Monique Rodriguez, the founder of the natural hair care line, Mielle Organics, recently launched her #MoreThanAStrand global beauty campaign. This initiative promises to empower communities and women of color through strengthening relationships between mothers and daughters, a $1 Million fund that invests in Black women-owned beauty and barber shops, a partnership with Rutger’s University, and their Road to South Africa.
Racquel Coral (RC): Tell me the story of how you got started.
Monique Rodriguez (MR): I started Mielle Organics in 2014, out of a passion and love for hair care and entrepreneurship. As a young girl, I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but didn’t know what it would be.
So throughout my nursing career, I started different things such as Mary Kay, Scentsy, and Avon. I tried to sell anything that I could get my hands on because I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit. But I didn’t have a lot of money either. So I was paying $100 here to invest in Mary Kay or $10 here for Avon without seeking my purpose or strengthening my relationship with God. And that was what I was missing.
I had to go through a very painful situation in 2013, after giving birth to my son, who, unfortunately, passed away. It left my husband and me very distraught and unsure of what to do with ourselves. At the time, we felt that we were doing everything that we were supposed to do. We both went to college, had great careers, a house, and our two girls. We thought that we were living the American dream. But the missing link was having a spiritual connection with God. And once I decided to get to know God on a more personal level, things started to change.
As an outlet to get my mind off of what I was going through, I had the idea to talk about hair on social media because I was trying to restore my hair and others. And just by allowing my gift to make room for me, I started mixing my own products. Then I found a chemist because I wanted to make a legitimate product that people could use, and on May 23, 2014, I launched a website. And the rest is history. Mielle Organics came from a very dark place in my life, and God blessed it. And He continues to bless it.
RC: I know that Mielle Organics always has a philanthropic component. So tell me about your latest effort, the #MoreThanAStrand campaign, and how it came about.
MR: Mielle Organics isn’t just a brand that talks about it, but we let our actions speak louder than words. When I started my business, my mission was to empower and educate women on healthy hair. And I use my platform to serve my community for the greater good and continue empowering them about entrepreneurship and economic development in their communities.
#MoreThanAStrand is a campaign that we are doing globally where we’re focusing on empowering communities and women of color. Part of it is to strengthen the bond between mothers and daughters. Because we are the first example that our daughters see, we want to show them class and how to carry themselves. So with this campaign, we started here in the United States, going to the Caribbean and South Africa, and offering them opportunities that they probably wouldn’t have received had it not been for us.
We’ve also launched an HBCU campaign where we’re paying tuition and launched a $1 Million business fund to help beauty businesses that struggled due to COVID-19 and the looting. We’re taking applicants now, so for those who are interested, they can visit our website, https://www.morethanastrand.com/, to apply for assistance.
RC: Can you tell me about the partnership you have with Rutgers University and the Newark Business Hub and the Road to South Africa?
MR: So they’re both under the #MoreThanAStrand campaign umbrella. We’re partnering with these schools to pay the tuition of women entrepreneurs.
#MoreThanAStrand started with strengthening the bond between mothers and daughters; however, given the climate and how everything has shifted, I don’t want one initiative to overshadow the other, because we can help in all aspects.
The Road to South Africa is the grand finale. We’re having all of our influencers that participated in the #MoreThanAStrand campaign join us to share their stories of how they overcame. Just as I’m sharing my mine, our testimonies are there to help one another. So we will have a contest for winners to attend with all expenses paid, and celebrate going back to our roots, history, and being Black. I want them to embrace their ethnicity and where they came from.
I’ve heard stories of people who have gone to the motherland and how life-changing it was for them, and I’m looking to not only change my life but bring others with me so that they can have the same experience.
RC: What do you foresee the impact of the #MoreThanAStrand campaign being?
MR: So we’ve already rewarded a young man who attends Bethune-Cookman University by paying his tuition. When he got the news, he was in tears because he didn’t know how his tuition would be paid. And that was the impact.
I want to show them that to whom much is given, much is required. I believe in leading by example. And if I lead by example to help my community, then my expectation of them is to look back and to help those that come after. I feel that if we continue doing that and uplifting one another in our community, then that is how Black people we will get ahead. I didn’t get here by someone not helping me. People have helped me. People have poured into me. People have mentored me. So it’s my responsibility to pay it forward.
RC: In addition to all that you are currently doing, what do you want others to know about you?
MR: The thing that I want people to know is that number one. I am a God-fearing. And I feel that my character speaks for itself. My mission is to continue to empower women because I’m passionate about them. That’s why when I started as a nurse, I worked in labor and delivery because I always wanted to work with women. I feel that we’re so special and so powerful, but we need to be reminded of that power, especially Black women. We have been enslaved for so long to just be against one another instead of coming together. I want to be known for how I have poured into Black women and how I have reached back. And how I have helped build up other women entrepreneurs who look like me and that had odds stacked against them.
But despite everything, I want them to look at me and say, “Because of you, I didn’t give up.” And that’s the legacy that I want to leave. I’m just getting started. And I know that God has so much more in store for me. So when I post things, I do it for inspiration because I want people to know my story, know where I came from, and see that it’s possible. After all, that gives them hope. So I want to continue to give people hope and continue to inspire, motivate, and uplift people’s spirits. It shows them that as long as they have that foundation and faith rooted in God, nothing is impossible.
Mielle Organics currently has a worldwide reach, receiving orders from 87 countries, and is sold nationwide at Target, Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, and Kroger. And 30% of sales from the Rice Water Collection will be donated to the Mielle Maven Education and Entrepreneurship fund. To learn more or to apply, visit https://www.morethanastrand.com.
Contributing Writer, Racquel Coral is a lifestyle writer based in Chicago. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.