Meet Yve-Car Momperousse, founder and CEO of Kreyol Essence, a manufacturer, distributor and retailer of natural hair, skin and body products from Haiti. Momperousse is the subject of our latest installment of the Inner Circle Q&A!
Inner Circle: Tell us about your background.
Yve-Car Momperousse: I would sum up my background as a combination of nonprofit management, development (fundraising), and diversity in higher education. My last job before diving into entrepreneurship vs intrapreneurship was as the director of diversity at Cornell University.
Recently, I was selected by Sephora as the Next Generation Beauty Industry Leader and was named one of 2018’s Top Conscious Business Leaders by Conscious Company Media. Beauty & Money and Refinery29 have named Kreyol Essence one of the “Most Exciting & Cool Indie Beauty Brands,” which I’m elated by since I don’t have a traditional beauty background.
My bachelor’s degree is in urban studies from Rutgers University. I started my master’s at the University of Pennsylvania and completed my degree at Cornell University in international development with a focus on agriculture. Kreyol Essence was my thesis.
IC: Tell us about Kreyol Essence. What types of products does it sell, and why are those products unique?
YM: Kreyol Essence makes 100 percent natural and ethical beauty products from Haiti formulated specifically for those with dry hair, dry skin, and textured hair. Leveraging first-class ingredients such as Haitian Black Castor Oil, Haitian Moringa and Vetiver, the company is known for its plant-based hair, face and body products that works for the consumer and the producers. We’ve created work for over 300 farmers and women in Haiti, and our farming aims to improve the environment.
What makes our products unique is that our signature ingredients are sourced from Haiti, which is home to one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the Caribbean with over 5,600 species of plants living in nine life zones from sea level to mountain tops. We’re vertically integrated and process using traditional methods that have been done as a ritual in Haiti for generations. This means the quality of our products are undeniable. We’re also hyperfocused on experience at Kreyol Essence. We’re thoughtful about texture and scent, so each product provides a spa-like experience or nostalgic aroma that evokes a memory. This aligns with our wellness philosophy. All of our ingredients have a purpose and story around them.
Lastly, our signature product, Haitian Black Castor Oil, promotes hair growth. We have several customers concerned with hair growth, whether it be dealing with alopecia, chemotherapy, eyebrows or a hair catastrophe from the hairdresser the way I had. Our second best-seller, our Moringa Facial Kit, naturally gets her the glow she wants for her face and helps to diminish hyperpigmentation. Traditional ingredients, simple to use, that she loves.
IC: What does the company name mean?
YM: Kreyol is one of the official languages we speak in Haiti. Though French is also an official language, 98 percent of the population speaks Kreyol. The language is the essence of the Haitian culture, and is how we came up with the name of the company.
IC: What was your motivation for starting Kreyol Essence?
YM: 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’s with the livelihood of others that KE was birthed and launched in 2014.
IC: What was the white space you saw that you felt needed to be filled?
YM: Premium and green brands haven’t been very inclusive. Most brands don’t go and grow with her on her clean and wellness journey. Kreyol Essence does so by providing an assortment that starts off with accessible price points and easy-to-use products. We then help her trade up as we educate about high-performing natural products that have higher price points.
Another white space is the demand for clean and prestige haircare, which The NPD Group reports is the second fastest growing category in beauty by 16 percent. However, Goop, Sephora and other channels tell me there are very few companies addressing textured hair needs in the wellness and prestige space. Millennials are the most diverse in U.S. history, and in 2050 we will live in a minority majority country.
Most people define textured hair as “black” hair. However, this isn’t about ethnicity — it’s about hair types. Textured hair spans lots of different ethnicities and groups (Jewish women, Latina women, mixed race women, etc.). Nielson confirms that women of color outspend their white sisters by eight x or nine x in hair care. They’re considered the most loyal customers. And yet, we don’t have a voice as a market segment in wellness or prestige/masstige. So, the big opportunity, as usual, is a challenge, as we must educate.
Furthermore, ethical brands that are seeking long-term change with big issues such as poverty and the environment, beyond feel good charity, are still rare. I’m very much about taking business approaches to solving social and beauty problems. The more product we sell the more social impact we can have.
IC: How do you promote and market your products and brand?
YM: We’ve employed several marketing tactics this year to test what resonates with our tribe and brings return on investment for the company. We’ve learned that the right influencers are key to getting the word out and building social proof. Staying consistent with emails, Instagram and Facebook are also a must! We noticed almost a three x growth in sales last quarter, and social media was the main driver of that growth.
Last quarter, I also started doing desk sides and have enjoyed them tremendously. Desk sides aren’t dead. It’s a great way to create relationships with beauty editors and grow the brand. I do break the rules in the sense that I have an actual conversation vs. simply pitching. I want to be a trusted source for information, so I will talk about other brands and resources that are helpful to the editors. We follow each other on social media and keep the conversation going.
Lastly, speaking engagements and being on a small home shopping network has really allowed us to tell our story in a way that have a wide array of people connecting with the brand. I love that white, black, Indian, biracial, young and mature trust us, purchase, and engage. That for me is a humbling honor.
IC: What advice would you give to women thinking about starting their own businesses, or at least side hustles?
YM: Here are a few things I would suggest:
- Solve a problem. If you solve a problem for someone else, they will solve a problem for you by buying your service or product. “Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours.” — Les Brown
- There will never be a perfect time, nor will you have the perfect product or branding in the beginning. I really wish I didn’t overthink things in the beginning.
- Be confident. Confidence is an important weapon of mass destruction for fear and doubt. Build your support network early and often and develop a practice that keeps you mentally and physically fit to harness confidence during the entrepreneurial journey.
- Know numbers. Know and understand your financials, especially as a woman in beauty. For some reason it’s unexpected.
IC: What’s next for Kreyol Essence? What are your goals for 2019 and beyond?
YM: We have a new line coming out in 2019 that aims to be the healthiest haircare line for dry and curly hair. The packaging and branding are fun, and our customers have been waiting for the line for a year. We’ll also adding to our skin care line by popular demand.
Beyond 2019, my goal is to create a wildly profitable business model that creates a blueprint to address chronic poverty and environmental issues such as soil erosion, deforestation and greenhouse gas emission around the world. I’m excited about connecting with mentors and investors who want to join our tribe in building the first multibillion-dollar social enterprise in beauty that changes the world and matters for all.