The Bittersweet Success Of Tropical Isle Living
By Ryan Velez
Lois Hines’ business history started in 1992, when she co-founded Tropic Isle Living, a line of natural hair and skin products made with castor oil and other organic ingredients. Since then, the brand has grown into a multimillion-dollar business that has helped shape the natural hair movement. Today, it is sold at two major retailers, Walmart.com and Burlington. But today, she has to do it without her business partner and husband, who died of brain cancer. Black Enterprise caught up to Hines to talk about her success.
Hines found inspiration for her business in her own Jamaican upbringing. I think people of color sometimes forget our forefathers, our grandmothers, [and] those who come before us,” she told Black Enterprise. “When it comes to hardships and struggles, they got it right. They lived the best life that they could with the herbs that they had provided [to] them.” After meeting her husband Michael, they started by selling castor oil, and the rest is history. “We started with $50, that’s how much a gallon of Jamaican Black Castor Oil cost, and it all came from our personal salaries and savings,” says Hines, who carried the gallon of castor oil in her suitcase back to the states. “It was not money that really drove us, it was the fact that we wanted to provide good, healthy, natural products to people.” Part of makes this most notable is the fact that Hines was so ahead of the trend with her work.
“We were natural before natural was hot. We were so natural that my daughters, sisters, and even my mother thought we were crazy,” Hines said with a laugh. “The movement grew slowly and it caught fire. People now understand it does not matter how long you live, it’s the quality of life you live.”
Even without her beloved husband, Hines sees the future as bright. “The sky is the limit,” she says. Nonetheless, she admits “each milestone I make without [Michael] is definitely bittersweet. But I know wherever he is—and I know he went to a good place because he was such a good man, a good father, a good friend, a good mentor to me, because I knew him since I was 16 [years old] he kind of groomed me—I know he is sitting somewhere just watching and smiling.”
She added, “It’s the good that we do on this earth, the legacy that we leave behind, the people that we touch, the things we do for each other, that is what drives me. That is and was the core of who Michael was as a partner. And it is what I’m trying to impart [to] my employees and my children: do all the good that you can in all the ways you can just as long as you can.”