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Kreyol Essence: How Two Entrepreneurs Built a Beauty Brand and Created Job Opportunities in Haiti

Like most hair and beauty-based firms, Kreyol Essence started off with a beauty disaster. Yve-Car Momperousse was having her hair done at a salon, when the stylist, using an overheated iron, burned her hair. Momperousse found herself with a hair dilemma and couldn’t help but think back to lwil maskriti, the Palma Christi oil her mother used on her hair when she was a little girl. The Philadelphia resident made the rounds of the natural and Caribbean stores in her area, in search of the product, but turned up empty-handed. She wanted to make the organic product available to herself and other women facing hair who needed it. Creating her own product line seemed to be the solution. Yve-Car Momperousse and Stephane Jean-Baptiste showcase Kreyol Essence products at an event. From the outset, Momperousse knew she wanted a name that would embody the essence of Haiti. She and her fiancee Stephane Jean-Baptiste had a pressure-filled debate over whether they should choose a French name, or a Kreyol name. Some individuals advising them, were clamoring for the former, arguing that it would have a more elegant and luxurious image in the minds of potential customers. The entrepreneurial team decided to go with their gut feeling. “As a lover of history,” says Jean-Baptiste, “I’ve always seen the elegance and luxury of the Haitian heritage. While the French roots are part of our culture, it’s certainly not the core of our history.” Thus, the name Kreyol Essence was born. “For me, the term Kreyol Essence is the culmination of the spirit of the Taino people, the will of our African forefathers and the regal tradition of our French imperial vestiges. We wanted to show that not only can pride be conjured up from an authentically Haitian brand, but also a strong sense of sophistication and Caribbean elegance.”

What started off as a one-woman operation, then a two-person operation focusing on hair, has expanded to a skin care line as well and now employs an estimated 400 people in Haiti. It is of utmost importance to Jean-Baptiste and Momperousse that their business help grow Haiti’s economy, and help repair its environment. The Kreyol Essence team in Haiti are heavily involved in a seeding and planting program, raw ingredient cultivation, and overall sustaining women entrepreneurs on the island.

Although Kreyol Essence is based in New York, you have a castor oil farm in Haiti that employs people there.  Kreyol Essence is an agri-business that endeavors to tackle the socioeconomic disparities plaguing Haiti by developing a business model that benefits the country economically and environmentally.  We currently produce the Haitian Black Castor Oil on our own farm in Thiotte, which is in the South Eastern department of the country. We purchase seeds at above market rate from small farm holders in the area and employ local women to clean, hull and extract the oil by hand. Additionally, we have a strategic partnership with the Organization for the Rehabilitation of the Environment (ORE), a grassroots organization established in Haiti in 1985, who hires and manages a network of local women in Camp-Perrin for the production of our Castor Oil. By hiring local women and sourcing castor seeds from small farm holders, we are on track to creating 400 jobs in 3-4 years.

Can you tell us more about your products? I truly love all of our products because they are practical, luxurious and affordable. Most of our products came from a need that we, as busy professionals, had for personal care maintenance routine. Through Haitian Black Castor Oil, I feel as though we are letting the world in on our little secret of Haitian vitality and hair growth. As you know, it is an amazing curative and therapeutic solution for a variety of hair and skin ailments. Developing products anchored by Haitian Black Castor Oil was an amazing journey of discovery as we learned all the different medicinal uses. When Yve-Car proposed the creation of the Palma Shea line, I thought it was genius! Our Palma Shea: Organic Hair and Body Butter is the perfect union of Haitian Black Castor Oil, West African Shea Butter and essential oils. The inspiration for this product line is based in the idea that you don’t have to shuffle between multiple products when getting ready in the morning. This organic blend is perfect for the entire family because the combined power of the two ingredients rejuvenates and rehydrates hair and skin. We also have a Pomad Kreyòl, Goat and Coconut Krèm ak Lèt and Savon Kreyòl. What aspects of your background was especially useful in starting Kreyol Essence? I’ve called upon a myriad of experiences to help me launch new creative ideas, plan and coordinate shipping logistics, and provide need based analysis for each step of our growth. We spent this past summer on our Launch Tour, which provided our customers the opportunity to experience our brand through our celebrated Beauty Bar. Having started my professional career as a recruiter and marketing coordinator for the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, I’m no stranger to being on the road engaging various communities. The skills that I gained developing marketing strategies for Penn Graduate School to attract and recruit ambitious leaders nationwide is at the foundation of what I do every day. My experience as an Account Executive for Azuna, a media firm based in South Korea gave me an immediate advantage in understanding the often complicated world of supply chain management and the much needed patience when dealing with international shipping logistics. Understanding the passion, culture and uniqueness of the Haitian community came as a direct result of my work as Communication Director for the National Haitian Student Alliance and Community Development Chair for the Haitian Professionals of Philadelphia. Both experiences rekindled my drive to mobilize and bring about systemic change within the Haitian community. I draw on this same drive every day to remember our mission at Kreyol Essence.

From the feedback you’ve gotten from your customers, which of your products are the most popular with them?  We in the Haitian community, complain a lot about us needing to do a better job supporting each other but I can actually say that that I am overwhelmed by the support of Haitians from the U.S., France, Canada, the Caribbean and the Middle East. Our bestseller is, by far, Goat and Coconut Krèm ak Lèt Moisturizer. Customers rave about this rich and creamy remedy that boasts the power of organic goat’s milk and coconut cream that effectively hydrates. The one and only, Pomad Kreyòl is another fan favorite – folks love the unique and exotic Haitian ingredients. What have you learned along the road of entrepreneurship that you would like to share with others who are contemplating becoming travelers along that same road? Wow, there have been so many lessons, but if I could narrow it down to my top three it would be: follow your instincts, believe in yourself and just get out there! When I didn’t follow my instincts or believe in myself, I think I’ve made many mistakes and missed out on many opportunities because I “faked” myself out. I have learned to go with my gut. Often, if you take that leap, you will make it through the journey.

What’s the one thing about having your own company that you’ve observed, that no one told you? No one told me how much of a personal journey and exploration that comes with being an entrepreneur. Furthermore, when you have partners no one really tells you how to pick the right partner and that it is a marriage. Strengths and weakness need to be discovered so you can have good partnerships and vendor relationships. It’s hard work to maintain these relationships. You realize what makes you really happy and discover self. You realize what you are capable of. Launching Kreyol Essence is a big risk that’s paid off. Where do you think the strength of the company lies? Our core strength can be found in our founder and CEO. I’m truly inspired by Yve-Car’s keen instincts and the lucid vision that she has for the company. I’m constantly amazed of the precision that she has for understanding the needs and interest of our customers. Because this endeavor is so personal, her shrewd business sense is magnified by her innate compassion for helping others. Her leadership in business and the galvanization of others is truly innovative. Too often she’s in the driver’s seat pushing me creatively and providing a platform for me to explore my crazy ideas. Over the years we have developed a kinetic energy that seemingly wills me the ability to carry out and conceptualize her creative ideas that are sometimes obscure notes. This force was birthed when we first came together to organize the National Haitian Student Conference in Pennsylvania seven years ago. Our shared passion and dreams for Haiti was our relationship matchmaker and continues to be a core that drives and strengthens our company. We wake up early in the morning believing that our shared aspirations and sacrifices is part of that transformational movement that our generation can support in order to resurrect Haiti.

There are people out there with huge ideas, but little faith on what might await them if they take the plunge and start a business of their own. What’s your advice to them? Having passion and conviction are certainly the catalysts needed to get a business idea off the ground. But what I’ve learned along the way is the importance of proper planning and having a good effective strategy in order to have a sustainable business. Take the time out to do the research – interview friends and family in order to ensure that your idea is meeting a need, a solution or a demand. We live in the information age so a quick Google search will provide you with information needed to learn about market trends and the viability of your idea. It’s also important to slow down in order to speed up, meaning take the time out to develop your system. To often we rush into a business idea without thinking about how it’s going to work; this leads to a fast burn out. Try to setup your business to run effectively even if you aren’t there. It took us about two years of research and development in order for us to bring Kreyol Essence to market. Both Yve-Car and I are perfectionists, so we are always tweaking and making enhancements, but I feel because of we took time out in the beginning we will never stray away from our vision.

Kreyol Essence is a venture of your company Nouveau Concepts LLC. Are you branching out to other arenas as well? At the core our missions are the same, but the medium for disseminating our values are slightly different. My vision for Nouveau Concepts has always been to be a key storyteller in the development of multi-ethnic narratives, especially that of our Haitian culture. We have lost control of our visual and historical narrative and I’d like to help reclaim that with whatever mass media tools I have access to. Nouveau Concepts, has given me the ability to develop visual communication and marketing strategies for various clients using the creative palette that has been molded by my cultural lens. We are doing the same thing through Kreyòl Essence. Our sourcing of natural and organic ingredients from Haiti and crafting a luxury brand is our way of starting the paradigm shift and rewriting our narrative. The fact that our packaging has been inspired by the vibrant and bold imagery of tap-taps that zip through the lively streets of Port-au-Prince is a testament that we are capable of expounding upon the notions of what we have traditionally considered to be beautiful. Rather than branching out, I consider this an opportunity to develop new marketing strategies to help me visually communicate our multi-cultural perspective with all people.

What’s next for Kreyol Essence as a brand?  I can’t give away all our secrets! As we grow we strive to continue to be a brand that continues to provide unparalleled service and continue to have an intimate relationship with our customers. We are thrilled to know that our community embraces our mission and takes ownership in the type of products we develop. To that avail, we will continue to develop products based on the demand of our customers. The one piece of info I’ll share is that we plan on taking this initiative global! We are obsessed with reinventing old and unique ingredients. Not only do we want to source the great agricultural wonders of Haiti, but we want to bring Haiti to the rest of the world. Get to know the Kreyol Essence products. Visit the company’s website HERE.


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