With feminine hygiene companies increasingly in the news for dangerous chemicals in their products, childbirth, fibroids, and fertility issues being of particular concern for Black women, we need to be more vigilant about what we put in and on our bodies. MadameNoire spoke to Beatrice Feliu-Espada, the founder of the all natural feminine care company Honey Pot, about the origins of her products, the challenges of doing business and remarkable testimonies from women and girls whose lives have been made better because of Honey Pot.
MN: What inspired you to launch Honey Pot?
Beatrice Feliu-Espada: Back in 2012, I suffered from an almost year-long bacterial vaginosis infection and literally nothing that I could do or would do would make it go away because my pH was just all the way off. And around the same time, I had just initiated into my religion. I practice Santeria. And a lot’s going on when all those things happen. One night, a couple months after I got back from Cuba, I was sleeping and I had a dream. You know how you have a dream right before you wake up in the morning. It was ultra fresh and it was real. I was sitting down with one of my ancestors and we were talking about my problems and she was like ‘I have a list of ingredients for you.’ She said, ‘I’m going to make sure you remember this when you wake up. So don’t worry about it.’ And she starts spatting off these ingredients. And literally, I woke up, I remembered it, I wrote it down, I made it and it worked.
I felt like it was a gift from the other side. Somebody gifts you your life’s work, you don’t just walk away from it.
MN: She gave you the ingredients for the wash?
BFE: She gave me the ingredients for this wash. And since then, we’ve added a few things, we’ve taken some things out but the base of it is the same, it’s from that dream. And as we grew the line and expanded it, I realized that the mission needed to change from just being a clean wash company to being a clean feminine hygiene company. So that’s why you see us doing all these amazing things. We’ve got a lot launching by the end of the year. So it’s a really beautiful time and things are growing and escalating.
We are also launching probiotics which are vaginal focused. We have one called habitual-which is for everyday use, if you don’t have issues. One will be called “Back on Tract,” which will be for UTI health and then we’ll have one called “Resistance” which will have garlic as the yeast fighter. We also have a deodorant spray.
MN: This product line came from a very spiritual place and then you had to incorporate the business aspect of it, have there been challenges merging the two?
BFE: There are always challenges merging the two but it means a lot to me that I develop products that are clean. I was just in Israel seeing how tampons are made. How do you process your cotton? I want to see the machines? The cotton is chlorine free, pesticide free. Later, I go to Taiwan. Same thing with the manufacturers there. When I’m bringing on a new line, the process means a lot to me. Keeping the ingredient decks clean is the spiritual element for me. Even if it costs us more to make it, I don’t give a sh*t. All I care about is that when you put it on your body or in your body or near your body, my products are not going to affect you negatively.
And these things can’t work for everybody. Everything isn’t for everybody. Some women are going to use this and they’re going to get irritated and I’m fully aware of that but it’s few and far between. There will always be a spiritual element to this product line because it came from nothing. I didn’t come from companies that went through acquisitions. I came from a place where this came from nothing and now it’s turning into something. And for me, I never forget that. As long as I own this company, there’s always going to be a spiritual element to it.
MN: Can you tell me about the process of getting into Target?
BFE: Yeah that was dope. We had been in Whole Foods, just kind of cruising along. We were doing our online business. And one day an email just pops up from the Target buyer, at that time. And she said, ‘I heard about your products and I’d love to talk to you.’ I’ve been in the world of food brokers and I’ve also been a sales manager. I’ve been in the world of consumer packaged goods. So I know those things don’t happen every day. Typically, it’s the other way around. I got back to her and she said, she was at her hairdresser, she has locs, and she had just gotten the job at Target and she was talking about how she wanted to clean up the feminine hygiene aisle. And she really did, she did a beautiful job. She’s since moved on from being that buyer but she did an amazing job championing for the natural brands that are on that shelf. So she hit us up. We had a meeting and she said, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re a young company and the things I’m going to ask you to do are going to be really hard.’ And she was not lying. The easy part is getting the yes from a retailer. The hard part is ‘Ok, I’ve got the yes, now I’ve got to go find a million dollars out of nowhere.’ And that’s not even an exaggeration.
MN: That’s surprising.
MN: Well, I would think that they would just take care of that.
BFE: No. That’s not how retail works. Which nobody tells you this sh*t. Retail doesn’t work that way. The retailer is only there to say ‘Yes, you can put your four skews on my shelf.’ But typically when you’re going to go into retail, you’ve actually done the work, you’ve raised your capital, you know what stores you’re going to go into. You know how to do projection planning. You’ve hired the brokers. For us, it didn’t work like that. It went the other way around. Like she told me, ‘I’m going to ask you to do things that you cannot do. The average person is not going to be able to do this.’
But I looked her in the face and I said, ‘Just tell me what you need and I’m going to get it done.’ Because I’m just crazy. Getting into Target, that was the most desperate place that I have ever been in my entire life. At that time, we were still making Honey Pot in our kitchen at our office. But when you go into a big retailer, you can’t do that anymore. So when you go from making it yourself to going into contract manufacturing, it’s literally night and day. You can’t just go to a contract manufacturer and say make me 5,000 bottles. That’s going to cost you $8 a bottle. You have to go to them and at minimum order 50,000 bottles. So Target took four skews, which meant that I had to order at least 200,000 bottles in order for me to get to dollar amount so I could be able to make money. If I’m buying this for $3, I have to sell it to Target for $6 and Target’s got to sell it for $9. If I was just selling it on my website, I could buy it for $3 and sell it for $9. But you can’t do that when you go into retail. It’s a margins game. Pennies f*cking matter. So you set up these deals with contract manufacturers and they’re like, ‘B*tch, I don’t know you. You can’t have a deal. You’ve got to pay for this before it ships.’ That’s the way it is. You have to find the money because you have to put down a deposit. But you’re talking about over half a million dollars and this sh*t has to come from nowhere. I was lucky because my business partner, brother Simon Gray, used to have his own accounting practice, so he had connections to people with money. But just because you have connections to people with money doesn’t mean those people are going to give you that money. Simon put in money. My family put in money. We had three or four investors. But every time we had to put down a deposit, I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat because we didn’t know where it was going to come from.
MN: And if you don’t get it done in a certain time frame, then it’s just done?
BFE: If you don’t get it done in a certain time frame because when you’re dealing with manufacturers, what are you dealing with? You’re dealing with Chinese manufacturers. And in Asian cultures, they have holidays. And their holiday is not like our holiday. Nobody works in February. These cultures take their holiday seriously. Manufacturing does not happen in the month of February. It was crazy. It was very humbling and I will never forget that ever. Raising money is hard, working with contract manufacturers is hard and I was still working a full-time job. I’ve only done Honey Pot full time for almost two years.
MN: So you started in 2012, when did Target reach out?
BFE: We started in 2012, but we didn’t launch until 2014, at the Bronner Brothers’ hair show in February. We’ve been around for four years but not to the general public. Those first two years were just testing on friends. Like, ‘Hey can you try this? Can you put this on your vagina? It’s in a pickle jar but it’ll be fine.’ Seriously, that was the vibe. I still have the first jar of Honey Pot and it’s in a salsa jar. I swear to you. So Target reached out in 2016. We launched in Target in 2017 and we got our pads in at the end of 2017, in like Q4 and our panty liners are our best sellers. They sell too fast. They’re like gold.