By M. Skye Holly
Over the past several years, an increasing number of Black women have decided to ditch their chemical relaxers and embrace their natural hair. For one Haitian-American woman, embracing the natural hair movement was not enough if there weren’t trusted reliable products that Black women could use that enhanced their curls.
“I started Mel’s Butter Blends not really by accident, but not really by intention, either,” Melissa Lamarre said.
“Good Hair did it for me,” she said, referring to Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary on black hair and the relaxer industry. Once she became aware of the harmful chemicals in the relaxers she was using to straighten her hair, it wasn’t long before Lamarre started her own natural hair journey.
“Before that, I was on a regular schedule,” she said. “My perm stayed tight. My wrap was done every week and was on point. When I was transitioning, there was just nothing to take care of my hair,” said Lamarre, whose mother is a cosmetologist.
Noticing that many women who transitioned out of their relaxers or did a “Big Chop,” (cut all the straightened hair off to start their journey chemical free) would eventually return to straightening their hair for lack of quality products that met their haircare needs, Lamarre was on a quest to find what would work for her hair texture.
She joined subscription services that promised “natural” products for “natural” hair but there was only one problem.
“The products weren’t natural. I couldn’t pronounce any of the ingredients and they didn’t work,” she said.
Lamarre became frustrated trying product after product that failed to adequately protect and moisturize her hair. There were some products that kept her hair moisturized for a few minutes, others for a few hours—others not at all, but there were no products that would give her the effect of all-day moisture. She understood the frustration other women felt who started wearing their hair natural and gave up.
“With natural hair, many women think ‘Some days I feel good, some days I feel like a perm,” she said.
By 2012, Lamarre decided that if she was going to stay away from relaxers for good, she would have to come up with a product on her own.
There began the butters. Lamarre began mixing up different raw ingredients at home, hoping to find a solution to help manage her hair. She used shea butters at first and then mango butters. When her hair butters began achieving the desired result, she would carry a small jar along for her stylist to use when she went to the hair salon.
Her hair stylist loved the butters and would share them with other customers in the salon. Before long, Lamarre had a following and would receive calls from the salon’s customers asking her for more of what they dubbed “Hair Crack,” which she would eventually call her first marketed hair butter.
“After a few times of making money from what I used on my hair while I was in the salon chair getting my hair done, things [just took off],” Lamarre said.
Her clientele grew quickly, prompting her to add other butters, and eventually skincare items to the line. She now had a business on her hands.
When a client from Facebook suggested that Lamarre enter the Kreyol Power UP! competition, she decided to go for it.
Power UP! Kreyol is an annual business plan competition that was formed after the success of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Power UP! Business Plan Competition. The Power UP! Kreyol Business Plan Competition is geared to Haitian-Creole speakers who want to start or grow a business based in Brooklyn, New York. Power UP! began in 2003 and is responsible for giving a jump start to thousands of entrepreneurs.
The competition went in phases. Prospective entrepreneurs took a series of classes pertaining to all aspects of business formation. After researching, drafting and submitting the business plans, finalists were chosen and matched with professionals to help prepare them for the presentations they would make before the judges.
The startup world found its next rising star in Lamarre’s business, Mel’s Butter Blends, a line of all-natural skincare and haircare products for natural hair. The Brooklyn Public Library announced Lamarre as the 1st place winner of their third Power UP! Kreyol Business Plan Competition at a ceremony held at the Dr. S. Stevan Dweck Center of the Brooklyn Public Library’s central library on Sept. 26.
Lamarre feels empowered to take Mel’s Butter Blends to the next level after the Kreyol Power UP! competition.
“The money, obviously, it helps, but there are some amazing people at the Power UP! staff I was able to work with,” she said. “They are so resourceful. There are so many people I was able to meet and now have access to, that are hubs of information, and advising, and legal consultations.”
Proud of her identity as a Haitian-American woman, Lamarre is glad that the topic of natural hair is becoming more of a conversation in the Haitian community.
Lamarre said that as much as Haitians “brag about being the first black republic,” we should be as unapologetic about our natural hair as we are about our roots. Seeing blackness on that level “is inspiring.”