This Haitian American may have started her career in academia, but her business know how coupled with her passion to economically empower Haiti led her to create one of the most popular Haitian beauty brands in America.
How did you become an entrepreneur, you were in academia at one point?
I worked in the business arm of the academia- Alumni Affairs + Development. My background is in working for nonprofits, including universities, and I found that I was attracted to roles that required me to solve a problem. I was an intrapreneur in large complex entities that often wanted to be inclusive and engage diverse communities but did not know how.
The years in academia also exposed me to concepts such as social entrepreneurship and the need for economic empowerment to solve social issues. Thus began a conversation with myself and my husband/co-founder about what problem I was obsessed with- economic empowerment in Haiti. Thus began the seed for me to become a social entrepreneur and start Kreyol Essence.
How did the idea of Kreyol Essence emerge?
I started Kreyol Essence after having what I call a “hair-catastrophe.” After straightening my hair at a salon, my hair fell out due to damage caused by a hot iron. After crying, I remembered there was an oil my mom used that solved all our problems. She told me the name of our liquid gold is Lwil Maskriti, known as Haitian black castor oil in English.
I ran to the store in Philadelphia, where I lived at the time, and was unable to find the authentic black castor oil I was accustomed to. I begged my mom to send me Haitian Castor Oil from her “Haiti stash” and jokingly said perhaps I should start a business that ensures the oil is accessible, not only for myself but for others as well.
As mom and I talked, we thought about the fact that I would have to work with farmers, female producers, and would have to export the product – all activities that stimulate economic activity in Haiti.
On Jan. 12, 2010, when a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, I said to my mom “We should put the business on hold and focus on providing emergency care.” My mom reminded me .“Now more than ever, our people will need jobs and a way to be self-sufficient. When the donations stop, how will the country survive? I need you to persevere in making this dream a reality as the lives of many are at stake.”
It is with the livelihood of others that KE was birthed and launched in 2014.
What are the pros and cons of producing in Haiti?
Haiti is the most beautiful place on earth to me. It’s one of the reasons we create natural and ethical beauty products for those with dry hair, dry skin, and curly hair. We have some of the most diverse and majestic terrain imaginable in Haiti. Kreyol Essence product formulations are unique to our culture and ingredients are some of the purest you will find from around the world . Our wild harvested and farmed ingredients such as our signature Lwil Maskriti/ Haitian Castor Seeds or Benzolive/Haitian Moringa are free from pesticide and other additives. I also love that I get to represent my culture instead of a foreign brand or entity. We are proud to be Haitian owned and operated.
However, we also have a myriad of infrastructure issues in Haiti which makes supply chain, human capital, and financial systems challenging for a business to maneuver within. There are times, you have to turn off your “foreign norms” to adapt and work within the reality of the terrain. This can be frustrating, expensive, and discouraging. We push through because of our belief that Haiti should be a dominant player in beauty, more importantly beauty that is produced ethically and changes the lives of women, farmers, and its product users. I believe we will not only have an impact in Haiti, but will set a model that will include and impact the entire Caribbean. This is my life’s work I think— that gets me up every morning at 3 or 4 a.m.
Where is Kreyol Essence today?
We had a great year. We launched nationally at Whole Foods Market in over 300 stores. I was selected by Sephora as the next generation beauty industry leader and was part of the coveted Sephora Beauty Accelerator- Forbes calls it one of the most innovative accelerators in the world. Caribbean Export named me as their Export Ambassador for the Women in Export program to encourage more women in the Caribbean to export. Lastly, we are opening a 2nd facility in Haiti that will help us cement our social impact and goal of providing sustainable jobs to over 300 farmers and women producers.
What does the future hold for the company?
We have a lot to do to reach our financial and social impact goals and are actively looking for folks to join our team and be part of making history. My co-founder, investors (mostly friends and family) have truly been a blessing and are the reason we are still here as a business. I am excited to expand our team to include visionaries and skilled doers in 2018.
We have new products, new retail partnerships and engagement opportunities in the works so stay tuned by signing up for our mailing list on www.kreyolessence.com. We have also decided to partner with YWCA Haiti to help spread the work about the fantastic work they are doing with young girls and to play a role in the lives of these young Haitian girls. Nou gen anpil bagay ki pral fet (we have a lot that’s going to take place.)
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs wanting to do business in Haiti?
Come to Haiti and stay for a few days on your first trip, but then come back at least 4 or 5 times to just learn about the needs, business practices, and norms. Haiti is a country where your relationships matter. You don’t need a “nom de fammille connu”(prestigious family name) to make it but you have to create solid relationships. Leave some of your expat norms at the door and be open to listening and learning.
Create a plan that you know will evolve and raise 2 – 3 times what you think you need to start your business … you don’t know what you don’t know.