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Walking in the footsteps of successful beauty entrepreneurs like Annie Turnbo Malone, Madame CJ Walker, Sarah Spencer Washington, and Lisa Price to name a few, is beauty entrepreneur Monique Rodriguez. Though she’s not yet a household name, the brand she founded in 2013 has grown a loyal following that began from her sharing her hair tips. With the boom of natural hair and those looking to take better care of their tresses, she’s seen her products flying off the shelves and increase distribution from 95 Sally Beauty stores to over 1.1k stores in the course of one year. The beauty entrepreneur, wife and mother of two, initially started her career as a nurse but in the two years since founding the company, they’ve generated over $1.5 Million dollars in sales and coming to a Target shelf near you soon.
Though she is now based in Indiana, Monique Rodriguez’s business actually took root and got off the ground in Chicago. In the first of our 3 part profile of Chicago connected beauty entrepreneurs we admire, we chatted with Mielle Organics founder Monique Rodriguez on how she got started, advice she would give to future entrepreneurs, working with her spouse in part one. She was dropping so many great gems we didn’t want to leave anything valuable out.
SociaLifeChicago: Walk us through from when you initially had the idea for this to launching Mielle Organics in 2014.
Monique Rodriguez: I would say the idea to actually do hair products came into my mind, probably a year prior to actually launching. I had several different ideas, all within the beauty theme but I was all over the place in terms of which direction I wanted to go into but when the idea really came into my head that “I’m definitely going do this” was probably in 2013 when I started working on it.
SLC: How did the name Mielle, come to be?
MR: It’s pronounced MY-elle not ME-elle. Its actually a funny story because I thought I was being unique. The whole reason behind me starting this business was to create something to pass down to my kids, and 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 kids 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’ll know what the meaning and the motivation behind the business was. So Mielle is a combination of their names. My daughters’s names are Mia and McKenzie, but McKenzie’s middle name is Arielle and Mia’s middle name is Gabrielle, so they both have the ‘elle’s E-L-L-E’ in their name and all of our names start with ‘M’ and being my daughters, they are both my-elle’s so I combined and said Mielle. And that’s how the Mielle organics name came to be.
SLC: Was entrepreneurship something you’ve always wanted to do or was it something that found you?
MR: As a child I’d always been a business minded person but I steered off into a different direction as a teenager; My parents would tell me to go to school and I should get a job because that’s the background that I came from. I didn’t come from a background seeing successful women entrepreneurs, let alone seeing entrepreneurship period; I didn’t see it. I saw everyday blue collar family go to work 9 to 5 that’s what I saw and that is what I was taught, and that’s what I did. I was always trying to sell something and I knew that it was always in me to sell something and be in business but, you know, I steered from that dream because I thought I was doing the right thing, do what your parents tell you to do.
After graduating from college, I started working as a nurse. I worked for an agency after spending a year working in a hospital to gain experience. I chose agency because it gave me the flexibility and independence I was looking for. Though I enjoyed working with people, I couldn’t see me doing that for the rest of my life. Because I started so early and did agency work, I was making the most money that a nurse could make and realized my salary isn’t going to increase substantially over time. At this point, I’m used to that lifestyle and realized that by the time I’m 30 I would still be making about the same and have to deal with the cost of living increase. I decided to go back to school, to try and earn a degree and increase my education thinking ‘maybe I’ll make more money’ but I realized that I’m really not going make that much more money and I’m going to have a lot of student loans and debt, so, dropped out 3 times actually. I took a job at a home health agency that was run by 2 guys that grew it over the course of 10 years into a booming business. I had a supervisor role there and I was able get behind the scenes and not only see how they ran the business but the pleasure they got from running it. That was my last job before I started my own company.
SLC: Entrepreneurship vs Wantepreneurs?
MR: Entrepreneurship is definitely not for the lazy person because it takes a lot of work! You definitely have to be self-motivated and a very determined individual. Something I’ve always been is very determined. I am not a person that gives up; you can tell me no but I’ll try to find another way to get it. You have to have a positive mind set and know that there will be stumbles and road blocks but you cant give up. You have to go through so many challenges just to get to where you want to be but you have to have that mindset of “I cant give up.” You have to have that tunnel vision to see the end goal and just know that one day you will get there. One of the ways I motivate myself is, reading about other entrepreneurs in different businesses because most entrepreneurs have the same mindset and, you know, I read about people and I read about different challenges that they went through like ‘oh they did the same thing’ and that’s what keep me motivated and you know keeps me going.
SLC: Within the past five years, the natural hair care space has kind of exploded. How competitive was the space and was it a deterrent or more of a motivator?
MR: It was more of a motivator because when I look back, hair care has always been something that I was into. It was easier because I was talking about something and doing something that I had already been doing and already in love with not knowing that I could actually create a business out of it. When I would post things on social media, it was like I was talking to my girlfriends saying ‘this is what I did with my hair’ and my conversation was very genuine because it was talking to my friends and there just happened to be thousands of women that were following the conversation as well. I feel that competition is good, its important, you always wanna be aware of your competition, but I think that if you brand and market yourself and you are really passionate about what you’re doin and you stay in your lane, you know, you really don’t see the competition. You’re aware of them, but you just have tunnel vision.
SLC: Are your products only for African American women?
MR: Mielle is for anyone that wants to take better care of their hair and use healthier ingredients. Multicultural women, not just African American. Nowadays we have so many woman with different hair types.
SLC: Mielle is now sold in over 1,100 Sally Beauty stores which is awesome! How did that come about and how were you able to secure that distributorship and what’s next?
MR: Sally contacted us last year, and we happened to be in Texas for my daughter’s gymnastics competition and wouldn’t you know it, Sally’s headquarters is in Texas right outside of Dallas. So they contacted us the same week that we were there for my daughter’s competition but we were scheduled to leave Texas that Monday and they wanted to see us on Tuesday, so obviously we changed our flight because we were not going to miss this. We didn’t have a babysitter for our kids so said we could bring our kids to the meeting too. That was very special because we had a chance to bring our kids; though they may not remember it now, when they look back and say they were at our first retail distribution meeting! That’s big to me.
Initially, Sally’s put us in 95 stores as a test, so we pushed our consumers and followers to go to stores on February 19. That same day, the products sold out in every store that they put us in. Because of the customers’ demand and all of our consumers coming together wanting more of our products, they increased us to over 500 doors nationwide. Yes, we will be in Target soon, just can’t say when quite yet.
Stay tuned for part II where Monique talks about working with her spouse, her advice for entrepreneurs and hair tips…
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