Black History Month Spotlight – Richelieu Dennis
To celebrate Black History Month, we’re taking a look at Richelieu Dennis and his journey from Liberia to America where he would go on to create the highly successful beauty company, Sundial.
In 1987, as his home country of Liberia was entering civil unrest, Richelieu Dennis was accepted into Babson College, Massachusetts where he would start his journey to becoming an entrepreneur.
Dennis’s first look into the entrepreneurial world was during college, where to make ends meet, he started selling shea butter to his classmates. Shea butter was a product used in Liberian communities for centuries for the protection of their skin and other uses.
It was always Dennis’s intent to take his education back to Liberia and become a citrus farmer but as things worsened in Liberia, the move to the US became a permanent one. In fact, Richelieu’s mother came to visit for his graduation and was able to get the last flight out of Monrovia as the rebel forces were invading the capital city. And by the time his mother had landed in New York, her home had been destroyed from mass bombings.
Evolving the product offerings beyond just shea butter; soaps and incense were added to his product offerings and Richelieu would set up a card table on Harlem’s 125th Street and Fifth Avenue, where he started selling those products, all the while waiting for things to calm down in Liberia… little did they know this conflict would rage on for almost 20 years.
With so many people setting up card tables, trying to sell products, Dennis knew they needed to offer a point of difference. Back then, beepers were the thing and so he utilized the beeper to offer delivery to vendors and evolved to supplying flea markets and country fairs, and from there, supplying health food stores.
It was this exposure to the supply stores and their daily face-to-face interactions with their customers that had Dennis thinking about moving into retail too. It was evident that the Black community was not being serviced properly at the retail store level. The products were limited, in poor positioning on the sales floor, making it hard to find… making the Black female consumer having to visit multiple stores to be able to buy the full range of beauty products she wanted.
Dennis knew that Sundial brands could offer the right consumer experience and products that the Black community needed and as a result, would change the way retail beauty would look forever in the US. No longer do you see the products for Black female consumers in a poor position on the sales floor or limited in their offerings.
To further cement Sundial’s effort to assure the consumer that the company’s core values align with their own, Sundial is B Corp and Fair Trade certified.
After saying no to a long list of companies looking to buy Sundial, Dennis finally agreed to sit down with Unilever. It was through these meetings that it was apparent that Unilever wanted to maintain the company values and be able to grow this awareness and shape the retail market for women on a global stage. They wanted to include countries such as West Africa, Turkey, South Africa, the Philippines, Jamaica, and Haiti, through their distribution network.
While still the CEO of Sundial, Richelieu Dennis is also focused on supporting businesses owned by Black women by starting his New Voices fund, a $100 million fund that aims to raise awareness and support to see around 7 cents of every investment dollar, go to woman-of-color businesses.