By Kristie Snyder,
Yve-Car Momperousse and Stéphane Jean-Baptiste are all too familiar with the predominant image of Haiti in the US media: poverty, destruction, and desperation. But that's not how the owners of beauty-product company Kreyòl Essence see it. Their Haiti is a land of beautiful mountains and beaches, a culturally vibrant Caribbean nation with vast untapped potential. Their company aims to connect eco-conscious consumers in the US with traditional Haitian products that have fabulous health and beauty benefits, to create jobs and markets, and to empower Haitian communities along the way.
Kreyòl Essence was born following a "hair catastrophe." While straightening Yve-Car's hair, a stylist applied too much heat, causing permanent damage. Yve-Car and Stéphane, both Haitian-American, remembered that their families used to turn to Haitian black castor oil as an all-purpose, traditional remedy for hair and skin troubles and a host of other ailments. Living in Philadelphia at the time, Yve-Car sought out the product to strengthen her hair as it grew back, and came up lacking, even in the Haitian neighborhoods. She expanded her search to New York and Boston, but still found nothing like what they both remembered — high quality, hand-pressed, additive-free, and unrefined castor oil. She called on her mom in Haiti to ship her an emergency bottle, and the ensuing conversation led to a decision to bring the product to America. From that beginning, Kreyòl Essence now manufactures hair pomades and milks, body soufflés, soaps, and candles using the black castor oil along with other high-quality and responsibly sourced ingredients.
The couple relocated to Ithaca around two years ago when Yve-Car was offered a job as Cornell's Director of Diversity Alumni Programs. They brought the fledgling business with them, and have since left their jobs (Stéphane worked in Ithaca College's School of Business) to run the business full-time. With combined backgrounds in marketing, communications, activism, business consulting, development, and non-profit management, they have sought to create a new kind of business — commercially viable, but with core social tenets. Rather than donate profits back to Haiti, Yve-Car and Stéphane followed a different path. They sought out Haitian farmers to grow the castor beans and hired local people to process them into oil and manufacture beauty products.
By Kristie Snyder,
Bees perform a kind of alchemy, transforming pollen and nectar into that sweet, sticky substance that got Pooh Bear into so much trouble back in Rabbit's hole. Lesli Sagan, owner of Avital's Apiaries, is a bit of an alchemist herself, using beeswax, honey, and propolis to create natural bodycare products.
Lesli's balms, lotion bars, soaps, and deodorant are made in her home workshop in Cayuga Heights in a converted downstairs apartment, using all-natural, often organic, and often locally sourced ingredients. Some ingredients are very locally sourced, coming right from her beehives. She maintains two in her backyard, and around 10 to 20 more in two locations outside of town.
Lesli's love affair with bees — and she does love them — began about ten years ago, when she started keeping them as an antidote to long days in front of a computer as a systems administrator at Ithaca College. "Bees are essentially wild — you give them good digs and they stay," she explained. "Bees are a beautiful little society. They're the perfect feminist occupation — they're all women!"
By Cassandra Leveille,
Kash Iraggi-Wiggins, the owner of Balance Aromatherapy, conveys a sustained, intimate knowledge of her products — where they are sourced and what blends of oils and herbs constitute the final product.
Kash started making aromatherapy products twenty-seven years ago, when her daughter, Phoenix, was born. Balance Aromatherapy sprang from her concern about the potential harmful effects of using conventional skin-care products on her daughter's skin, as the cosmetics industry is not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration.
"A lot of people are conscientious of what they put in their bodies, but not what they put on their bodies," Kash said.