There isn’t much you can say to Jeannell Darden that will throw her off her game. You can say it’s because she has a crown on her head that’s impenetrable. And it has everything to do with the fact that she wakes up every day praying before she spends her day making savvy business moves.
Darden holds a bachelor’s in industrial and systems engineering with a focus on economic decision analysis from The Georgia Institute of Technology. She’s had extensive experience in the consumer products, real estate, and business management consulting industries. With the support of her husband Lance, of eight years, she exchanged her professional career to rear their three children — Zariah, Zaya and Zachariah — and launch a business.
She’s always been passionate about two things: beauty and entrepreneurship. She made the decision to stop chemically treating her hair in 2005 and recognized a void in the natural hair care industry and began researching and developing her moisturizing product line. After years of research and development, Moisture Love previously Coco Curls launched in Atlanta in March 2016.
Moisture Love is a collection of products that offer a higher degree of moisturizer for women with textured hair. The brand is a platform that empowers women to confidently embrace their beauty, starting with building a loving relationship with their hair. Think of Moisture Love as your hair’s new hydration infatuation.
Here. Darden talks innovation, risks and rewards.
As a Black woman, what do you consider your superpower to be?
My superpower is my mental resolve to succeed. I believe as a Black woman, I haven’t been given the same “passes” in society to make mistakes, be emotional, desire help. I’ve been in situations where I felt that I was mistreated solely because of my skin color. I’ve been given less information, resources, and time, and then still expected to exceed expectations. Things like my physique and hairstyle have been called into question when it had nothing to do with my intellect and ability to perform. As Black women, we have to show up and show out and leave all our emotions at the door; but do it gracefully with a smile.
What key skills or qualities make you unique as an African American female leader?
I believe there is value, strength, and perspective gained from growing up with less than a silver spoon.I started my first business in the fifth grade, to raise money for a school field trip that my parents couldn’t afford. It makes me resourceful, less wasteful and driven to succeed to a level beyond my parents. As a Black woman, I know that a large majority of my people have far [fewer] assets than our counterparts, this fact has a created a genuine drive within me to see that change. All of my interns and employees have to submit short term and long term goals so that we can create a plan to help them reach their personal and professional goals outside of my company.
What thoughtful or encouraging piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell her to trust herself more and stop worrying about what other people think. I’ve learned over the years that what other people think of me is none of my business, therefore I shouldn’t worry myself with their thoughts.
Why is it important for women of color to lead or work in leadership roles and decision-making capacities?
I think it’s important for many reasons. I believe that little girls of color need to see representation beyond what they see on TV, in their neighborhoods, and what other people limit them to accomplishing. I also think women of color offer a different perspective. We’re capable of making quick hard decisions, pushing through obstacles, getting the job done with minimal resources all while nurturing our families and communities. Women of color are an invaluable resource to any sector in which we’re grossly underutilized.
If you could thank any Black woman history maker for her contributions to society, who would it be and why?
I would absolutely thank Madam CJ Walker. I’m not sure that I would be doing this if it weren’t for her. I read the book written about her On Her Own Ground and was so inspired by all the obstacles she had to overcome in her life. She didn’t allow challenges, or “lack” keep her from pushing forward. I would tell her I appreciate her paving the way and empowering so many to earn a living in a time where there weren’t many jobs for women of color beyond housekeeping and caretaking. I think of her story often, and am working on ways to create a similar salesforce of likeminded women that can all win!
Why is it important for seasoned and experienced Black women to reach back and help younger women of color?
Society is changing, the rules are changing, what was acceptable then may not pass now. Too many of our young women are being raised by TV because more mothers are in the workforce today than ever before. When seasoned Black women make it, we all need to clear a path for another to come right behind. It’s crucial to our long-term success and perception in all industries. There is always an inside playbook, and when we see another sister coming up, it’s imperative that we share it. I’ve been blessed over the years to have had what I call a “sponsor” in every company that I worked for. This wasn’t an organized program, but other Black women who saw something special enough in me to reach back. I’ve appreciated it, and plan to pay it forward.
How do you feel about the hashtag #CollaborationOverCompetition? What qualities or values do you deem indispensable in your business partners or collaborators?
I actually wasn’t familiar with it before this interview but did some research and I love it! I’ve grown my business through collaboration. There have been other women that could be deemed competitors that have offered advice and resources to help me grow. My dad used to tell me, lighting someone else’s candle doesn’t dim my light, it only makes it stronger. I’m looking for like-minded business partners that share the same values on life and family along with good business ethics. We have to be growing in the same direction and willing to share. Some people pretend to like collaboration just so they can harvest but have no intention of sowing. Those aren’t my type of people.
What are your thoughts on taking risks? Making mistakes?
Risks are absolutely necessary. There truly is no reward without the risk. Comfort is the No. 1 hindrance to progress. If you’re not willing to get uncomfortable, you’re not willing to grow. I think a mistake is only a mistake if you don’t learn something from it and adjust. If it teaches you a lesson, then it was beneficial and necessary. Another quote from my dad is that a 10 percent mistake at $100K is just $10K but that same 10 percent mistake at $1M is now $100K. Don’t make the same mistakes over again, and work on decreasing your margin of error.
What are three success habits you implement into your daily routine to maintain your success, sanity, peace of mind, etc.?
1. I start my day reading God’s word and with prayer. I then meditate on what I expect my day to look and feel like asking God to order and direct my steps. There is a clear difference in the flow of my day when I start it this way.
2. I’m learning to carve out “whitespace” to just visualize and sit in my thoughts. I actually accomplish more this way.
3. Self-care — I give myself one hour daily to go to the gym and or do yoga. I take time to soak in the tub multiple times a week, and on Wednesdays, I try to either schedule lunch with a friend or treat myself to something that I want to do for a couple hours. These mental breaks are stress relieving and help me power through my week.
As a successful woman in business, what is your greatest or proudest achievement?
I’m most proud that I’ve grown this business while raising children, namely my daughters being able to see their mom succeed. I remember looking up to my mom and am so happy to see that my girls want to be entrepreneurs, and they think out of the box. I want their minds to stay free, and I want them to always believe in that they can do and go wherever they want.
Who is your biggest inspiration? Why?
Both of my parents. They’ve each been through a lot. They are both [verging on] the age of retirement and neither is where they want or need to be financially, however, they keep pushing through the odds. My dad has been my mentor in recent years and his wisdom has been an invaluable guide. My mother is always my discerning ear, and she supports me as mother and wife.
If you could have any person in the world become your mentor, who would you choose and why?
I would choose Michelle Obama. I really admire her grace and strength. I can’t imagine how tough it was being in the white house all those years and supporting Barack the way that she did. In addition to supporting and uplifting him, she was a leader in her own right; and as far as I can tell an excellent mother as well. I’d like a mentor [who] can speak to succeeding in all three categories of life.
How do you define innovation?
Taking the road less traveled. I tell my Moisture Love team if the crowd is going left, we’re going to forge a path to the right. In forging that path, we have to find a solution to the problem, before the consumer even realizes that the problem exists. That’s innovation and that takes courage!