Monique Palmer is a senior at Grand Valley State University. Born and raised in Detroit, Monique turned her hair care routine into an inspiring business. As the first place winner from the 77IdeaLab, Monique has leveraged funding and business guidance from GVSU to pursue her passion.
By: Chad Howell
I had the privilege to meet virtually with Monique and discuss her journey as an entrepreneur. From her home in Detroit, she discussed challenges faced by student entrepreneurs, how she created Earthly Mystique, and using her business as a tool to empower black women.
Q: What interested you in becoming an entrepreneur?
A: Truthfully, I never had a desire to be an entrepreneur. I didn’t grow up hoping to become a business owner and I never really knew it would happen. My journey began naturally as my friends and family frequently complemented my hair health and would ask questions regarding my hair routine – what products I used, my daily processes, etc. I would explain that it’s a longer process than the average person’s hair care, and I eventually became interested in making the products for them instead of giving lengthy explanations. I started with my Nana and my sister – they liked it and the idea of selling them came to me.
Q: After initial inspiration, how did you start Earthly Mystique?
A: When I first started making products, I just made them to make them. I researched different ingredients, nutrients, herbs, processes, etc. The further I researched, I realized I would need help, as my expertise is in business and not science. Thats when I reached out to a chemist Tonya Lane, who earned her Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science in Chemistry. She gave me guidance and I realized she would be a great help in formulating my products.
I also received great help from GVSU. I started to come across a lot of steps in business that I was unfamiliar with, such as finding a target audience, customer niche, target marketing, etc. That’s when I reached out to the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI) and joined the 77IdeaLab (GVSU’s business startup program). I’m happy I did that because it gave me a lot of direction with my business. I felt a bit lost at first because I wasn’t sure what areas of my business I should focus on and the CEI provided much needed guidance.
Q: What is Earthly Mystique?
A: Earthly Mystique is a company that provides hair care products for black women to address our specific hair care needs. We do this through a scientific perspective – as consumers we get tired of trying many products that may or may not work – so I wanted to create products that give consumers a better idea of what will work for their hair. We focus on the science of hair porosity, which is our hairs ability to obtain moisture and retain that moisture. For black hair, it’s coarser and curlier, and needs more moisture than straight hair textures. We’re aiming to launch in August with four products: a hair hydrator, two moisturizers (based on porosity), and a hair growth oil. We’ve been building our branding, design, and website in the meantime.
Q: The mission of Earthly Mystique has a focus on improving self-image issues black women encounter because of their hair. Can you explain this problem?
A: Hair is extremely important in the black community – based on how our hair looks will determine if we go to school the next day, what plans we make for the day, and so on. Our hair is more than just hair, its a way to express yourself. Most black people are taught a lot of hair myths when we’re young such as ‘black people can’t grow long hair’. As a result, a lot of people have low self-confidence when it comes to their hair.
A study was done by Dr. Raechele Gathers that found 41% of black women feel bad about themselves because of their hair and 74% feel frustrated by their hair. This is due to many different reasons, from cultural myths to the difficulty that comes with managing black hair. Because of this, I wanted to create products for black women that will restore their hair health and in turn build up their self-confidence.
“You never know what speaking on your idea will lead to.”
Q: Let’s talk a bit about your journey. What challenges come with being a student entrepreneur?
A: It is very difficult to balance time between classwork and my business. I found that being both a college student and business owner, there is never enough time in the day to get everything accomplished. We have to prioritize tasks and responsibilities to find a balance. I make sure to make consistent progress on my business, because it is easy to let time pass by when you’re busy with classes. If it’s important to me, I have to make it a priority.
Q: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
A: Just talk about your idea. You never know what speaking on your idea will lead to – it helps build connections for your business. You can learn a lot from others, even speaking to those outside of the business world. I used to hesitate with sharing my idea, but by opening up you never know what doors will open for you. Also, nobody knows the answers to everything. Once I stopped putting pressure on myself to have all the answers and began building connections, I found more growth as an entrepreneur.
Take that risk on yourself. It’s scary to do anything new and go out of our comfort zone – because there is uncertainty. Theres no guarantee it will take off, but at least I’m trying. I don’t want to look back later in life and wonder ‘what if’. But once you take that risk, I’ve found it to be very rewarding. Most people are very positive and supportive of your idea and want to see you succeed. Regardless, you learn a lot as a business owner and it will help you with whatever lies ahead in your journey.
Q: Any final pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs?
A: If you feel that your idea or process is all over the place, reach out to somebody for help. There are plenty of (free) business resources out there, you just have to look around and find them. Receiving guidance and direction early on can be extremely helpful down the line. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – as I said earlier: nobody has the answers to everything.
Monique is an inspiring young entrepreneur that has a passion for her business. Her mission to improve black women’s self-confidence through hair care and restoration is worthy of praise. We are excited to see what lies ahead for Monique and Earthly Mystique. If you are interested in learning more, you can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and find her on Instagram @earthlymystique.