Any true naturalista or lover of all things hair and beauty knows the name Mielle Organics. What started in one woman’s garage as an opportunity for her to educate others about hair care, became an empire that in just four short years has grown into a multi-million-dollar company. Mielle Organics founder and CEO, Monique Rodriguez, never imagined something she loved and that was used as a form of therapy after experiencing the loss of her son at six months would grow into a world-renowned brand.
Rodriguez took some time to chat with 21Ninety about the growth of Mielle Organics, some challenges she endured while building her brand, the creation of her foundation "Mielle Cares" and her commitment to empower and inspire women everywhere with what she has learned along the way:
21NINETY: It’s not every day you hear about an RN go from her day job to becoming a multi-million dollar CEO! Mielle Organics is definitely a household name brand. Before we dive into how you got where you are today, let’s learn more about the woman behind the brand. Where did you grow up?
MONIQUE RODRIGUEZ: I grew up in Chicago.
21N: Was your mom a beauty gal?
MR: My mother wasn’t in too much into beauty, hair or makeup. I clearly remember growing up playing in my grandmother’s makeup when I went to her house.
21N: Let’s fast-forward a bit. So you’re working as a nurse, you’re helping others and you love that, but you got the desire to leave. How did that come about?
MR: I loved my career working as a nurse but even through that, I still didn’t feel fulfilled. I really liked the fact that I was able to help people. I’ve always been passionate about beauty and hair but doing something in that space professionally never crossed my mind. People were always asking me, “What is it that you do to your hair? How did you get your hair to grow?” and things of that nature. I was already playing and mixing things in my kitchen for my hair but I never thought I could take that and actually sell it or help other people.
I started posting homemade recipes that I used on my hair on social media, and people would actually try the things that I would post and give me a lot of great feedback. So I just kept doing it and I kept being consistent. Then I decided to take the additional steps to legitimize what I was doing because people were really liking what I was creating. That’s how Mielle Organics was birthed.
21N: Okay, so you leave your job – a very scary move in the viewpoint of many – but you take that leap and start Mielle Organics in your garage. Did you ever dream it would have taken you to where you are now?
MR: Not at all. There’s a scripture that says God will do exceedingly, abundantly above what you ask or think. God literally did that for me with Mielle. I am a believer that hard work will pay off, but even in that, I didn’t think my company would be where it is today or see the success that it’s gotten so quickly. It’s nothing but a blessing!
21N: And while we’re on the topic of origins, where did the name of the company come from?
MR: It’s actually a funny story because it’s pretty unique. The whole reason behind me starting this business was to create something to pass down to my daughters. I wanted to set the example that as a woman, you can be an entrepreneur, you can be a wife and a mother; basically, you can do it all. My girls are the ones that inspire me the most; they are the ones that motivate me to keep going. I want to give them something that I didn’t have growing up and when they get older, they will know what the meaning and motivation behind the business was.
So Mielle is a combination of their names. My daughters’ names are Mia and Mackenzie. Mia’s middle name is Gabrielle and Mackenzie’s middle name is Arielle. They both have ‘E-L-L-E’ in their names. All of our names start with ‘M’ and being my daughters, they are both my “Elles” so I combined the two and said Mielle, and that’s how the name came to be.
PHOTO: Entity Mag
21N: The idea of legacy is very important to you, why is that?
MR: Leaving a strong legacy is so important for me especially because I’m raising two African American young girls. I want them to know despite what society says about African Americans and women that they can excel, push the limits, and break the mold. I’m proud to say that’s what I’m currently doing with Mielle.
21N: Did your nursing background have an impact on the product development at the company’s early stages?
MR: It definitely did because I know how important ingredients are. So often we focus on what we put in our bodies and not so much what we put on our hair and skin. I took my science background to formulate the products because it was important that we include natural and organic ingredients in my products.
21N: In the midst of breakthroughs and triumphs, we all experience hardships that we are made to overcome. Before Mielle Organics launched, you experience a life-changing loss. Can you tell us more about that?
MR: Sure, in 2013 I was pregnant with my third child. It was a high-risk pregnancy. I had a uterine rupture and my son passed away. It was a very tragic time for me. I took that painful situation and instead of being down and depressed, because I still had two girls that I needed to be sane for, I turned it into a positive and I found my purpose by going back to my passion for beauty and hair.
21N: Building your brand in some ways was an escape for you, how did it shape your mindset moving forward with the business?
MR: After experiencing the loss of my son and finding my purpose, I started educating women on social media about how to take care of their hair, how to grow healthier hair, and how to have longer hair. I turned to what I love to help divert my attention. I started with one product in 2014 and four years later, we have over 30 products in major retailers like Sally’s, Target, Walgreens and Wal-Mart. It’s been truly a blessing to share my gifts with the world.
21N: Four years later, Mielle is a global brand with thousands of supporters and sold at retailers all over the world. This might be a tough one, but what are three major lessons you have learned from being a global entrepreneur, a black, female global entrepreneur at that?
MR: The greatest lesson that I’ve learned thus far is competition is good. You always want to be aware of your competition because there will always be competitors regardless of your industry. The main lesson is there is room for everyone to win, even as competitors. I think it’s important to lift each other up and cheer each other on and show that women can stand together.
21N: On top of a booming business, you do not forget to give back. Tell us more about the Mielle Cares Foundation.
MR: The Mielle Cares Foundation is very near and dear to me. It was started three years ago because I wanted to begin frequent initiatives to give back. Mielle Cares has grown over the past three years and we help several teenage, women, family and community organizations. We also honor individuals who are excelling and making an impact within their community. We have some exciting news coming in the next few weeks regarding our mentoring program, holiday giveaways, and our 3rd Annual Mielle Cares Gala will be held on December 15th.
21N: You’re a CEO. A wife. A mom. A philanthropist. A role model. Whew! That’s a lot right there! How do you practice self-care with all that you do?
MR: I am very intentional with self-care because that’s the only way I can wear all of those hats! Self-care to me starts with daily prayer, devotion and affirmations before I start each day. I also am intentional with taking time off to go on vacation. Vacation serves a dual purpose for me. Of course, I need the time to relax and recharge and in doing so, I always come up with new ideas on vacation. So, I look forward to vacations to rest and also get inspired for what I’ll do next.
21N: We are sure stress comes — it’s natural — but how do you combat stress on the job, at home with your family and really just anywhere it arises?
MR: This may sound cliché but, I pray. I have a relationship with God and whenever I feel stressed or concerned about an issue, I take it to God and leave it in His hands.
21N: Educate, Empower and Excite: what do those three words mean to you in terms of your business and just your personal understanding?
MR: The Mission of Mielle is to Educate, Empower, and Excite my consumers. We focus on educating because it’s important to be aware of the ingredients that are in the products that we use on our bodies. We seek to empower women on their natural hair journey and our role is critical, as our products are a big factor. We seek to excite our consumers by continuing to be innovative with our releases, hosting events and listening to our customers by creating products they want.
21N: Someone out there is reading this interview and your words are giving them that push they need, for whatever it is they need it for. What are five tidbits of advice you would offer them? It can be life advice, business, family, love, etc. Just bless us with five pieces.
1. Trust God! Trust God with your business and with your process.
2. Use discernment to ensure you are hearing God clearly when making business decisions.
3. Don’t let fear hinder you from chasing your dreams and aspirations.
4. Never give up! Have a spirit of persistence and determination.
5. Believe in yourself.
PHOTO: Beauty Independent
21N: How do you define success, and what should people understand about achieving success?
MR: A lot of times, especially with the popularity of social media, people define success by how they see others succeeding. You can’t duplicate what someone else is doing. You can certainly look to them for inspiration, but you can never be someone else; you can only be you. You don’t know what it took for them to get where they are. I say to always work hard, remain original, have passion, and love what you are doing. If you are doing that, you’ll be successful in your own right.
21N: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
MR: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything and always believe in yourself. God gave you everything that you need, you just have to use it. You can do whatever you put your mind to if you work hard.
21N: One last question. With all that you have done, will do, and hope to do, do you believe women can "have it all?"
MR: Absolutely! I am a living testament that you can have it all. I feel it’s a woman’s world, but we always underestimate ourselves. We have the power and strength to do anything we put our mind to. I work to empower and inspire women with what I’ve learned on this journey. I am launching my clothing line in October and have so much more than I want to accomplish. Women can definitely "have it all!"
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