Richelieu Dennis is an American businessman and philanthropist. He cofounded Sundial Brands, intending to make cosmetic products for black consumers.
Richelieu Dennis attributes his achievements to his family, particularly his grandmother, whose shea butter formula inspired him to start his own business.
When he received a college scholarship, Richelieu didn’t know it would lead to the beginning of his business success. His mother, an expert in shea butter products, used to supply him with the materials, which he would then sell to his classmates at Babson College. Richelieu later used the money earned for personal upkeep.
Why Shea Butter?
Despite operating a thriving company in cosmetics and personal care products, his goal was to return to Liberia after finishing his studies and citrus farming. He decided to concentrate on shea butter primarily because it’s one of the fundamental cultural commodities in the country.
Liberians have used shea butter to protect themselves from the sun for centuries. Richelieu identified an untapped potential gap with little to no commercialization of the use of shea butter products.
Venturing Into a Street Vending Business
The college-survival gig evolved into a street vending business after Richelieu’s mother came to the U.S. for her son’s graduation. Rich Dennis began making a variety of shea butter products, such as incense and soap, with his mother’s help, and displaying them for sale in Harlem, 125th street, Fifth Avenue.
Breaking Out and Standing Out
Although there were many street vendors at this time, Richelieu believed most lacked the level of education he attained at Babson. Rich Dennis applied his college education in increasing sales by delivering products to his customers. The delivery service evolved to supply flea markets and county fairs. Richelieu Dennis and his business partner considered venturing into the retail route after months of selling at health food stores.
From a Street Vendor to a Retail Owner
It took Richelieu Dennis 16 years to move from street vending to retail. After graduating in 1991, he began working with his best friend (Nyema Tubman) and his mother (Mary Dennis). They all founded Sundial Brands, where he served as CEO and chairman until December 2019. During his leadership, Sundial experienced significant growth and expanded its cosmetics line.
Rich Dennis currently holds four job positions. In 2017, he founded Essence Ventures LLC, a consumer technology company. He also founded SheaMoisture and serves as the CEO of New Voices Fund.
Sundial Promotes Black Beauty in Fashion Trends
Sundial Brands’ mission is to provide inclusive and natural beauty products to underprivileged ethnicities in the United States. Sundial’s SheaMoisture focuses on reclaiming black female beauty as the narrative. In a recent campaign dubbed “It Comes Naturally,” SheaMoisture honored black culture by incorporating the work of female artists who referenced natural hair and black beauty.
Sundial’s Community Commerce
Richelieu’s interest in improving people’s welfare led to the establishment of Sundial’s Community Commerce investments. This benefited millions of people across the company’s global supply chain.
In the United States, the company’s projects resulted in improved infrastructure, healthcare, higher wages, safer workplaces, education, and entrepreneurial opportunities. Due to these efforts, Sundial Brands has received many accreditations, like Fair for Life and B Corp certifications.
New Voices Fund
Richelieu Dennis invented the $100 million New Voices after a partnership between Unilever and Sundial Brands. The fund’s goal is to empower and invest in black women entrepreneurs.
Social Mission Board
Richelieu Dennis stepped down as CEO of Sundial Brands in December 2019. After partnering with Unilever, he began promoting the Community Commerce concept.
Richelieu is a perfect example of an entrepreneur who believes in transforming people’s lives through philanthropic actions. His success from humble beginnings is inspirational to the world.
Richelieu Dennis: Incorporating Philanthropy in Business