Lois Hines cofounded Tropic Isle Living 25 years ago to make beauty products using Jamaican black castor oil. Her staying power — even through profound loss — comes from deep ties to her heritage, she says.
No matter what happens in life, entrepreneur Lois Hines is grounded by her Jamaican roots.
Born and raised on the Caribbean island, Hines has proudly carried her heritage with her, especially the wisdom passed down by the matriarchs of her family. She says that, growing up, she didn’t realize how influential those women would be — “that those early lessons will impact who you are and what you do.”
In 1992, she and her husband, Michael, took the age-old beauty knowledge gleaned from her relatives and created Tropic Isle Living. The Marietta, Ga., company they cofounded produces and sells hair, skin and body products made with Jamaican black castor oil and other all-natural ingredients. When Michael passed away in 2016, Hines centered herself once again in family, tradition and simplicity, and forged ahead on her own.
For all of its 25 years, Hines has grown the company slowly and steadily by relying on the simple recipes, staple products and all-natural ingredients she knows and trusts, while shunning trends of the moment. That philosophy has paid off — literally. In 2016, Hines says she and her 15 employees sold more than 2 million bottles of shampoo, body butter, bath gel and more, pulling in more than $5 million in revenue.
That’s not to say Tropic Isle Living hasn’t adapted over the years — as technology has advanced and social media has become increasingly prevalent, for example, it has adjusted its sales and marketing techniques. But Hines’ grounded worldview and deep ties to tradition are what have seen her and her company through many ups and downs — and she says the guidance of her family members is “running through our veins.”
Finding a Creative Opportunity
“I’ve always been interested in fashion and beauty,” Hines says, and had rather eclectic taste. “I remembered my mother saying to me when I was 8, ‘Why do you always dress so different?’ I didn’t know — I just liked what I liked.”
But she modeled the women in her family when it came to other beauty matters. She recalls her grandmother frequently using Jamaican black castor oil in her hair, as well as aloe vera, eggs and other natural products. And whenever she went to the beach, she heeded her mother’s advice and rubbed sand on her feet and skin as a natural exfoliant.
She took these tips with her when she moved to the United States at the age of 16, settling in the Bronx borough of New York City for college and taking on side jobs to pay the bills. She also met her husband around that time — though they didn’t begin dating until two years later.
Indeed, Hines was more focused on her career than love. As one of eight kids, she says she was taught a strong work ethic at a young age, and “I thank my mother to this day” for that, she says. She carried other parts of her past with her, too. “I still had amazing fashion sense, and still had Jamaican black castor oil in my hair.”
In college, she began experimenting with hair conditioners and mixing in essential oils for better results. At first, Hines would give away her creations for free to any friends or loved ones who wanted them. Her husband, however, had a different idea. “He said, ‘Are you crazy? You should sell it!’”
After she earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Lehman College and married Michael in 1991, the couple launched Tropic Isle Living in 1992 with $50 and a single gallon of black castor oil. They whipped up products in their kitchen and stored them in a bedroom.
Though they had very few resources to work with, Hines was hopeful. “At the time, I was so convicted and loved what we did and knew the product worked.” That belief would carry the company to success — and see her through rough patches, too.
Trust and Patience Amid Change and Loss
Growth was slow at first, Hines recalls. Tropic Isle Living launched well before all-natural beauty products were in high demand. American consumers weren’t the only skeptics she encountered, either. “My family thought I was crazy, and that my husband was a bad influence on me,” she laughs. “They thought I was going to Hell, and Michael was leading me there.”
Initially, the company focused on cultivating a local fan base — first in the Bronx, and then in Marietta, where the couple moved in 2004 after having two children. But then the internet came along and, with it, a whole new world of far-flung clients. To keep up with suddenly increased demand, she acquired farmland in Jamaica. Today, Tropic Isle Living has three farms where it grows the castor seeds and other ingredients it needs.
Powered by its newfound reach, Tropic Isle Living continued to grow. Today, Hines sources ingredients from that farmland in Jamaica, produces products in a warehouse near her home, and sells them online and in brick-and-mortar retailers in the United States, France, Nigeria, Colombia and many other countries around the world. Its products have also been featured on BET and in many international news outlets and beauty blogs.
“I’ve seen so many ebbs, flows and changes,” she says. Whenever the business hit a bump, she always grounded herself in tradition, reminding herself in tough times to “stay in your lane, and stay true to who you are.”
That foundation was crucial, Hines says, when Michael passed away in August, 2016 after battling with neuroblastoma, a cancer of the adrenal glands. It was a profound loss, she says. He was “not just a husband, but a mentor, teacher, guide and friend” who instilled in her the patience that has enabled her to manage a long-lasting, slow-growing venture — which she now does on her own.
“In spite of everything — losing my husband, my life partner — I still had the courage to go on. I’m just trying to stay positive, surround myself with good people, and give back as much as I can.”
The Road Ahead
Today, Hines feels optimistic about the future of her company. She says she is forging more deals with retailers to get Tropic Isle Living on more shelves. She is also investing in more farmland in Jamaica to grow the crops to accommodate an ever-rising number of orders — presently, she says the company has orders for more product than it has been able to make.
Tropic Isle Living’s commitment to tradition is a big part of what attracts customers, she says. “We don’t do any trends — we walk to the beat of our own drum.” Its dedication to all-natural products has also proven a wise business move, she adds, citing rising sales.
The entrepreneur, now 48 and a single mother to teenagers, wants to push Tropic Isle Living to new heights. “The world is Tropic Isle Living’s oyster,” she says, adding: “I’m so excited about our future — being innovative and creative while staying true to who we are. I’m not ever going to look back.”
Posted: October 10, 2017