When Yve-Car Momperousse and Stéphane Jean-Baptiste met through mutual friends at the National Haitian Student Alliance convention, their friendship blossomed into a romantic, business relationship over a mutual passion – Haiti.
Dedicated to giving back to the Haitian community through social change, a hair catastrophe that Momperousse experienced in 2008 is what unknowingly helped catapult her efforts in not only bringing social change, but also economic growth, to Haiti.
Preparing for an event, Momperousse wanted to try a new look with her hair, and went to the hairdresser to get her natural tresses straightened. The next day, while washing her hair, Momperousse realized that her hair was not returning to its natural state, and came to the conclusion that she had experienced heat damage.
After her “hair catastrophe,” Momperousse experimented, looking for a solution for her damaged hair. She then remembered a Caribbean remedy called castor oil her mother used on her as a child. Not content with the quality and the price points of castor oil provided around her, what started as a joke between the lovebirds, Momperousse and her fiancé, Stéphane Jean-Baptiste, decided to take matters into their own hands, and created Kreyol Essence.
“When all fails, you go to castor oil,” Jean-Baptiste recalls. “And for us it was like, ‘This is such a treasure to the Haitian community,’ but we treat it like the bastard child. That’s where Yve-Car made that commitment, and bringing the products to the U.S. wasn’t too far-fetched for us – it was doable.”
Now, Kreyol Essence provides various flavors of castor oil – such as chocolate, lavender, and lemon – pomade, Haitian shea butter, handcrafted soap, candles and body lotion. With each purchase, Momperousse, CEO of Kreyol Essence, wants her consumers to experience one thing – Caribbean luxury.
“We make sure we brand the Caribbean as some place you can get luxury products,” said the 31 year-old CEO. “Unfortunately, many companies go to the Caribbean and they take advantage of the ingredients and they brand [it] as something different. So, it’s not just France, [and] it’s not just Europe, but that you can get quality products from the Caribbean, and we’re starting off with Haiti, which is our homeland.”
And with the ample amount of products Kreyol Essence provides, Momperousse wants to ensure that not only is she catering to her consumers, which are multicultural and women of color, quality products, but that she is also providing social change for her fellow Haitians.
The multi-purpose castor oil is derived from the castor bean seed, according to castoroil.org. Used as a skin and hair regime, it is also used as a disinfectant and traditional medicine. With the high demand for castor oil, Momperousse and Jean-Baptiste knew in order to keep up with their orders, they had to plant more castor plants in Haiti, which led to job growth there.
“Our goal is to create about 300 jobs in Haiti around the agriculture sector in Haiti,” says Jean-Baptiste, the COO. “Essentially, we hire local farmers to develop the castor beans, and hire local women from various communities to produce the oil for us.”
With three locations in Haiti: Camp Perrin, Plato Central, and Saint Marc, the couple travels to Haiti, at least twice a month. Momperousse and Jean-Baptiste work to not only grow their business, but also partner with Haiti’s local entrepreneurs to expand Kreyol Essence to new heights to include more products such as facial cleansers.
Momperousse sees Kreyol Essence as more than a beauty line; she also sees it as a social enterprise.
“A social enterprise is a company that has commercial goals as well as a focus and emphasis on social goals,” Momperousse said. “So, the same way I’m thinking about ROI, investors, and my margins, I’m also thinking…how many jobs did I create? Am I paying above-market value? How am I helping the supply chain? We have extensive social metrics the same way we have commercial metrics.”
Prior to becoming a full-time CEO at Kreyol Essence, Momperousse had been moonlighting. She was the director of diversity alumni programing at Cornell University. Momperousse and her fiancé reached a consensus, and the natural hair enthusiast followed her gut and quit her full-time position at Cornell.
“There were times I had to think, ‘I can kill myself and continue to work for this position for someone else or I can take this energy and time, [and] go full force with the business,’” Momperousse says passionately.
And while Momperousse and Jean-Baptiste were working profusely to expand the company, their personal lives had taken a back seat, but will become a priority come 2015.
“At some point we’re going to stop working and get married,” Momperousse said cheerfully. The couple, currently located in Ithaca, N.Y. is moving to Florida in September for work purposes, the naturalista says. “Once we move and get settled, I’ll get a few of my friends together and make the wedding happen.”
Yet, with the big-name haircare and skincare giants they’re up against in the beauty industry, Momperousse indubitably believes that, “greatness is planned. It does not happen by accident,” and that in five to ten years they will become multiethnic tastemakers in their respective field.