Yve-Car Momperousse’s Kreyol Essence Provides For Natural Hair & The People Of Haiti
Haitian-American business owner Yve-Car Momperousse started her international business, Kreyol Essence, after a visit to the hair salon that didn’t turn out quite as planned. As a woman with natural hair, Yve-Car understands the importance of hair care and ensuring that your tresses are strong and healthy. As a woman of Haitian descent, she understands the importance of hard work and making a social impact. Thus, Kreyol Essence was established. This line of eco-luxury beauty and personal care products is made exclusively in Haiti using organic and natural ingredients and provides many women and men in Haiti with employment and financial security.
Yve- Car spoke with MadameNoire about the impact that owning an international business has had on her and Haiti.
MadameNoire: What inspired you to create Kreyol Essence?
Yve-Car Momperousse: One is I had what I call a “hair catastrophe.” I was going to an event and wanted to look my best and I went to go get my hair straightened. You know, using the old hot comb, and the hairdresser did a great job. My hair looked wonderful, but two days later when I went to wash out the press, my hair came out with it. And you can imagine that that was quite an experience to see your hair falling out in clumps.
So after crying, I pulled myself together and like any good millennial I went online to try to understand what caused my hair to fall out. It was then that I learned about heat damage and when I was thinking about what I could use to regrow my hair, it dawned on me that there was an oil that my mom used to use which essentially solved every issue in the house. It was put in our hair, it was put on our skin if it was dry; it was like our Robitussin. And I couldn’t think of what it was called and I called her up and she said, “Oh it’s Lwil Maskriti” which translates to Haitian Black Castor Oil.
I went to the store thinking, “Ok, I live in Philadelphia… There are plenty of Africans and Caribbean folks there. I should be able to find the product.” What I found was castor oil from China, India, and other places. They were all refined. They had hexane, bleach, and other additives. So, I jokingly said to my mom, “This is crazy. Can I get some of your stash from Haiti? How wonderful would it be if women could have access it?” And she said “That’s a good idea.” When we started thinking about what the social benefits to the country would be as a result of making a business out of this, that’s what really inspired me to start Kreyol Essence.
MN: What was the process like of starting your own international business?
YM: There is never a dull moment. When we first started off, it didn’t even dawn on me that what I was actually building was an international business. And coming to Haiti and making sure that I understood the process of actually creating the oil. Which means that I had to be willing to go up and down mountains. I had to be willing to sit there with the local women and understand how to make the oil, how long to grill it, all the details/cultural nuances. When doing business in the country, there was definitely a learning curve around it.
And then, also understanding how to translate that into marketing and operation in the States. So I have two lawyers, two accountants, and pretty much two of everything. I have learned a lot along the way, but it certainly was a challenge that I am happy to say that we’ve been victorious in learning.
MN: Can you speak on some of the obstacles and rewards you’ve had while working with Haiti?
YM: One obstacle, the first one I remember, I was going into a meeting with a possible supplier, and the American way of thinking is the more you buy, the lower the price. Right? Pretty much how people think in business. So, I’m sitting here going into a negotiation with that mindset. The supplier is telling me the more I buy, the price goes up. I couldn’t even comprehend that that was what he was saying to me. I’m responding in one way, he’s responding in another, and my cousin, who is a local, says to me “Stop talking.” And he proceeds to sort of mediate and I watch how he’s negotiating with the supplier, but essentially, this is a cultural norm where this is a belief in the U.S. and certain international parts. Even though I am Haitian-American and I’m speaking the language and all that, but not understanding the cultural norms was big.
On the rewarding end, I have to say that the most rewarding part is working and hiring women in the business. There are a lot of hair, skin, and body companies, but in addition to having a great product, the social side of our company, we’re very intentional with what we do. I specifically focused on hiring women in Haiti because even though 40 percent of women are the head of household in Haiti, most women are abused emotionally and physically. I remember one woman telling us when we first hired her how, for one, she was able to make sure that she could go and buy water, something that simple, for her and her family. And how she didn’t have to worry about fighting men or others for the public water, but she actually could afford to just get water. And how much pride she felt that she could do things for her kids herself that at times her lazy behind husband may not be able to do. The fact that she had an income commanded a certain respect in the house.
MN: Are there certain procedures/regulations you must follow while working with Haiti?
YM: There are a number of procedures that we must follow because we are an agribusiness. Again, I always say the back-end of the company, it’s not just beauty products, [and] we are vertically integrated. We grow everything from A to Z. When you’re bringing an agricultural product into the United States or into Europe, you have to get your product tested. You have to make sure that what you’re planting is not going to have an adverse effect on the environment. Registering a business in Haiti is not for the faint of heart. It’s a process that takes four to six months whereas in the States, it takes two weeks. And the cost is double here. I would say that things are a little bit easier now than when I started a few years ago, but we had to go through the hurdles when we first started.
MN: Can you discuss the social impact that Kreyol Essence has had in its communities?
YM: In Haiti, one of the impacts is environmental. Haiti only has one percent of its tree covered lash. What that means is that you’ll hear a lot of people dying of mudslides. You will hear that farmers are not able to cultivate crop which they need in order to eat and live and to help provide material in the country. By us planting castor beans in Haiti, we’re helping with some of those environmental issues like soil erosion, deforestation, and greenhouse gas emissions and all of the things that we talk about in the States when it comes to global warming.
Another impact is the economic development. We are slated to create 400 jobs in the next two years right here in Haiti. Most of those who work for us, not only will they have employment, but when we think about the farmers that we will employ, they will make three to five times more than what they’ve made in the past because of our structure.
…And then lastly, economic development from the standpoint of exporting. Part of how a country runs and is able to have money in their system is based on their GDP (gross domestic product). Part of that comes from exporting. Haiti does not have a large export business, so by us exporting our product that’s huge. It also adds to country branding because unfortunately, when people think of Haiti, they think about the earthquakes, they think about poverty, they think about all of the negative. I think when you see our marketing and you see our products, people are surprised and they say, “I didn’t know that this type of richness and beauty exist in Haiti.” We have to start changing the images that are portrayed for the country so that people can come visit and enjoy and see what we have to offer.
MN: What makes your products unique from other brands?
YM: In addition to the ingredients, it’s our formulation. The fact that we really stay true to being as natural and organic as possible, and the formulation, comes from ingredients that are unique.
I think we are one of the few that actually infuse so much castor oil into our whole line. Oftentimes with these different beauty products, if they put a half a milliliter of something, they throw it on to the label and create a whole marketing piece out of it. We are actually using the maximum amount of shea butter, castor oil, aloe vera, and all of the other ingredients. When it comes to our products, which is associated with a particular type of woman. It’s a woman who not only wants to look and feel great, but a woman who also does care about the world that she lives in. The fact that we really work hard to have a social impact and connect that to beauty, I think tends to resonate and appeal to our customers.
Learn more and shop Kreyol Essence at www.kreyolessence.com.