Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashley Duverneau.
Hi Ashley, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
My name is Ashley Duverneau and I am a 27-year-old first-generation Haitian-American entrepreneur. I officially began this journey in February 2019, while completing my final semester of graduate school at the University of Maryland College Park.
I began developing and manufacturing my recipe creation 3 years prior to launching my business for my personal hair and skin needs due to my lifelong conditions, such as eczema and severe dandruff. After becoming frustrated with the cost and lack of luster of using store-bought lotions and creams, I began to do my research. Using my Biology degree and ethnic background I managed to develop a formula for body butter (Krém) that sooted my skincare needs.
At first, Krém was made in small batches for me and my family, then it progressed when my mother began sharing the body butter with co-workers and selling it at her job. The demand grew and grew, and in a few years, I launched Krém au Krém, LLC. I wasn’t confident that it would last or people aside from close friends and family would support my handmade products, but in only 2 weeks, I sold out of my entire supply inventory for my soft launch. In the last year and a half, my brand has expanded to about 10 products for men, women, and children.
My products are unique because they are made with the experience and background of a “scientist” (BS in Biology and French) with a master’s education in Public Health. This means that I place a lot of caution, care, and forethought into the products I create to ensure they are safe, without testing them on animals, or using toxins or preservatives to enhance the longevity of a natural, organic product.
With my career experiences in manufacturing, compliance, and regulatory affairs within pharmaceutical companies, I’ve implemented sterile practices, FDA compliance expectations, and regulatory experiences in my home-based facility to ensure that each item sold and or received by a customer is at its purest, cleanest state to prevent contamination and increase shelf life.
Krém au Krém is Haitian Kreyol for “Cream of Creams”
Krem is the term Haitians use to describe lotion or creams, it’s the core to the creation of my first product..body butter; and now Krem is the center of my life. It’s grown to be bigger than me, and I hope that I can expand the brand, own a manufacturing facility of my own, and employ young people like myself in the not too distant future.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Although the road hasn’t been long, it hasn’t always been smooth. I say this because I am young, and not a natural saleswoman. Funny story, I actually was fired from my first job (sales) because I had the lowest numbers in sales. So as you could imagine, fear and anxiety were the biggest setbacks for me in the beginning. I knew I had a great product and that people would love it once they tried it, but I didn’t like to push or force the hands of a stranger.
At first, my sales gave the appearance that I had consistent customers, but then I realized that those customers were people who knew me personally or through a family member. Once that population had supported my small business, I was selling maybe a few jars a week. At the time, I wasn’t thrilled with my business’ sales performance, but my personal life priorities were elsewhere; I had a full-time job and I was finishing graduate school.
Shortly afterward, life hit, I lost my job and was unemployed for 4 consecutive months. Surprisingly, that was the best blessing in disguise I had ever received. This gave me the opportunity to focus most of my time on Krem au Krem, LLC. During that time I developed a webpage on my own, I hosted the first-ever Krem Party at my home to showcase the webpage’s launch, and I began attending local vendor events in the DMV in hopes of getting more exposure.
The more I attended vendor events at the end of 2019 the more I learned, I learned how to approach potential customers, what keywords to use, what intel they typically like to know, suggestions for future events, and of course plenty of networking opportunities with other small business owners. The more shows I did the more confident I became in introducing and speaking out about my brand. I learned how to sell my brand to a wider audience without stepping out of my moral beliefs on forced sales.
Once I became employed again… COVID-19 just began spreading in Asia. Fortunately, I hadn’t booked events that far into 2020, and ironically the last show was around Krem au Krem’s 1 year birthday (February 2020). That event was not only disappointing but eye-opening. I learned that not all vendor events are really worth the time, money, and travel expenses to attend. There were a few events where the vending fee outweighed the revenue made and I decided to reevaluate my approach to exposing my brand.
I thought to re-strategize my marketing approach to more of a remote, social distant/social media methodology in hopes to push my online sales. Once COVID-19 spread to the USA in March, I was forced to quarantine due to my father contracting the disease. Aside from it, being an emotionally crazy time (trying to nurse my dad back to health in a quarantined home, while working from home, and trying to run a small business) my father was quarantined in the part of the home where I stored all my inventory, equipment, supplies, etc. (the basement).
So technically when the country was under a lockdown, so were my operations. Instead of producing, I used this time to research how I could grow my social media presence and gain new customers through ads and posts. This spiked my online sales and taught me how to be multifaceted when it comes to supply and demand. With social media, there is demand for both products, as well as good marketing content.
By saying that, I have learned that sharing what’s happening behind the scenes is a great thing. People love to see what goes behind their orders, they love to be informed all the time, and they love that they can access all of this without leaving their homes.
After Mother’s day in May, I would normally stop selling body butter (it melts at 75-degree temperature) to ensure the quality of the product. I would rather halt the item for production until the fall than have disappointed customers unsatisfied with their purchase. But, the demand for body butter grew, to the point where I had to improvise as a business owner. I updated my webpage and added the option for local pickup or delivery of body butter.
This alteration was another milestone in my business. I would collect orders throughout the week and then deliver them (with the accompaniment of my wonderful fiance) on Saturdays and or Sundays every weekend. I had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people who have found me online, and I have grown to appease a more customer satisfaction-based brand.
Unfortunately, my website domain has a few loopholes, a new customer from Orlando, Florida saw my post on Facebook and ordered a large amount of products, many of which were body butter. Knowing that Florida is extremely hot in the summer, I texted and emailed this young woman and asked her if she would mind if I exchanged her items for different products or simply tried my best to preserve the items she ordered through shipping.
She responded and said she’d take them as they came regardless, so I tested out my first summer body butter shipment in the heat. With a little research and added supplies for temperature regulation, her items arrived perfectly. This allowed me the confidence to place my original product (Krem: Body butter) back on my eCommerce webpage for international shipping all year round!
Developing a new shipping method (24 hrs freezing; insulated mailers; frozen gel packs) has allowed me to break all limitations to what I thought I could do this year for my company.
No smooth road is a story worth talking about, repeating, or listening to. So in hindsight, I am fortunate for all these roadblocks, setbacks, and life adjustments because I am farther than I had imagined I would have been at this point a year ago.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
Krem au Krem, LLC is a woman-owned, home-based small black-owned business. I would say it’s somewhat of a family business at the moment, but it is mostly running and operated by the CEO and Founder, Ashley Duverneau. Kim began as a solution to a lifelong problem of mine; dry skin, scalp, etc. I’ve had eczema for as long as I can remember.
Honestly, the first real doctor’s visit I can recall was about my skin rashes and what we (my mother and I) could use or do to prevent or control this problem. When I was a kid I remember never being able to use “regular” products for my skin or hygiene needs; ie deodorant, lotion, soaps, laundry detergent, etc.
My mother always had to purchase Eucerin and other unscented soaps and things so my skin wouldn’t react.
When I was in college, I became more aware of the active ingredients and science overall in most skincare products, and I began doing my own natural research. I had done “the big chop”, and this was my first time being completely independent, so I thought why not try things out. I began experimenting with oils and their properties for my hair type (4C), after still being very dissatisfied with the “natural” hair products’ dry results.
Upon graduation, I was gifted with some natural skincare products from a friend, and after using the body butter, soap, and oil I had thought to myself… I could probably make this myself. After buying some ingredients, I began to test out different body butter recipes for myself and my family. After trying different ingredients, methods, containers, etc, I finally found the perfect way to make my skin happy without it taking the fun out of hygiene.
I had finally found a solution to enjoying getting dressed and going out because before it was always a very boring process, nothing ever smelled good or felt good, and now it did. Now I can finally feel like a normal girl.
My mother, being such a proud mom, started selling my little mason jars of Krem to her colleagues and friends. I began to collect suggestions and fragrance requests from them, and my mom helped me by giving me my first mixer and essential oils from Amazon. At the same time I had transitioned to a manufacturing position in my personal life, where I had acquired the tools for preparing, creating, and final packaging a clean FDA regulated product.
I learned how to create labels, inspect for errors, particulates, and contaminates, as well as package, label, and store the final product for shipment. As I grew in my role as a manufacturer I gained the confidence in branding myself.
After collaborating with a friend to get a logo made, gathering my ingredients, and ordering my materials for packaging and branding, I decided to launch Krem au Krem, LLC on the last day of Black History Month 2019 (February 28, 2019). In the first two weeks, I was sold out of all the supplies I had purchased for my small launch, that’s when I realized I needed to order items in bulk.
Since then, the brand has grown from the one unscented body butter to now multiple scented kinds of butter, oils, scrubs, soaps, and more! Krem au Krem, LLC is a growing brand whose aim is to promote healthy, youthful, and hydrated skin and hair. Using strictly plant-based ingredients that are great for sensitive skin, infant skin, scarred skin, and all skin. These products are made in mind to solve skin and hair issues that I, myself, or someone I know had to live with.
For example, I created this product called “Doule Hemp Body Butter”, which is pain-relieving body butter, originally with the intent to create a tattoo wholesale product for a fellow business owner that I knew. The product wasn’t what he wanted, so I gifted the jars I made to my grandmother and other family members. A few months later, my grandmother requested more for herself and her friends, because it relieved her arthritis pain.
Being so thrilled that she liked it, I added it to the product list. Now I can help other people with their aches and pains in a natural topical way.
Being plant-based, herbal, natural, and organic is exactly what Haitian culture exudes, and that’s what I want you to feel when you use Krem au Krem products. I want you to feel my culture; a sense of home and welcome. Your skin shouldn’t react or feel overwhelmed with unknown ingredients.
Your skin deserves to feel loved, to still have fun, and to smell amazing. Krem leaves your skin feeling like a fresh island tan all year round. It’s light enough to not be greasy but nourishing enough not to reapply often. It’s sensitive skins’ best-kept secret.
What sets my business apart, I would say from other homemaker businesses, is that the products are created with the intention to be dual purpose, they can be used for both your skin and hair. This allows the consumer to save money on products and cut down on waste while hydrating and meeting their needs.
I’ve always wanted my business to grow to become bigger than skincare and beauty, by giving back to the community. Last year, when Haiti was experiencing civil and political unrest, I thought that was the first place I want to help. After much prayer, and networking I finally saw that dream come true! As of March 1st of this year, I commenced a donation initiative, Krem Kares, whose aim is to give a soap bar for every soap bar purchased.
I did this by partnering with a non-profit organization, Soaring Unlimited Haiti which supports local clinics in northern Haiti, by supplying hygiene and sanitation products for women and children in need. This initiative will allow my hopes of Krem au Krem, LLC becoming bigger than skincare to come to light, by giving back to my community.
Giving people who can not afford clean skincare a chance to be clean.
Are there any apps, books, podcasts, blogs, or other resources you think our readers should check out?
The only book that truly helps me do my best in life is the Bible, not only because I am a Christain, but because there isn’t anything I am currently facing that another amazing biblical person in history hadn’t endured in a similar or parallel fashion.
When I get to those very trying moments in life where everything feels like it’s coming down on me, that’s when I remember Esther, Job, Sarah, David, Jesus, etc. Had to go through and I try to exude their demeanor, grace, and behavior in moments of frustration and stress.
Aside from that I pray and reflect through journaling which allows me to see my thoughts in writing. This gives me clarity on life situations and allows me to release feelings and thoughts that may cloud my judgment. Through social media networking.
I am also a member of a women’s business accountability group which has motivated my business pursuits and blessed me with a community of like-minded women who understand what I am feeling and going through. It helps to be able to relate to people that have either been where you are or are going through it simultaneously with you.
We also share tips and ideas/opportunities when they arise.
- Oils $8-15
- Soaps $5-7
- Whipped Body & Hair Butter $6-45
- Balms $3-10
- Body Scrubs $12
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: www.kremaukrem.com
- Instagram: @kremaukrem
- Facebook: @kremaukrem
- Twitter: @kremaukrem
- Other: https://poynt.godaddy.com/checkout/a41da4dd-8b87-4689-997a-15f3f906b8bf/kremkares