Kreyòl Essence is revolutionizing the beauty industry by empowering women and fighting climate change
Dec 22 2020
In 2009, when Yve-Car Momperousse was working in the alumni office of her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, she was invited to a party where she thought she might meet a great guy. She wanted to put her best foot forward, so she asked her hairdresser to straighten her hair. Happily, Momperousse met the guy (Stéphane Jean-Baptiste, who would become her life partner).
But when she woke up the next morning, her hair was falling out.
“Like any good millennial, I called my mom and asked her, ‘What’s the name of that oil you used when I was growing up, that solved pretty much everything from hair loss to dryness to body aches?’” says Momperousse. “She said it was lwil maskriti, or Haitian black castor oil.”
Her mother sent her some of the miracle remedy, and it worked so well that Momperousse joked she ought to start a business selling it. Her mom thought that was a great idea. Five years later, after earning a master’s degree at Cornell University and working as the school’s director of diversity programming, Momperousse founded Kreyòl Essence with Jean-Baptiste. They named it after Haiti’s commonly spoken language.
The Miami- and Haiti-based company now sells organic hair and skin products at retailers including Ulta, Whole Foods and Urban Outfitters. But Momperousse’s mission has always gone far beyond the bottom line. Her aim is to provide women of all races with clean, natural beauty products while creating a sustainable business for Haiti, empowering women economically, and having a positive impact on the environment.
“The thing that sets Kreyòl Essence apart is that Yve-Car has always had a really clear vision of where she wanted to take the business, not just in terms of financial success but also in terms of the impact she envisioned making in Haiti and the beauty industry,” says Alexandria Cabral, senior credit associate at RSF Social Finance.
Using the power of business to create jobs
In 2010, a year after Momperousse started what she calls her “hair journey,” a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti. It was a real shock: Momperousse is a first-generation Haitian-American and Jean-Baptiste came to the U.S. from Haiti when he was 7.
Momperousse immediately shifted her focus from creating a business to working in relief efforts. When her mom asked her what would happen to Haiti when “Anderson Cooper is no longer covering the story,” Momperousse realized that her Haitian people—and women in particular—needed jobs. And she could help with her new business.
When Momperousse launched Kreyòl Essence in 2014, she began working with Haitian farmers and cooperatives to plant 100,000 black castor trees. In addition to providing the miracle oil that revived her hair, the tree farms and production facilities also provide jobs and reduce deforestation, soil erosion, and greenhouse gas emissions. And the work empowers women. Kreyòl Essence now provides work for over 300 farmers and producers in Haiti, and most of the producers are women.
The company’s sales grew steadily. In 2016, however, it lost a big client because it couldn’t fulfill a large order quickly enough. That nearly sank the business. To save it, Momperousse and Jean-Baptiste (who is chief operating officer) pivoted to selling online directly to customers and cultivated what they call their “tribe” on Instagram. This savvy move boosted sales and is helping the company survive during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finding the capital to deliver on the mission
After nearly losing the business, Momperousse realized Kreyòl Essence needed more capital. Like many women and people of color, she struggled to find lenders willing to take a chance on her. But when she met RSF in 2017 through the Sephora accelerator program, Momperousse found a supportive partner. “We could really see the potential for Kreyòl Essence to make a significant impact,” says RSF’s Cabral.
To launch her products at Whole Foods, Momperousse needed a mix of permanent and working capital. RSF did its due diligence and extended a $200,000 line of credit from its Women’s Capital Collaborative (WCC), a fund that uses an integrated capital approach to provide woman-led social enterprises with growth capital when they need it most. Kreyòl Essence launched in Whole Foods, and the company’s sales were again growing steadily. About a year and a half later, RSF upped the credit line to $300,000.
Kreyòl Essence also got a huge publicity boost in January 2020, when Momperousse and Jean-Baptiste appeared on the reality show Shark Tank. Their story brought audiences to tears and resulted in a torrent of media coverage.
A big order powers a big vision
Prior to the Shark Tank filming, Kreyòl Essence received a $2 million order—its largest ever—from beauty retailer Ulta. But to fulfill the order, Kreyòl Essence needed quick access to purchase order financing. This kind of financing can be risky for both sides, incurring high interest rates or leading to predatory lending practices, but RSF had worked with Momperousse long enough to feel comfortable lending her an additional $500,000 from the WCC to fill the order. It was the largest loan the WCC had ever made.
“RSF is a good example of an institution that has invested in a Black-owned business and gone outside the normal practices in order to make sure that they are being good partners and good citizens in the fight for social justice and equity,” says Momperousse.
With support from RSF’s loan, Kreyòl Essence launched in 1,300-plus Ulta stores, created 15 new jobs in Miami, and increased sales fivefold—all during the pandemic. Momperousse projects that Kreyòl Essence will need to cultivate over 1,000 hectares of land in Haiti in the next 5 years to meet projected sales. The boost also helped set the stage for her larger long-term goals: to provide enough work to make a positive impact on 30,000 families and become one of the largest employers in Haiti in the next 5 to 10 years.
And in the U.S?
“We’re paving the way,” says Momperousse, “for even more clean and inclusive beauty. This fall Kreyòl Essence is partnering with Goop and QVC to launch products and spread the social impact and moisture gospel.”