Netflix’s limited series Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker portrays the chronicles of Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam C.J. Walker. Her journey is an inspiration to others in the beauty and haircare industry, especially Black women who combat the everyday trials and tribulations of colorism, racism and sexism. HelloBeautiful had the opportunity to speak with Monique Rodriguez, CEO of Mielle Organics about transforming her career from nursing to becoming the head babe in charge of a leading hair care brand, self-love for herself as a Black woman and the unfortunate circumstances of Eurocentric beauty as it relates to colorism.
Beginning her journey as a registered nurse for nearly nine years, Monique Rodriguez went to nursing school to fulfill the dream that her mother didn’t have the opportunity to pursue. “Because of her background and her upbringing, my mother could not go to nursing school,” said Monique. “So, naturally, she always pushed her dream on me.” Combined with her natural love for science and healthcare, Monique did not mind too much the idea of becoming an RN, but she always knew that beauty and haircare was where she needed to be. “I was miserable in my career because I felt like I wasn’t using the gifts that God had blessed me with. I felt isolated. Like I was trapped in a box and my calling was waiting for me on the other side,” Rodriguez shared.
Monique Rodriguez kickstarted her nursing career in the delivery and baby unit and recognized early that she had a passion for working with women, educating them on their own bodies. Her passion for education of these women began to grow, though she wasn’t too fond of how the education was being delivered. Thus, she shifted her focus to a topic that would benefit women who look like her and feed her growing love for hair care.
“A lot of women would ask me what I did to maintain my hair,” Monique shared. “So, I paired my educational background with tips on how I created hair regimens and nursed my hair back to health with other women.”
She merged her background in physiology, her passion for hair and beauty and her education in other supporting sciences to create what would later become one of the leading products for hair growth amongst women. From creating homemade products in the comfort of her kitchen to the launch of her website on May 24, 2016, Mielle Organics was created and Monique Rodriguez hadn’t looked back since.
As I’m sure a fair amount of us have seen in Netflix’s newest addition to the limited series family, Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker, the adapted story sheds a light upon the necessity of acting upon a vision that you’ve been given for your future and to follow it wherever it may lead you. Taking a leap of faith and creating Mielle Organics took much resilience, persistence and strength for Monique during trying times of hardship and loss.
“I experienced the loss of my son when I was eight months pregnant. He was born brain dead from a uterine rupture and that’s when my life was turned upside down,” Monique shares about the tragedy. “It caused me to question my existence and my purpose on Earth. I really had to seek God to help me through the situation that I was going through. In order for me to remain mentally sane, I had to take a leap of faith and revisit the conversation around what I really loved; my passion for hair care”.
By placing her mental health on the forefront of her road to mental wellness and emotional recovery, Monique Rodriguez began to share her love and passion for hair care on social media as an outlet of relief. She then normalized the conversation around her passions and remained in-tune with her spirituality and faith. “Because I started that conversation and utilized my gifts, it elevated a demand for what I was creating. That demand is what gave me the vision to just say that I feel like God is speaking to me. I feel like God is trying to reveal something to me. Let me just act on it. Once I took that leap of faith and acted on my vision, Mielle Organics began to open so many doors that allowed me to pursue my dream and my passion.”
In the beginning stages of sales and marketing, we’re taught that many products sell best and most effectively when the audience feels a connection to it or its owner. Being able to feel the emotions and following the storyline of its creation is what separates a good marketing strategy from a great one – evoking feelings and tugging on heartstrings. When developing and marketing Mielle Organics, Monique initially engaged her customers by letting them in on her own hair journey of nursing her tresses from heat damage to its natural, luxurious curls.
Though it was difficult at first to share with her customers the loss of her son as the true driving force behind her then-budding empire’s launch, she eventually put herself on the front lines of her own product and shared her story two years later. Monique says, “For me, it was like a big weight was lifted and a form of therapy. I think that when you truly tell your story, it makes you more authentic. If it’s a genuine story that is from the heart, it resonates with your audience. When people can pull bits and pieces from your story, they can relate them to certain parts of their own.”
Whether it be her own tragic story or stepping out on faith from her career in the medical field, Monique developed a genuine connection with every customer, follower and audience member by stepping into her purpose and sharing her personal testimony to any and everyone who listens. To her, it’s nothing short of doing God’s work and carrying forth the mission of storytelling that is bigger than herself and Mielle Organics alone.
Even when we have the story all packaged, pretty and ready to share, as a budding entrepreneur, myself included, we’re going to be told ‘no’ a lot more often than we are ‘yes’. We have to build rapport with clients, sponsors, the media and just about anyone that we would want to believe in our service or product. Keeping a strong faith in God and having a positive mentality has served Monique in ways that allow her to navigate through some of the most annoying and disappointing hardships as an entrepreneur: rejection. “What I have learned is that I don’t take ‘no’ as a definite ‘no’. I take it as a sign that you’re either not the right person or it’s not the right time,” shares Monique to Hello Beautiful. “I really try to get in the presence of God to ask Him to lead me and to order my steps into the direction that I should go in. I take times where people tell me ‘no’ as an opportunity to say, ‘Ok God. What are you trying to show me?’”
Unfortunately, as a Black woman, faint, subtle hints of colorism still play a factor in navigating our ways through any career – whether it be climbing the corporate ladder or skyrocketing into our first business launch. As seen in Self-Made, Eurocentric beauty was briefly touched upon, but Monique believes that the narrative of the dark-skinned and brown-skin woman has shifted over the course of time from the 1910s during Sarah Breedlove’s time and that we have come a long way. Knowing our history as Black women is a first step to awakening the force of sisterhood and collaboration and destroying the false narrative that one skin tone is more superior to or better than the other.
“People who still believe in the narrative of colorism are just ignorant to our African American history. Colorism was the slave master’s attempt to cause division within our race. In the era that we live in, we have to stop and change that narrative. It was their intention to keep us separated because we are powerful and strong as a people. Eliminating colorism and the narrative that helps it continue starts with us,” says Monique on the existence of colorism. “The conversation is not about what color you are or light-skinned vs. dark-skinned. The conversation is that we try to help women by solving problems for their hair texture based on texture, not the color of their skin. I feel that we have to be the example that we know we want to see. That example being that you know who you are, you know your history and you know where you come from.”
When asked how the legacy of Madame C.J. Walker impacted her journey as a Black woman in the beauty industry, the Mielle Organics CEO paid the utmost respect for Walker as a way-paver. “She broke down barriers and removed obstacles that I have not had to experience in today’s day in age. She set the bar as one of the first self-made millionaires in the beauty industry,” Rodriguez responded. “After she established her legacy, the industry was quickly dominated by males creating businesses catering to African-American women. To accomplish what she did in the beauty industry in the time that she did tells me that I have no reason not to accomplish what I want to right now.”