolanda was incredibly determined. Once she set her eyes on something, she worked until she got it,” said her cousin Shantae Robinson, who works at iwi. “She used to say, ‘How would I know if this won’t work if I don’t try?'”

Owens is survived by two sons, Jordan and Austin Johnson, and daughter Maya Johnson, who is days away from giving birth; both parents, Ralph Hill and Murry Henderson; two brothers, Corey Henderson and Berald Hill; and a grandson, Jah Johnson.

The family will soon announce plans for a memorial celebration.

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