Spinning Around: A trio of Black entrepreneurs finds success with locally-made laundry detergent

True Products co-founders (left to right) Malik Saleem, Abdur-Rahim Shaheed and Ali B. Muhammad demonstrate their laundry detergent line at the company’s College Park manufacturing facility. (Photo by Donnell Suggs)

A bell rang and the great machine began to hum and hum. At top speed, the automatic filling machine can fill hundreds of 1-gallon bags in preparation for distribution. These days, the team behind laundry detergent brand True needs the Chinese-made machine to keep up with demand.

True Products is breaking into a market not well known for black contributions. The Atlanta-based brand started small and now manufactures products in its College Park factory, employs five people and produces not only laundry detergent but also fabric softeners and their new line of biodegradable, eco-friendly dryer sheets. The automatic stuffing machine was more than worth the money it cost to get it through customs and into the factory.

The beginnings of the company are similar to those of many companies that want to break into existing industries: with an idea.

The formula

Co-owners Ali B. Muhammad, Malik Saleem and Abdur-Rahim Shaheed brought their individual talents to the laundry detergent business almost 11 years ago. The trio were on a mission to change the way laundry detergent is sold. The idea of ​​making a laundry detergent came from Muhammad’s older brother, Lonzell Graham, who worked as a research chemist for Dow Chemical in Marietta. The formula for True Laundry Detergent begins and ends with him.

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“His formula was so potent that we decided we had to get to work bottling it,” said Muhammad, 76, of his brother’s original formula, which has since been formulated for sensitive skin. A native of Newark, New Jersey, the Vietnam War veteran had owned small businesses in the past. He knew a good idea when he saw one.

Difficulties are part of every business

Black-owned barber shops, auto repair shops, package stores, clothing stores and corner grocery stores are a common sight on Atlanta’s Southside and Westside. Starting a company like this wouldn’t have been very difficult for the team behind True Products, but laundry detergent was a different story.

“Finding packaging for the laundry detergent, that was our difficulty,” said Saleem, 63. “It was so expensive and when we tried to get the bottles from companies that bottle other laundry detergents, they expected us to pay a million would earn bottles at once. That was a big stumbling block.”

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The team decided to pour their detergent into a pitcher similar to the one you see for vinegar in restaurant kitchens. The bottle wasn’t attractive, but it was cheaper than the traditional laundry detergent bottle that brands like Tide and Gain are sold in.

The company has since switched to distinctive pouch packaging with a handle. “Image is everything,” joked Muhammad.

The factory produces hundreds of bottles of True laundry detergent per week. The detergent is available online and in stores across Georgia. (Photo by Donnell Suggs)

supply and demand

“We sold 5,000 bottles and then sold another 5,000 bottles and we knew we were in

something,” said Shaheed, 72. “People were getting over 100 loads for $10 and they wanted more detergent.”

This is where the current factory and the Siemens brand filling machine came into play. Production levels have increased with demand for more product. According to the True team, the company has reported an increase in sales every year since then.

More specifically, since the pandemic began and online sales surged, True Products has seen sales increase 25% for businesses of all types. “We sold laundry detergent to everyone, it wasn’t just a black product or a white product, it was laundry detergent,” Saleem said. “Everyone has to wash their clothes.”

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True Products shares factory space with WeBuyBlack.com and Champs Boxers, a men’s underwear brand owned by Black and owned by Saleem’s 35-year-old son, Jawwaad Saleem.

The next level

Along with the new dryer sheets, the True team is looking to continue expanding their inventory. “The goal is to build a whole line of household products,” admitted Shaheed. “We want to become our own version of Procter & Gamble.”

Genuine products can be purchased online through Amazon and at stores such as the Ace Hardware Store on Old National Highway in College Park, New Black Wall Street Market in Stonecrest, and The Grocery Spot ATL in the Grove Park neighborhood.

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “true” as cagreeable to fact; be in accordance with the actual state of affairs; a true relationship or narrative. Speaking of the detergent brand, Muhammad said: “It’s 11 years old, if the product was counterfeit we wouldn’t still be here. It’s true and here we are.”

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