The natural hair care market is estimated to be worth upwards of a billion dollars, and one of the emerging brands in this sector with Caribbean roots is Kreyol Essence.
Launched in 2013 by Yve-Car Momperousse and partner Stéphane Jean-Baptiste who are both of Haitian heritage, Kreyol Essence is an agribusiness that works with Haitian farmers to cultivate Ricinus communis the castor oil plant and other cash crops. Once harvested, they then produce a range of natural hair, skin, and body products which are marketed to those with dry hair and dry skin.
Haitian Black Castor Oil – Century Old Beauty & Medicinal Wonder Cure
Kreyol Essence’s signature product is Haitian Black Castor Oil. Momperousse remembered this century-old beauty and medicinal wonder cure from her childhood and she went searching for it in natural and Afro-Caribbean stores in Philadelphia after a hair catastrophe in 2008. Specifically, Momperousse’s natural hair got heat damaged and fell out after being straightened at a local beauty salon with a pressing comb that was way too hot.
Not finding a bottle of Haitian Black Castor Oil known by Haitians as lwil Maskriti (also Palma Chrisiti or l’huile de ricin) in her local stores, Momperousse ended up getting one from her mother which led to a conversation about the benefits of starting a business to import the product to the United States. These benefits included women no longer having to sneak the oil into their bag coming back from Haiti or other Caribbean islands and the opportunity to employ Haitian farmers and producers for exporting the product out of the country.
Thus Momperousse started seriously researching the feasibility of manufacturing and exporting Haitian Black Castor Oil to the United States in 2009 while working at Cornell University as the Director of Diversity Alumni Programming. As there was no established infrastructure for manufacturing and exporting the product from Haiti, research and planning to launch the company continued until 2010. She spent time in the Haitian mountains developing relationships with farmers and also with older Haitian women talking through their recipes that would provide the foundation for the range of Kreyol Essence products.
Then the magnitude 7.0 earthquake happened in Haiti which caused widespread devastation. Momperousse and Jean-Baptiste who were both active in the Haitian community diverted efforts to help raise over half a million dollars for medicine and other supplies. After this tremendous accomplishment, Momperousse’s mother encouraged her to get back to setting up the business by saying,
“It’s nice that you’re doing all this relief effort work, but when the cameras are gone, and no one cares about Haiti anymore, these ladies that you started working with, what happens to them? A job is going to do much more for them than any aid that you are raising.”
Kreyol Essence – Authentically, Unapologetically Haitian
Building an eco-luxury brand along with helping hundreds of Haitian farmers and producers achieve financial stability is what drives Momperousse forward and is what Haiti needs. She says,
“I do feel that I’m put on this earth to be a help to others and to utilize the many resources that have been bestowed upon me to empower others. So, my number one goal is job creation, because I guess if somebody is to ask me my number one fear, it’s poverty. So, if that’s a fear I have for myself, then that is also a significant concern for me for those in our community.
Also, after all my years in nonprofit management and in the nonprofit space, I’m a problem-solver. I like to solve things. I don’t want to leave things lingering, and I noticed that aid and giving didn’t solve anything, and the thread, or the common theme, out of all the issues I’ve worked on — I’ve worked on everything from education to health to housing — the underlying problem was always money. It was finances. So, instead of trying to plug these different holes and not solving the issue, you have to get down to the core which is helping people achieve financial stability. “
Kreyol Essence Wins Female Exporter of the Year from Caribbean Export Development Agency
Momperousses dedication to supporting the sustainable development of Haiti is one of the main reasons why she won the Female Exporter of the Year from the Caribbean Export Development Agency in 2016. Caribbean Export which is funded in part by the European Union plays a vital role in promoting brands from the Caribbean like Kreyol Essence who have also won awards such as Hope for Haiti and Roots of Development.
These prestigious awards, as well as support from organizations like the Clinton Foundation, provide inspiration for Momperousse and team to keep going as they don’t want to let anyone down including the growing number of Haitian farmers and producers which they hope to increase to 1,000 in the next few years.
Kreyol Essence Products Available At 400+ Whole Food Market Stores
Since launching Kreyol Essence in 2013 with her life savings of US$50,000 and raising a further US$100,000 from nearly 3,000 angel investors via Kiva.org, Kreyol Essence has gone from strength to strength and now creates work for 350 farmers and 50 producers in Haiti. The company also has a small team of about ten employees in the United States that handles marketing, operations, logistics and their expanding warehouse.
This expanding team and the infrastructure that they have built up has helped to sell over 40,000 bottles of their signature Haitian Black Castor Oil in the last year alone. This figure is expected to significantly increase now their Haitian Black Castor Oil was recently launched into 400 Whole Food Market stores; 300 stores in the United States and another 100 stores in Canada.
Interestingly, Momperousse indicates that Kreyol Essence got turned down twice by Whole Food Market. She made the third attempt after her mother told her to approach the store not knowing they have been previously turned down. Here instead of allowing others to tell her story, she developed a relationship with the local store manager who Momperousse helped stock shelves while pitching the Kreyol Essence products. That manager loved the story behind the brand, and knowing that women had come in asking for Black Castor Oil, worked with Momperousse to get the product into the store. Momperousse then walked into a further 100 stores around the country to pitch to the local managers which helped her learn the inner workings of Whole Food Market and ultimately led to the national deal.
Kreyol Essence Participated In Second Annual Sephora Accelerate Program
Momperousse’s confidence to aggressively pursue the Whole Foods Market deal was encouraged during her participation in the year-long Sephora Accelerate Program which is focused on nurturing the next generation of female beauty leaders. According to Momperousse who felt honored to be chosen as one of the ten women in the second annual Sephora Accelerate Program,
“Sephora aims to empower female entrepreneurs so that their companies can scale as well as have a social impact. The Accelerator team patiently goes through business fundamentals from A to Z and most importantly provides you with a community. Entrepreneurship can be very lonely, and if you’re an entrepreneur in beauty, it is even more difficult to find support as you grow. There has never been a formal accelerator program for beauty in the way that there is for tech even though the business of beauty is growing as fast as the tech sector. To have been provided with mentorship, training, and access to the LVMH community was eye-opening and an experience that I could never afford to pay for. I am thankful to the Sephora accelerate team for investing time and energy into our social beauty business.”
Momperousse also indicates that she considers Kreyol Essence an unofficial ambassador of Haiti helping to change people’s view of the island as
“people describe the country as the poorest country in the western hemisphere and that’s not my business model. That’s not what I sell. What I’m selling you is the beauty of the mountains, and the beaches, and what comes from the earth, and our tradition of taking care of self.”
She is also keen to point out that while the primary target for products is multicultural women, Kreyol Essence products can be used by anyone with dry hair and skin. Momperousse explains,
“The difference is really in the amount of product that you use. If you have finer hair that is dry or breaking, or you want to focus on hair growth promotion or let us say your hair is bleached, you would focus on using Haitian Black Castor Oil on your scalp and your ends as a scalp treatment or a hot oil treatment before washing. Alternatively, if you have kinky, curlier hair, your hair can absorb more product and is thirstier, so you more product is needed throughout the entire hair or more frequent usage is recommended.
Another goal that all women have is glowing, healthy, youthful skin. I mean, everybody wants that. Our Haitian Moringa Oil face set is purchased by all and so are our Caribbean luxury body products. We focus on multicultural women because we feel that she is underserved. Her textured hair and dry skin needs have gone unmet by higher end/masstige retailers so we want her to know that she is beautiful and matters to us. However, we have a tribe of customers from all walks of life and anyone with dry hair and skin can enjoy our products. I was the Director of Diversity so inclusiveness is important at Kreyol Essence.”
Note: This blog post/article is part of a series featuring Caribbean entrepreneurs and businesses sponsored by the Caribbean Export Development Agency. Working together with the European Union, the Caribbean Export Development Agency supports the sustainable development of Caribbean brands ultimately to increase employment in the region, inclusiveness, particularly for youth, women and indigenous groups, and secure overall poverty reduction.