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How Nine Years of Nursing Led Monique Rodriguez to Multi-Million Dollar Hair Company, Mielle Organics

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Mar. 22 2019, Updated 3:42 p.m. ET

If you’re a woman of color who’s walked through any beauty supply store – or the “Ethnic” corner of a department store hair aisle – you’ve seen the hot pink letters of Mielle Organics. Founded a little over 4 years ago, Mielle has gone from one product concocted in the garage of Monique Rodriguez to a series of over 30 products lining shelves of more than 100,000 stores across the country. Rodriguez’s commitment to hair health stems from her nine years as a registered nurse, but her commitment to service stems from her heavenly roots firmly planted in the Word of God. Her faith, partnered with an authentic social media community and the highest quality of products, it’s no surprise that Mielle has sold out time and time again in stores. Fun fact: The first time Mielle sold out was two hours after being placed in 95 Sally’s stores nationwide, breaking the record for any Sally’s beauty brand. That loyal admiration and desire for haircare products that truly care for the maintenance of our hair (instead of promises that break when consumers read the ingredients) have not stopped since. Rodriguez shared why entrepreneurship was a God-sized assignment, work-life balance as a mother of two, and what her secret sauce is to running a multi-million dollar business – hint: it’s her!

BOMBSHELL: These days, it seems the biggest things started in the smallest circumstances. Mielle Organics started in the garage of Monique Rodriguez. How has this brand gone from a DIY concoction to an international sensation with over 30 products in major retailers including Sally’s, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens? What’s the key?

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MONIQUE RODRIGUEZ: Secret sauce is me. One thing that is key is being authentic and my authenticity shows to my audience. They can see how passionate I am about haircare, how I take what I do to heart. I take pride in what I do and always give 110%, and that shows. One of the things I did in the beginning before I even started Mielle Organics, I built trust and I built a community of followers who trusted that I was a registered nurse talking about haircare and educating them about the best ingredients to use to grow their hair. That trust and loyalty was already there before I even a product. It’s about being authentic and providing value to your consumers.

    

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B: We know you spent several years working as a registered nurse before starting your business. How has your experience as an RN benefitted the process of being an entrepreneur and growing Mielle?

MR: One of the things I took from being a nurse was the science background of understanding how the body works. From my experience working in healthcare and understanding anatomy, and seeing patients who had cancer or alopecia, I noticed everyone was eating organic or eating healthier, but they didn’t realize that what we put on our bodies matters just as much as what we put in our bodies. I felt that it was important to educate others about the importance of what we put on our skin, which is the largest organ on the body. People think that “oh, it’s just going on my hair or my scalp”, but your scalp is a part of your skin, so it still affects you. I felt like that knowledge was missing – especially in the African-American community. We have to be conscious of what we eat, and conscious about what we wear.
I also worked in women’s healthcare, so I was around women every day and conveying that message to people I was around every day was important. My specialty was labor and delivery, so I took that and talked about how to deliver a baby and used that platform to share about haircare.

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B: Now you’ve been in business for over 4 years and you have faced continual growth – both in sales and in reputation. What has been your greatest accomplishment or a moment that took your breath away?

MR: The train is always moving and I’ve had a lot of “take my breath away” moments, but I’d go back to the beginning when we first went into retail. That was when I realized we really had something special. When we first entered into Sally’s Beauty – which was our first retail partner in 2016 – they tested us in about 95 stores and the demand was so high that customers were going into the stores harassing the managers, and that news eventually got up to Sally’s CEO. She called our sales team and said, “Tell these Mielle people to ‘stop it!’ because they’re causing chaos in our stores.” And we weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary or telling people to go to the stores. We sold out in two hours. That was when I knew we really had something special because Sally’s introduced us chainwide in less than 6 months, which has never happened in the history of a beauty brand.
I knew that this was God.

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B: In Chicago, nearly 30% of students drop out of school before graduating. I’m sure your Chicago roots and this statistic urged you to partner with iGlow Mentoring to present the MiGlow Awards to honor Chicago inner-city girls for excellence in academics, leadership and community service. Why does this initiative resonate with Mielle Organics?

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MR: One thing I am passionate about is providing young girls – I have two young girls – with opportunities and exposure because you can’t be what you’re not exposed to. With me being from the inner-city, southside of Chicago, I didn’t grow up seeing women entrepreneurs or business owners, I just had that vision in me as a child; that’s how I know the vision came from God because I wasn’t exposed to that. A lot of young black girls don’t have access to what girls of other nationalities have, but yet, I feel like we’re the strongest race. So if we continue to stick together and empower and educate one another, we can take over the world. Black women are powerful and we’re powerful in numbers, but we have to get rid of the stigma that we can’t help each other or always have to be in competition with each other. The next generation of girls sees the example that they can partner with their sisters and businesswomen can come together. Not only is MiGlow coming together to create an event that honors girls, but we’re also taking them on trips across the world to London. I feel when you travel, your mind expands, and you have a different perspective on life. And a lot of these girls would not travel or get out of the inner-city of Chicago if it wasn’t for Mielle or iGlow partnering to create this opportunity. It’s giving back something that I didn’t have growing up, but I believe we are blessed to be a blessing to others and it’s our duty to reach back and bring the next generation up with us.

B: “Work-life balance” has been a buzz phrase for years, but not every careerwoman believes in it. As a wife, mother, and CEO, do you believe this balance is achievable? And if so, how do you make it work?

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Instagram: @exquisitemo

MR: I don’t call it “balance”, it’s called “priorities.” It’s a constant juggle, but I prioritize my life and it’s even in my Instagram bio: “1. God 2. Wife 3. Mommy, CEO.” Taking the kids to their track meets and practice, getting them home for homework, cooking dinner. Having a good support system is key like my mom is retired and she is able to meal prep for us. Being able to delegate is important, but our week is always crazy. Sometimes, we’ll leave the house at 7 a.m. and don’t get home until 7 p.m. But we prioritize taking time out with the family, vacationing with the family, we go to church every Sunday because, at the end of the day, no one lays on their deathbed and wishes they had spent more time with their business.

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B: As the mother of two girls, what kind of legacy do you want Mielle to create for your daughters?

MR: I want to create the legacy for them to see an African-American female run a successful business and make it a #1 brand and see all the people I’ve reached back to help along her journey. It’s one thing to be successful, but it’s important to see how many people I’ve helped along the way. Success means nothing if you don’t help anybody else.

B: I read that during your time as an RN, patients would ask you about how you grew your hair or what products you used? As black women, there is a communal fascination or a series of questions we have of our sisters with naturally-long or full hair. Why do you think its so hard for women of color to retain and maintain our growth?

MR: I think it’s hard because we put a lot of stuff in our hair and it honestly stems from many years ago – even back in slavery – just not being educated. We put so many products in our hair that isn’t good for our hair. Even protective hairstyles, if the person who braids your hair braids too tight, then you’re defeating the purpose of a protective style. I try to use my platform to promote hair education because if you don’t know your hair braider is braiding too tight, you could end up with alopecia. The biggest myth is that black hair can’t grow, but it absolutely can if there’s:

  • low manipulation
  • proper protection
  • good regime
  • quality products
  • healthy diet
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These things will build healthy hair, but if you’re constantly putting glue or wearing hairstyles that cause traction, dyeing your hair every week and putting a flat iron on your hair, your hair’s going to fall out.

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Our challenge is we’re not educating enough black women on how to protect their hair, and another challenge is covering our issues instead of addressing them. Because of weaves and wigs, a lot of women just want to cover their hair instead of fixing the problem, because then the problem can get worse.

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Our challenge is we’re not educating enough black women on how to protect their hair, and another challenge is covering our issues instead of addressing them. Because of weaves and wigs, a lot of women just want to cover their hair instead of fixing the problem, because then the problem can get worse.

B: You’ve cited social media as a main driver in the success of Mielle. What are some social media tips you can give to entrepreneurs who are trying to build their online community?

MR: 

  1. Be yourself, remain authentic. When you remain authentic, you develop trust and loyalty from your followers
  2. Deliver great content
  3. Have good content and provide some sort of hope
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B: Speaking of social media, those who follow you on Instagram know that you love to travel. While vacationing is a way to recharge, you also use it for inspiration. Where is your favorite destination for the best research and hair inspo?

MR: Anywhere that has water and a beach. I feel that water is so calming and so relaxing and that’s where all of my creativity comes from. I just love being anywhere with a beach where it’s hot. Right now, in Chicago, it’s cold and how can you be creative when it feels like this?

B: How is it different transitioning from managing a family of four to running an entire company with so many people looking to you for your expertise and leadership?

MR: One thing I’ve learned is how to manage people because I never wanted to be a manager, but I’ve had to learn how to deal with different personalities differently. I can’t work with one person in my office the same way I work with someone else. One person may need more guidance, and another might need more freedom. If I understand your personality, it makes it a lot easier to work with you. I’ve had to learn how to delegate, how to relinquish and let people know what I expect. It was a challenge for me to figure it out in the beginning.

B: What’s on Mielle’s 2019 vision board?

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MR: 

  1. Growing the company to a specific $ amount in my head.
  2. We’re in over 100,000 stores, but going into 2020, my goal is to be in over 200,000 stores.
  3. Continue to provide quality products and haircare education to our consumers
  4. For Mielle Cares to work with other not-for-profit organizations to see how we can further give back to the community.

B: Bombshell is all about dope chicks doing dope things. What makes you dope?

MR: One of the things that make me dope is me being genuine, having a heart, and appreciating those who support me and giving back to those who support me. Me being authentic, having a listening ear, being a brand owner who’s been able to accomplish so much in as little as four years. The way God shines His light on me to inspire others is what makes me dope.

Lightning Round

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B: Who are your top 3 lady bosses?

MR: Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce

B: As a believer, what is your go-to Bible verse that keeps you motivated?

MR: Matthew 7:7

B: What beauty & hair products are always in your carry on?

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