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CHICAGO — Starting a business is never easy. For Chris-Tia Donaldson, it was exponentially more difficult — she did it with a cancer diagnosis while holding down a demanding job.

In March 2015, Donaldson’s haircare company, TGIN, launched in 250 Target stores nationwide. In December, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the best and worst year of her life.

But then something unexpected happened: TGIN sales went through the roof.

“During that time when I was just focusing on my health and going to chemotherapy and lying on my couch eating applesauce, our sales doubled,” Donaldson said. “And the number of doors that we got into quadrupled.”

She credits “a combination of listening, making mistakes, being quick to correct your mistakes and just being open to failing and getting it right.”

It was a complete departure from the way she was used to doing things. Donaldson graduated from Harvard University with high honors. She went on to Harvard Law School and worked at a top law firm in Chicago.

In 2003, she made a bold decision: to stop chemically straightening her hair. It was a risk for the attorney, since much of corporate America considers the kinky, curly look to be unprofessional.

Ultimately, Donaldson felt “something was weird about putting chemicals on my body in such close proximity to my scalp.” She said the process was expensive and causing long-term damage to her hair.

The experience led her to write her first book: “Thank God I’m Natural: The Ultimate Guide to Caring for and Maintaining Natural Hair.”

From there, Donaldson got to work in her kitchen on a line of natural haircare products, which she named TGIN after her book. Products were launched in 2011. At the time, Donaldson was still working 60 to 70 hours a week as an attorney.

TGIN is now a multi-million dollar company with products in more than 10,000 stores nationwide, including Target and Sally Beauty.

In a twist of fate, Donaldson lost her hair during chemotherapy. It prompted her to create a new hair care line called Miracle RepaiRx, which is designed to restore hair.

“When my hair grew back from cancer, it was dry, brittle and very patchy,” Donaldson said. “So, I went back into the lab to develop something with new ingredients that were more powerful when it came to hair growth.”

Looking back, Donaldson believes her grueling schedule of holding down a day job and hustling on the side contributed to her health crisis.  It’s something she reflects on in her new book: “This is Only a Test: What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Faith, Business, Love and Hair.” She hopes it starts a conversation about self-care.

Donaldson has also launched the TGIN Foundation to raise awareness about breast cancer risks among women of color under age 40.

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