Everyone’s career path is different. For some, leading a successful enterprise has been a goal since childhood – while some stumble into it by chance (or fate, depending on how you look at it). The latter was certainly the case for Janell Stephens, founder and CEO of skincare and haircare brand Camille Rose. Despite her lack of beauty industry experience, the budding entrepreneur says sheer will and some invaluable career advice received from peers helped seal her entrepreneurial future — and essentially changed her life.
With a background as a licensed therapist, Stephens has always had a heart for wellness and health, she just never expected it would veer into the beauty space. The Atlanta-based mother of five’s journey to Camille Rose glory started in the most unexpected place: her kitchen. “My children had severe eczema and products I bought over the counter were all steroids,” she explains. “I didn’t want to constantly use a steroid cream on them.” Stephens consulted a well-known doctor who advised her to keep a closer eye on nutritional labels and product ingredients. “He gave me a list of things to avoid, and within two weeks their skin was clear,” she recounts. “I was amazed by that. I would start Googling ingredients in various products we would use regularly and realized that things labeled ‘organic’ were really not.” This curiosity in natural skincare and subsequent outrage in the deception behind it made Stephens want to take matters into her own hands — literally.
In 2010, she began researching wholesome, nutrient-rich ingredients and got to work in “whipping up” her own solutions to treat sensitive, dry, and problematic skin and stored them in jars she bought from the grocery store. “They worked!” she recalls. “So, I decided to throw up a website to market and sell my formulas. I started with the skin, of course, then moved to hair." Like her skin potions, Stephens' hair products were designed to replenish and retain hydration and moisture in natural hair. Again, the ingredients list featured only organic botanical oils and extracts that could be trusted to do the body (and hair) some good.
It wasn’t long before word started to spread about Stephens' home-grown beauty brews — and demand rose quickly. At a small local beauty show, the entrepreneur caught the eye of a buyer for Target. “They loved my story and what I stood for,” she says. “They told me they wanted to offer me some product placement in a few doors. I started in 105 stores.”
While Camille Rose's skincare products made plenty of impact on consumers, it was the brand's natural hair solutions that really made a splash in an emerging market. Hero products like the Twisting Butter, Curl Maker, and Cholesterol Treatment quickly gained a following thanks to au naturel ingredients like jojoba oil and rice bran oil as well as their true-blue efficacy.
It's no surprise that that initial Target deal of 105 stores quickly grew to many more, and Camille Rose’s presence in other major national chain retailers subsequently followed. Before she knew it, Stephens had to move her in-house operation to manufacturing lab to keep up with demand — a process that taught the business owner the value of aligning with partner who share your vision and overall mission.
Stephens learned this the hard way, as her first lab formulator (who she hired in her first year or so) took advantage of her new-business status and required unreasonable and expensive production asks to create her natural potions. "I was basically told to order and ship all of my ingredients to this facility for formulation, which killed me financially." The lab ultimately couldn't keep up with Camille Rose's increase in demand and the sourcing and shipping costs weren't allowing for any profitability, so Stephens knew she had to find another lab that could keep up with her rapid growth. Luckily, she found it in a veteran chemist who previously worked for a big facility that went under. "She had the same beliefs as me, loved my vision and loved my story," says Stephens. "We partnered together and she opened up her own lab so as I grew, she grew!"
These days, you can find the brand nationwide at Walmart, Sally’s Beauty, CVS, Walgreens, and Whole Foods (to name a few). Yes, in less than a decade, Stephens' small family business has become a household name and a mainstay in the natural hair segment.
Like any company on the fast-track to success, Camille Rose's rise was not without some lessons and growing pains. Over the years, Stephens' has experienced a crash course of sorts in running a beauty enterprise. Ahead, the CEO and founder dishes on all things business — from the sage advice she swears by to the nightly ritual that keeps her efficient in her day-to-day routine.
The Zoe Report: What’s been the biggest business challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Stephens: For me, it's been finding partners and employees who believe in my vision and align with it. You want people on your team who are going to go above and beyond for you. Initially, when hiring employees, I would simply focus on someone's resume, but I don't do that anymore. Just because someone's good on paper doesn't mean they're going to share your vision and passion for the business. Now, I look at a candidate's personality and drive. Do you have the same fire in you that I have? Do you get excited about getting things done? I had to learn that through trial and error (and hiring people who just weren't a fit).
TZR: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Stephens: I think it was in something that I read or some self-help book, but what I've learned to live by and stand by is this: Make sure you grow your business organically and stay true to your vision and why you started it in the first place. Don't rush yourself out there because you want a check.
TZR: How has this advice shaped your career and/or your business approach?
Stephens: I turned down many doors and offers for the first few years — some retail stores, overseas accounts, and distributors who wanted to carry my brand. I had to make sure my feet were on solid ground before I did all those things. Take your time and don't just say 'I'll do it!' because you want to get paid — you won't win. Know what you can handle, what you want to handle, stay true to your mission, and eventually it will come.
TZR: What are some key habits you stick to daily that keep you efficient in your business?
Stephens: Definitely a to-do list. As a mother of five, a wife, and a business owner, I wear many hats and I'm responsible for so many people. I've gotten into the habit of writing out my tasks for the next day the night before. If you're a person that likes to plan way in advance, I would suggest writing things out a week ahead on a Sunday night or Monday morning to see what your week is going to look like. I have to write things down the night before or as soon as they come to me — and then I check things off as I go. I find that I get so much more done if I do it that way. I call it my daily goals.
TZR: What's been the biggest milestone or accomplishment in your career?
Stephens: Probably landing a position on the shelves of the big box stores like Target, Walmart, and Sally's — and staying there. I love seeing the brand and product line expand and be embraced the way it has been.
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