Pree10: Tropic Isle Living – Beauty care based on tradition

Pree10: Tropic Isle Living – Beauty care based on tradition

Written by Editor

Topics: Fashion & Beauty, Pree10

Pioneering entrepreneurs Michael and Lois Hines, through their Tropic Isle Living company, have succeeded in bringing to the world “unique and exciting natural health and beauty care products inspired by the traditions, herbs, sun & sea of the Jamaica”. Founded in 1993, Tropic Isle Living is the first company to introduce Jamaican Black Castor Oil, its flagship product, to the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The company’s product line currently extends into the natural hair, skin and body care industry.

 Pree Jamaica posed a few questions to the husband and wife team of Michael and Lois about the growth of Tropic Isle Living, the new thrust in the Jamaican and Caribbean market, and future plans for the company.

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1. What inspired you to start Tropic Isle Living?

 The inspiration for starting Tropic Isle Living came from a love of Jamaica’s rich culture and strong herbal traditions and our desire to share them with the world via the products we make. Every product we make has a traditional story behind it. Our hair care and skin care lines, for example, are all based on the history and traditional uses of black castor oil and cerassee respectively in Jamaica.

 2. Starting a business has its fair share of challenges. What strategies did you utilise to get over the hurdles and solidify the company in the early years?

We always knew where we wanted to go as an organization, and we also knew that we would face serious challenges on our journey. However, we are strong believers in the old Jamaican proverb, “One one cocoa full basket”. We always give thanks for the blessings we get from the business, no matter how small they might be. We started on a shoe string and grew organically. We never forced a situation. The business pulled us, we did not pull it. Patience, passion, pure optimism and not blindly following textbook business principles are some of the key ingredients we used to overcome the various challenges that came our way.

3. How exactly did Tropic Isle Living get into the Jamaican Black Castor Oil business?

Herbal doctor and businessman, Rashan Abdul Hakim of the Bronx in New York, encouraged us to get into the Black Castor Oil business. At the time, no one was importing the oil into the United States for commercial purposes. We were the first to do so. We called friends and relatives in Jamaica to put us in contact with suppliers, but we quickly learnt that only a handful of mostly elderly Jamaican women made it on a very small scale. This was enough for us, however, as we began importing a few gallons of the oil and bottling them to sell to Jamaican health food and grocery stores in the New York tri-state area.

The castor oil plant from which Jamaican Black Castor Oil is obtained for use as a base in Tropic Isle Living's products. This healing oil is recognised for its effectiveness and the multiple benefits.

The castor oil plant from which Jamaican Black Castor Oil is obtained for use as a base in Tropic Isle Living’s products. This healing oil is recognised for its effectiveness and the multiple benefits.

“We have taken a neglected Jamaican product…and turned it into something that is accepted by a growing community worldwide.”

4. How was your Jamaican Black Castor Oil initially received by the marketplace in the tri-state area?

It was accepted by a small group of Jamaican grocery and health food store owners who were already familiar with its benefits. Beauty supply stores and communities outside of the Jamaican Diaspora basically rejected it. But as people who used it began to testify how it helped with their hair and other health issues, we began to see a gradual increase in demand from the African-America community. We got a lot of support from Brother Rashan Abdul Hakim on his popular radio show, which had a large radio audience that comprised of African-Americans, Africans and Caribbean people. We also educated people on its benefits via trade shows and promotional events.

Tropic Isle Living booth at the Taliah Waajid Beauty Show.

Tropic Isle Living booth at the Taliah Waajid Beauty Show.

5. In what markets can you now find Tropic Isle Living Jamaican Black Castor Oil, and are there new markets that you’re looking to get into?

Our market is primarily made up of people of African descent in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa. You will find our products in several states including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, California, Colorado, Illinois, Texas, Kansas etc. You will find them in Great Britain, France, Belgium and other places in Europe. Interestingly, it’s the Jamaican and Caribbean markets that we are attempting to make greater inroads.

 6. Is it your experience that Jamaican Black Castor Oil is developing a wider appeal across other ethnic markets and even beyond?

Yes. Based on the fact that we use it to create other products like shampoo, conditioners, hair moisturizers etc. for broader appeal.

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“We put emphasis on traditional uses [of castor oil] and…also tell the Jamaican story based on how we make and use the product.”

7. How has the Jamaican Black Castor Oil product line evolved and diversified over the or years?

Jamaican Black Castor Oil has many traditional and established commercial uses. Armed with this information, and the need to diversify and extend our line, it was a no brainer to begin creating new products with the Jamaican Black Castor Oil at their base. For example, the inspiration to create the Jamaican Black Castor Oil Hair Food came from a conversation with elderly Jamaicans who said that their parents used to mix black castor oil with petroleum jelly and use it in their hair as a moisturizer. We took this idea to the lab and created a petroleum-free, hair pomade we call Jamaican Black Castor Oil Hair Food. We did not stop there, as we realized that we could make an entire hair care line with the Jamaican Black Castor Oil. Today we have Black Castor Oil shampoo, conditioner, protein conditioner, and various combinations of black castor oil hot oil treatments.

The shampoo, conditioner, protein conditioner and hair food that make up Tropic Isle Living's Hair Care System are all infused with Jamaican Black Castor Oil.

The shampoo, conditioner, protein conditioner and hair food that make up Tropic Isle Living’s Hair Care System are all infused with Jamaican Black Castor Oil.

8. What is it that distinguishes Tropic Isle Living Jamaican Black Castor Oil from similar products currently in the marketplace?

We put emphasis on traditional uses and the story. We also tell the Jamaican story based on how we make and use the product. Our products also works and we are very knowledgeable on explaining to people how to use them.

9. What do you consider to be the main highlights of your entrepreneurial journey with Tropic Isle Living to date?

We have taken a neglected Jamaican product that noses were turned up at and turned it into something that is accepted by a growing community worldwide. We have indexed Jamaican Black Castor Oil as an item to be used by itself or as an ingredient in the hair care and beauty industries.  It is also a delight when we attend trade shows and a Jamaican would approach and express how proud they are of us representing Jamaica at these events. We are also happy to be spearheading a growing local castor oil industry which provides employment for the people in various communities across the island.

10. What are your future plans for Tropic Isle Living?

Our future plans include solidifying ourselves in the Jamaican marketplace and continue expanding globally. We have plans to open a chain of bath, body and hair care store outlets. Also, we are making every effort to diversify our brand utilizing other Jamaican herbs and spices. Stay tuned.  

Lois Reid-Hines

Lois Reid-Hines

*Pree10 is a special interview feature that serves up 10 questions to interesting personalities.

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