The Black hair care market is booming. But while hair has always been at the center of Black womanhood, it’s natural hair care in particular that has undergone a profound revitalization over the past three decades. Product offerings that were once centered on chemical relaxers, activators, and moisturizers ignited a social movement of business owners — Black business owners — who sought to create good-for-us products that nourish and protect natural hair of all types. Then, the natural hair movement exploded.
One woman saw the tide turning nearly a decade ago, and now finds herself at the center of a growing sector that continues to shift. This woman is Monique Rodriquez.
The mom of two, who started Mielle Organics out of her home in 2014, has grown the brand to the number one fastest-growing, Black-owned and community focused natural hair care company in the world. And for a brand that was already moving fast, it just got a big boost of acceleration. Berkshire Partners, a Boston-based investment firm, today announced a historic investment in the Mielle Organics brand. The financing will support Mielle’s growth plans, and help further its mission to educate, empower, and excite Mielle’s customers and the broader hair care community.
“Of everyone we considered, Berkshire was most aligned with our vision of elevation and scale,” says Rodriquez, who continues to have controlling interest in the company. “They really believe in our vision, and they were very passionate about our beliefs and pouring back into the Black community. That was very important for us.”
As for Berkshire, the investment firm sees the partnership as a win-win. “We are honored to invest behind Monique and Melvin and in Mielle,” says Marni Payne, Berkshire Partners Managing Director. “We made this non-controlling investment in Mielle because we believe in them, their vision, and their impact. Monique is helping to pave the way for other female entrepreneurs who are building businesses while leaving a big mark on the world.”
The investment provides Mielle—which was named after Rodriguez’s two daughters, Mia Gabrielle and Mackenzie Arielle—with capital for additional product innovation and to continue its rapid growth in prestige distribution around the world. “I just want other Black women and aspiring entrepreneurs to be able to see themselves in me,” says Rodriguez. “I want them to know that they have the power to choose the right partnership and still maintain control of their destiny because my husband and I are still majority owners—this is a minority investment deal.”
Rodriguez, who credits her faith and relationship with God as the testament to her success, also runs the business alongside her husband Melvin, who is the company’s co-founder and COO. The couple founded the company after a personal tragedy where they lost their son at just six months old.
Leaning on faith, they have led Mielle Organics to record-breaking growth in e-commerce and retail market sales over the past few years, with even more over the last few months despite the global economic impact of COVID-19. This growth has been largely due to Melvin’s background and expertise in sales. With his role as the operations and strategy lead at Mielle Organics, the product is now on more than 100,000 shelves of major retailers including Target, CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart.
“My background is in engineering, technology and building systems, with a heavy emphasis in management,” shares Melvin. “So I’ve been able to use my prior experience to spearhead several areas that have been catalysts in the growth of Mielle.”
The investment will also support Mielle’s More Than A Strand campaign, which is an initiative that promises to empower communities and women of color through strengthening relationships between mothers and daughters across the United States, Caribbean and Africa. The $1 million fund invests in Black women-owned beauty and barber shops, a partnership with Rutgers University and Newark Business Hub.
“Community is core to the company’s mission—it’s why Monique started the company, it’s why they focus on charitable initiatives like More Than A Strand, and that question of ‘what can we do better for our customer and our community’ is what clearly guides Monique and Melvin each day,” says Payne.
Karonda Cook, former buyer at Sally’s Beauty Supply and Mielle Organics buyer, knew from the moment she met the couple that they were destined for success. So much so, that she took a chance on them, and decided to put them on Sally Beauty Supply’s shelves. “Both Melvin and Monique were very passionate, not only about beauty, but just about business,” she shares.
She explains: “A lot of times as a buyer, you have to think beyond a brand. You also have to think about the people managing the brand, because that’s who you will ultimately be working with. Sometimes you can get in a situation where the team knows nothing about business. They don’t understand, and it can cause a lot of challenges. But in this case I thought, wow, this is the best of both worlds. You have this couple who is very intelligent and they’re very strategic and spiritual as well.”
So, what does this investment look like for the future brand? “It’s the next chapter of us just globally expanding our brand and taking it to the next level,” shares Monique.
Adds Melvin: “My wife and I, you know, we dreamed of this moment. We prayed for this moment. Most importantly, we trusted God for this moment.”
For more on this groundbreaking investment, tune in for an IG Live on Thursday, April 8th at 6 pm EST with Mielle Organics’ Monique and Melvin Rodriguez and Richelieu Dennis, founder of Essence Ventures, the parent company of ESSENCE.