Growing up in Haiti, Fayola Nicaisse-Hethorn was surrounded by nature. Her mother and father turned the herbs and plants from their garden into natural remedies for their skin and hair. 'It wasn't unusual for my mother to grab an egg, go out into the garden to get some watercress and then mix in some different oils to create a hair mask for us,' recalls Nicaisse-Hethorn. These childhood experiences have served as the inspiration for her two lines of natural hair and skin products -- Ebene Naturals and Akiva Naturals.
Nicaisse-Hethorn has been intrigued by hair textures since she was a young child. While working as a model, she often whipped up her own concoctions to help her overprocessed, chemically straightened, heat-damaged locks with ingredients such as shea butter and natural oils. At the request of friends, she began selling her mixtures for friends, making them one bottle at a time. At the time, she never thought it would turn into a full-time vocation.
But in 1999, her baby daughter, Gabriella, developed a terrible skin condition that covered her from head to toe. She rushed her to the hospital and discovered she had chronic exzema. The doctor told her it would be a life-long condition, and they sent her home with steroid cream. 'I tossed it,' Nicaisse-Hethorn says. 'I didn't like the idea of using steroids on a six-month-old.
Back in Haiti, my mother would have gone into the yard and picked some herbs to cure it.' So that's what she did. She did some research and created a mixture of shea butter, almond, jojoba, avocado and olive oils and Vitamin E and applied it to her daughter several times a day. Soon the excema was gone. And her Shea Butter Baby Balm was born. She continued to develop products, naming her line Ebene, which is French for ebony. Her motto was 'harmony between nature and humanity.'
Nicaisse-Hethorne decided to approach a Dallas-area Whole Foods Market about selling her growing product line, and the store's buyer 'flipped over it.' Then her story made its way to a reporter at the Dallas Morning News, who wrote an article about her and her line, which now included several haircare and skincare products. 'It took off from there,' she says. 'Once it came out, people from around the country were calling me to buy the Shea Butter Baby Balm. This is something I made in my kitchen and people from around the country were calling me to tell me how it had changed their lives. It was overwhelming.'
The Whole Foods store couldn't keep it in stock, and soon other Whole Foods locations were ordering it. In early 2000, she launched the Ebene Naturals Web site. The Ebene line now has close to 75 hand-made hair and body products, ranging from Essential Hair Butter to Shea Butter Regenerating Hair Treatment Oil. She also has Ebene Kids, which sells such products as Gabby's Ding Dang Doo Hair Cream and Little Princess Hair Styling Lotion. All the products are 100 percent natural, cruelty free and do not contain synthetic oils, mineral oils, petrochemicals, articial bi-products, alcohol or artificial colors.
'I didn't realize how much of a need there was for these types of natural products,' Nicaisse-Hethorn said. She moved to Miami and opened a store, getting regular feedback from customers about her products. She recalled one mother who came in with a son with severe exzema. The mother bought some of her creams and returned to show off her exzema-free baby. 'Now she buys it by the gallon,' Nicaisse-Hethorns says.
Over the past 18 months, Nicaisse-Hethorn made the decision to expand into products with other ingredients, including fragranced oils and beeswax. But she felt her Ebene customers, who tend to be 'ultra naturalists,' might not respond well to these types of products. In February, she officially launched Akiva Naturals, a sister company. She describes the Akiva customer as someone who wants 'natural with a flair.' The Akiva line includes raw materials such as shea, cocoa and mango butters, olive oil, vitamins and herbal infusions. All the products, such as Healthy Hair Honey, Healthy Hair Jam, Shea Hair Smoothie and Secret Potion, are free of synthetic preservatives, mineral oil, petro-chemicals, sulfates and artificial colors.
'People really embraced the products right away,' Nicaisse-Hethorn said. Both the Ebene and the Akiva lines will continue to expand their offerings, thanks to Nicaisse-Hethorn's endless curiosity. She said she regularly educates herself about raw materials and experiments with new products. 'Otherwise I'd get bored,' she said. Nicaisse-Hethorn stresses that her products are designed for men, women and children of all ages and ethnicities. 'My vision is to have products everyone can use,' she said.