Former Michigan judge goes from welfare to successful business owner

Jan 27, 2022 at 2:11 pm
click to enlarge Tiffany Cartwright. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Tiffany Cartwright.

Tiffany Cartwright never thought she’d go from working as a judge to collecting unemployment and relying on a Bridge Card for food. Or that being on welfare would lead her to start a successful business with products on shelves at Target, Walmart, and Meijer.

But the universe had a strange way of humbling her, by turning her life upside down. After a lengthy career working as an Assistant Attorney General and an Administrative Law Judge, Cartwright was laid off in 2012 and again in 2016 due to state budget cuts.

She spent several years utilizing social services and relying on free medical treatment while being jobless.

“I didn’t have any money, health insurance, nothing. I lost everything,” she tells Metro Times. “Before that, I was driving a Lexus, had a nice big house in the suburbs, and had no interest in becoming a business owner because I thought I was good."

Though it was disheartening at the time, the layoff led Cartwright to start her business, G.L.A.M Body Scrubs. Now her products are available at more than 280 retail stores across the country.

"After the layoff, I tried to get jobs with all of these law offices that advertise on TV, and none would hire me," she says. "So, I dusted off these old concoctions I put together for my daughter’s eczema and decided to form an LLC.”

G.L.A.M Body Scrubs is a line of natural body care products that Cartwright mixes, mostly by herself. After years of doing pop-ups, she pitched her business idea to Shark Tank at Tech Town and Walmart, who both decided to invest in her products. Target and Meijer were soon to follow. G.L.A.M. Body Scrubs can also be found locally in Detroit at Woodward Corner Market, and the recently-opened Rivertown Market on Jefferson Ave., which is owned by Meijer.

Her story is a reminder that no matter how successful you are, everything can be taken away from you in an instant. It’s also one of triumph and the will to persevere through misfortune and despair.

There’s an even greater story here, though. In a nondescript building on Detroit’s east side sits a trove of knowledge and opportunities that most Detroiters probably don’t know exists. We almost drove right past it, until we noticed the small banner on a gated parking lot that said “Global Empowerment Ministries.”

Global Empowerment Ministries (GEM) is an organization that offers free business classes and information sessions for women and minorities who want to start a business. They help small businesses with grant applications and getting registered as an LLC. GEM will walk you through each line of the LLC application, put it in a stamped envelope, and mail it out for you.

To date, GEM has given out more than $1 million in grants and helped more than 300 small businesses from metro Detroit get their products on retail shelves. G.L.A.M. Body Scrubs is one of them.

Tiffany Cartwright's G.L.A.M. Body Scrubs. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Tiffany Cartwright's G.L.A.M. Body Scrubs.

Not only did GEM give Cartwright the tools to sell her products in Target and Meijer, but the leader of the organization also happens to be Art Cartwright. Yes, that’s Tiffany Cartwright’s brother. While Tiffany had been supporting her brother’s organization prior to starting her own business, losing her job was the catalyst to put all of GEM’s shared knowledge and resources to use.

“One day I was driving and I heard my brother on the radio saying ‘that idea that you have is a business that you’re sitting on,” Tiffany says. “When I heard that, it was like a lightbulb went off, like, ‘What are you doing? Get this business going.’ Everything I know about getting on store shelves, I learned from Global Empowerment, and it’s just sitting there as a free resource for people.”

Art started GEM in 2005 after realizing that the Black community had a huge problem.

“We lead the nation in poverty, incarceration, recidivism, and the lowest number of business owners per ethnic group. How else are we going to get out of this situation without starting a business,” he says passionately before the crowd gathered for the evening’s info session. It feels like being in church watching a prophet share his message to bright-eyed believers. It is called Global Empowerment Ministries after all.

The key, Art believes, is not just being a business owner, but sharing the knowledge he gained over the years as an entrepreneur with others.

“That’s a systemic problem within the African American culture. We don’t believe in empowerment. Empowerment is a duplication process so that other people, not just me, can be successful and become financially independent. So for 2022, we are laser-focused on building our businesses,” he says.

His passion is something magical to watch as he points out several audience members who have gotten retail contracts through GEM and encourages others to clap for them.

Some of GEM’s free classes include “How to finance your business through venture capitalists, angel investors, and government grants,” “How to buy products from China,” and “Basic negotiation skills.” Tuesday evenings are for getting a registered LLC and on Fridays, GEM holds mock interviews with retail buyers to prepare business owners for presenting their products.

G.L.A.M. Body Scrubs on sale at Walmart. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
G.L.A.M. Body Scrubs on sale at Walmart.

“The more businesses we have, the more jobs we can create. That’s one thing we learn at [GEM] is to think about who you are going to help and what you are going to do with the money you make from your business. When God opens a door for you, put your foot in that door and make sure you hold it open for the people who come after you,” Tiffany says.

Her way of continuing that mission and giving back to the community is through hiring women with past criminal records and victims of human trafficking.

“I’m partnering with three organizations to hire women with past records. They’ll be able to come in and get paid to manufacture my products,” she says. “I know from being a judge that once an employee verifies that you have a record or have been incarcerated, they throw that application in the trash. If no one steps up and gives them a second chance, what option do those people have?”

Tiffany is currently working on securing a manufacturing space and hopes to eventually be able to provide housing for future employees as well.

“I hope it becomes a trend where other businesses partner with organizations to help those returning citizens,” she says. "I want to lead by example."

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