Atlanta-area mom of 5 turns hobby into health and wellness empire

As a mother of five and business owner, Janell Stephens has always led a busy life. When she did have free time, she often spent it in the kitchen.

Natural ingredients were an important part of the vegan meals she whipped up and they were also the basis for the skin care products she created to address the diaper rash and eczema that her children were experiencing. "I was just trying to create safe products for myself and my family," Stephens said.

As a therapist who owned and operated a home health agency with 55 employees in her native Louisiana, Stephens had always been invested in healthy living. Her kitchen creations began to evolve and in 2010 she took them outside of her home to the public. Things took off very quickly, she said.

"It was my hobby and it evolved into (a business) right before my eyes very quickly. When it started happening, I was very excited and I welcomed it," she said. "When I got that first call from Target I was surprised. I was like, 'Am I really here?'"

Camille Rose Naturals is now in more than 600 stores including Target, Wal-Mart, Sally Beauty, CVS, Whole Foods and more. The full product line includes hair care as well as a skin care range that will also hit Target stores in December.  Stephens, who now resides just outside of Atlanta, has found the metro-area to be the perfect place to nurture her business.

Having access to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport means she can go out-of-town for meetings and make it back home in time for dinner. In addition, she has found many resources in the city from shippers and suppliers to other companies in the beauty and personal-care industry.

During those early struggles to solve her children's skin care concerns, doctors would tell Stephens to start reading labels. She would read the labels on products and google anything she didn't understand. She would also consult her physician husband.

Though she has made the biggest splash in the world of natural hair care, Stephens said at the time when she was creating her formulas, she wasn't even aware there was a natural hair movement going on.

"I was producing hair and body products that are focused on natural ingredients and the hair care products took off," she said. "That whole world embraced my products and my brand. Back then I don’t know if people thought that going natural was a fad. We definitely proved them wrong."

When her products got national distribution through Target, Stephens viewed it as a great opportunity to spread her message of total wellness and natural living.

"I saw this opportunity as a way for me to educate the consumer about natural ingredients and how it is so important for us to label read and use products that whenever we put them on our hair and body, it is safe for our body to absorb.  They (Target) have helped me raise awareness," she said.

Four of the company's best-selling products include Sweet Ginger Cleansing Rinse, Algae Renew Deep Conditioner, Curl Maker and Almond Jai Twisting Butter. Each feature a range of natural ingredients including aloe vera leaf juice, coconut oils, ginger, almond milk and more.

Stephens makes it clear that despite her products moving from her kitchen to store shelves at mass retailers, her commitment to natural ingredients hasn't changed. It was a challenge at times for her to find partners that had the same beliefs that she does.

"These are my formulas that I started in my kitchen. Many ingredients are food grade. A lot of labs don’t want to touch that. They want to go the cheaper route. I had to really fight for that and fight until I found someone who shared that same vision," she said. "I refused to let them change my formula. The formulas that you see on the shelves are the same formulas I would make in my kitchen."

Now with almost a decade in the business, Stephens has her eye on product expansions. A new body line featuring soaps and body care made with organic honey, will hit Target stores later this year. The company is also working to bring Camille Rose Home products to market, she said.

While the company is growing, so are the five children who served as her inspiration. They are avid users of Camille Rose Naturals (the boys go for Curl Maker, a hair setting gel while her daughter likes Fresh Curl, a leave-in conditioner, she said) but they are also learning important life lessons.

"It has been a great feeling for them to see that whatever you set your mind to and pray about and set your heart on, can come to pass," Stephens said.

Just as natural hair became a trend that proved to be more than a trend, Stephens said the time has come for total wellness to experience the same transition.

"I think the natural consumer is wanting more and the natural consumer is smart," Stephens said. "She knows this lifestyle does not stop at this outer appearance. It is the inside that is important as well."

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone
Nedra Rhone
Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.