When Motherhood is Inseparable from Business
By Polina Pinchevsky | June 19, 2019
In our ongoing series of interviews with Founding Mothers, we spoke with Olayinka Credle, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Melanin Essentials. Her entrepreneurial story is entwined with her motherhood one. From single mom undergraduate with a dream to a fully fledged business owner and dynamic Mother of three, hers is a truly impressive journey. The highlights from our conversation include the power of prayer, the importance of community and the quest for investment that can make or break a young business.
What are your thoughts on being called a Founding Mother?
Olayinka: Motherhood is kind of my reason for being, my children are my WHY. Everywhere I go, I think about them, and I talk about them, and I feel like they’re my empowerment. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I’m honored to be called a founding mother.
So please introduce yourself, tell me a little bit about what you do, and the chronology of your company. What role does your family play in it?
Olayinka: I started back as a college junior in 2013 with my friend and co-founder, Saba Williams. It was a real problem then to find natural products for Afro-textured hair and skin. Saba had a chemistry background and I had an entrepreneurial one, so we decided that we would take up that challenge as it answered a real need in our own lives. In the beginning, it was our hobby and we had no plans to turn it into a business but then just before starting my sophomore year, I found out (to my devastation at the time) that I was pregnant. That changed everything!
That must have been a very difficult time – how did you cope?
Olayinka: I thought I would have to drop out of school but thanks to my hugely supportive parents, I finished my sophomore year, and I actually took my last final two days before I gave birth. I made the Dean’s list. My GPA went up. I was more driven than ever. I was about to bring a child into the world, and I became more empowered to be myself – I started to wear my natural hair then too.
“I actually took my last final two days before I gave birth. I made the Dean’s list. My GPA went up. I was more driven than ever. I was about to bring a child into the world, and I became more empowered to be myself.” – Olayinka Credle
I also started to realize the disparities between economic and racial injustice. And I decided, even if I’m going to be a single mom, I’m going to be the best single mom ever. In my last year of college, people on campus and in my local church started to catch wind of the products that we were making. A lot of other women of color, especially with Afro hair, were asking us “What do you use? Because I still can’t find any products that work.”
So how did you make the leap from college friends with a hobby to founding a business?
Olayinka: Well first, another big life event interrupted my plans to be the world’s best single mother – in my Junior year, I started dating one of my best friends of four years. A year later, we were engaged and got married. After graduation, we moved to D.C., where I started to work in Congress. At that time Saba and I were still making products for ourselves and our friends out of her kitchen. Then I found out I was pregnant again so my husband and I decided to move back home to Pennsylvania. People kept saying, “Why don’t you guys actually do this as a business?”
Eventually, we heard that enough times to actually say, “Okay, let’s do it.” We applied for this business competition for social impact companies and we were like, “No way we wouldn’t be able to do that.” It was really hard to get into, but we ended winning the entire competition.