GARDNER, EDWARD G. (1925–), Illinois, hair care products manufacturer, founder of Soft Sheen Products, Inc., educator.
Soft Sheen Products, Incorporated, was the largest African American–owned hair care manufacturer and one of the nation’s largest minority-owned firms. The Soft Sheen legacy begins with Gardner, a Chicago native and educator. From 1945 to 1964, Gardner used his B.A. from Chicago Teachers College and M.Ed. Degree from the University of Chicago to first teach and later serve as assistant principal in the Chicago public school system. In the evenings, he worked for a beauty supplier. Although the company went out of business, Gardner established a rapport with his customers that he wanted to continue. In 1957 Gardner formed E. G. Gardner Beauty Products Inc. The company was named Soft Sheen Products in 1964. In the early days of his business, Gardner would ask women their desires regarding hair care products. At this time, many black women, who had migrated from the South, where there was extreme humidity, were using heavy bergamots and pomades to press their hair. Gardner’s customers expressed to him that they wanted something lighter. So Gardner developed the Soft Sheen Hair and Scalp Conditioner that he supplied to Chicago’s black salons. This became the impetus for a series of products manufactured by Soft Sheen.
In 1983, Gardner’s son, Gary, became president of Soft Sheen. Gary Gardner, with an M.B.A. and law degree from Northwestern University, used the marketing principles acquired in graduate school to increase the company’s profit level. He had long worked with the Soft Sheen Company, particularly in the development and marketing of one of the company’s most successful products—