Angel Cornelius glided into our NYC office with her silver-haired natural crown and luminescent Brown skin lighting her path.
With toned arms (totally reminiscent of Angela Bassett’s in What’s Love Got to Do with It) carrying her branded gift bags of natural body butters and soaps, one thing is very clear, this woman bathes in the fountain of youth.
At 56, this “mama-preneur” catapulted into the beauty industry with her line, La Belle Femme (French for the beautiful woman), after being featured in Essence’s Beauty Box for her products.
Before her line of natural, vegan beauty products got major-media recognition, Angel was whipping up ingredients in her kitchen.
“I stopped relaxing my hair about four years ago, and like most naturals, you spend a lot of money just trying to find something that works. And I got tired of spending money. So I started buying raw products and started making stuff for myself. So I realized the same ingredients I use for my hair, I can use for my body,” she told HelloBeautiful.
Her unofficial product launch came humbly, as she slathered her homemade body butter on her hands during a church meeting.
“My first customers were sitting in the back of the church. One of the members asked me, ‘Where can I get this?’ and I told her, ‘I made it.’ She took my lavender body butter and passed it down the row, and the entire back of the church smelled of lavender.”
This chance encounter led her to a meeting with Essence, where they embraced her product line, particularly the Pomegranate Body Kiss body butter, and asked her to put in a run of 10,000 units — minimum.
The tall order was a lot for the kitchen chemist, but as she explains, “My story does not exist without God and faith.”
As her business grew, Cornelius felt the call to begin public speaking in order to reach women in her demographic who have dreams of starting their own business.
“I want to tap into this market that nobody pays attention to, and that’s middle aged women,” Cornelius explains.
She spoke candidly about managing her career as a health services administrator and an entrepreneur — a journey she says takes a lot of work and dedication.
“I will say, this is the right season in my life for this. Our children are adults. Our daughter had just graduated from college when I was entering into my collaboration with Essence, so I had a lot of time, which frankly, four or five years ago didn’t exist.”
The mother of two tells us one of the most moving moments of her entrepreneurial path came during an American Express Black employee speaking commitment, when the moderator asked her daughter how she felt about everything her mother had accomplished with La Belle Femme.
“My daughter said, ‘My mom always talks about how proud she is of us, so this is the first time I get to tell my mom how proud I am of her,'” Cornelius reflects with tears in her eyes.
Angel tells HelloBeautiful this moment made her realize her work went far beyond the beauty aisle.
“One of the things that have been hard for me to embrace, is that my story is inspiring. Because I didn’t set out to be inspiring, I just didn’t want to fail. I have a story to tell that has nothing to do with body butter sells and revenue.”
She continues, “Am I saying you need to wait until your middle age to start? Absolutely not, but you need to know what you’re getting into.”
Cornelius relies on her “sister-preneurs” for strength and guidance as they navigate this journey together.
To get started on your own journey, she encourages all women to rely on each other and recall the things in their youth — before babies and marriage — that brought them joy.
“It’s never too late, you’re an expert and you don’t even know that you’re an expert,” she advises.
PHOTO CREDIT: Angel Cornelius, La Belle Femme
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