Aisha Ceballos-Crump is a prime example of what it means to follow your heart. While she initially pursued a chemical engineering career, it was the beauty industry that she felt most passionate about. After leaving her engineering role, Ceballos-Crump devoted 16 years of her life to developing products, formulas, manufacturing, and marketing for several major hair and skincare brands.
In 2016, the beauty veteran embarked on a new chapter: entrepreneurship. As a Latina woman and mother of three Afro-Latino children, Ceballos-Crump saw the need to create hair care products that worked on a wide range of textures. That's when Honey Baby Naturals was born. "There was a void in the haircare market for families that looked like mine," she says. "I decided I wanted to make a difference in this industry through inclusive natural products. I took a leap of faith and quit my high-paying corporate job."
With Honey Baby Naturals, Ceballos-Crump became the first Latina to have a natural hair and skincare line in mass retail. The company's continued success set the stage for her to launch another haircare brand (Botanika Beauty) in 2019 and create a beauty incubator (Beauty Loft) to help other entrepreneurs. Ahead, Ceballos-Crump discusses the realities of entrepreneurship, leaving a legacy, and what's next for her brands. Keep scrolling to read everything she had to say.
Before breaking into beauty as a founder, what were you doing professionally?
I'm a first-generation college student. I wanted to become an actress, but as someone from a low-income family, it was essential to pick a career that I knew could help me provide for my family. So, I went to college for chemical engineering. When I graduated, I realized I didn't want to work in a lab. I pivoted and spent over 15 years in the beauty industry. I started selling chemicals to companies to help them formulate products. I also worked in a contract manufacturer writing claim substantiation.
What was it like going from your corporate position to entrepreneurship?
I love this kind of question because I think people often only see the glamorous side of the business. But for me, I wasn't financially prepared during the first two years. When I quit my job, I lost that income. Even though I had connections in the industry, I had to do everything myself. I was working 14 hours a day with three kids and not getting paid. I started maxing out my credit cards.
The first event I ever did was at a beauty supply store in Atlanta. I was so broke because I was putting everything into the business. I had invested all of my savings and 401K, but I knew I needed to promote the brand. I loaded up my Buick Enclave with products and my three kids, and we just hit the road. I didn't know how I would pay for a hotel, but I believed in myself. I ended up finding a room at a Residence Inn, and the woman that worked there fell in love with my story. To this day, she comes to all of our events in Atlanta and tells people about my journey.
You decide to launch another brand, Botanika Beauty. What inspired you to create a second haircare brand?
I've always struggled with identity because I've felt like people always judge me for "not being Latina enough." I'm so proud of my Latin culture and where I came from, knowing that my grandparents sacrificed everything to go to America and work in the steel industry with no money. When I began selling Honey Baby Naturals in Target, I was proud to be the first Latina to have a natural hair care line in mass retail. As I pitched to retailers, I would say, "let's create a section for Latina women." And they'd look at me and say, "you're okay being in the Black haircare section."
It was like they wanted to put me in a box, so I decided to create Botanika Beauty to break down these stereotypes and show we're not a monolith. When we got into Target and Walmart, they started a new Latina section within our first year and a half of business.
What has it been like developing products that work for a wide range of hair textures?
Out of every aspect of my job, I love creating products the most. Since I worked as a chemical sales rep, I understood ingredients and hair structure. So, that part wasn't difficult. The hard part was trying to get our inclusive messaging across. People assume my products are exclusively for people with curly hair, but that's not the case. The challenge has been trying to get people to see that my products are for everyone.
What is a typical day like for you as CEO?
Mom life comes first. My three amazing teenagers are the loves in my life, so I'm just a typical mom in the morning. I wake up and make lunches. I help do hair in the morning and get the kids out the door. On the business side, I check my bank accounts and email first thing in the morning. Our distribution logistics manufacturing facility is right outside Chicago, so my husband and I come in every day. We also have meetings with our PR and marketing team.
I'll typically spend about eight hours at the warehouse before going to pick up my children. Once I get home, I'll typically work till about 10 or 11 at night. Being an entrepreneur seems glamorous, but you're always working because your business never stops.
What advice or words of encouragement do you have for anyone looking to launch a haircare brand?
A lot of small beauty brands don't have a warehouse and work from their homes. I was shipping Honey Baby Naturals out of my condo for the first two and a half years. Even when I launched Botanika Beauty, I was still shipping it out of my condo. I was eventually able to buy a facility to handle manufacturing, distribution, and logistics. I've since launched an incubator company called Beauty Loft to help four to five new entrepreneurs navigate everything from manufacturing to supply chain sourcing.
Additionally, for any person who comes to me for advice, I ask them 24 questions like Who is your consumer? Where do you want to sell? What is your price point? It is so important to do your homework. In addition to that, financing is an important aspect to consider. We are so under-financed as women of color. When I go to the bank, I'm not getting the same privilege as a white male counterpart. I'm hitting a wall right now because I'm growing so fast, but I don't have people lined up to finance my business.
What lasting impact do you hope to have on the beauty industry?
Chris-Tia Donaldson, the founder Of Thank God It's Natural (TGIN), was a really good friend of mine, and she passed away recently. The legacy that she left was incredible and opened up so many doors. I truly admire her. I grew up in poverty in Gary, Indiana. Everything I do is about showing people that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it. I want to show people you can go to college and be a chemical engineer or create a beauty brand. My legacy is about uplifting women, especially women in STEM. I want to expand my business to hire more people in the community and give back. I currently sit on the board at Purdue University to increase minority enrollment. I want to help solve other issues by using my beauty brand.
Everything I do is about showing people that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.
What does self-care look like for you as a busy mom and entrepreneur?
I love to come home and hug and kiss my kids every day. Cooking and watching football is also stress-relieving for me. However, I fractured my shoulder this year in a bad accident, so self-care became just relaxing. I couldn't cook every day, and I couldn't travel. I had to slow down.
What's next for Honey Baby Naturals and Botanika Beauty?
2020 was a year of just trying to make sure both brands survived. I put all of the plans I had for new launches on hold. For Honey Baby Naturals, I'm looking at funding options to help us grow. It's tough to add more products without the proper funding, but I'd like to expand the brand with a collection focused on the hair concerns of women age 40 and up. Botanika Beauty is such a new brand, but it's doing amazing. We are working on a pure and clean collection. I'm challenging myself to step outside of my comfort zone and do something that hasn't been done in this space.