I sat patiently awaiting for a return call from Barbara Jacques, owner of the all-natural skin, bath, and body care company Jacq's Organics.
I listened as she situated her 5-year-old daughter so that she could get back to our call, poised and unbothered. With tender, yet stern care, Barbara took the time to answer her questions, tend to a bruise, and redirect her playfulness, while also making it clear to her young daughter that she was in the middle of an important conversation. Essentially, her daughter's presence was just as powerful as the story she told about how her birth led her onto her current path of incredible success.
Barbara's story often starts with the number one traumatic event in her life that just so happens to be the thing that fertilized the idea: she was pregnant…but she also had an ovarian tumor. Upon hearing that, I learned quickly that her story, just like her products, is more complex than it appeared.
To begin, her choice to create her line of products didn't come overnight. In fact, it didn't come without turmoil. In 2009, Barbara married her longtime boyfriend, James. But by the end of 2010, they both had become both elated by the news of being pregnant, and ailed by the horror of a possibly fatal diagnosis.
After being rest assured that the developing baby was out of harm's way, she was hoping that she was out of harm's way too.
She had a tumor over her left ovary, roughly the same size.
“So I got in my car. I call my husband and I just start bawling. I have this tumor. I'm pregnant. I'm in my 20s. My life just started, you know? What is going on? I was scared."
Scared and confused, Barbara and her husband decided to leave Orlando to return to her roots in Miami. “I was researching, reading medical journals, trying to figure out what was going on. And during that time, I was like, 'I'm going to fight. I can't allow the situation to dictate me. I have this baby [growing inside of me], I'm not going through all of this for no reason'. That's what I kept saying to myself and that's when I kind of felt a calming peace come over me to say, 'It's gon' be alright.' I would pray and I would ask my mom to be with me throughout the time."
Photo by: John Catignas
Barbara's mother Mary had passed away over a decade and a half prior to the health scare, but it wasn't her physical presence that she was seeking. “She has a really big influence on who I am today," said Barbara, adding, “I say has because I feel like she's still with me." At 15-years-old, Jacques had lost both her mother and father - both emigrants from Haiti - within five months of each other. Subsequently, she lost all desire to continue excelling in school. “My mom was in the back of my head saying, 'You have to have more,'" she said, referring to her battle with depression as she crawled her way through high school.
But this time was different. In the face of her diagnosis, Barbara wasn't looking for validation or strength - she had already possessed those things - now, she was just in need of support.
Barbara found a way to save her baby, herself, and her family by becoming educated on the food and product industries in America, as well as healing herbs. She came to find that the natural remedies her mom taught her as a child, were more than just a part of her family rituals.
“I laugh now, but it was misery for me," she recalled of the formative years she spent being forced to use plants and vegetables as ails to her puberty-ridden skin. “My mom always had this clear, toned skin, she was always even, one color. People would always [compliment her]. But she took care of it."
Her mother wished the same beauty for her daughter's dark skin tone and would make her do things like go into the yard to cut up aloe, scrub it on her face, and drink another piece of it to help rid of pimples and blemishes. "The more I researched later on, I realized that it actually is natural vitamin A, zinc, and beta carotene that helped give dark skin a natural glow. [It] helped with aging, wrinkles, acne, blemishes - and the aloe, which is actually mineral water - is healing, hydrating."
Naturally, these ingredients - in addition to almond - are now the base ingredients to all of her products.
Photo by: John Catignas
Growing up a dark-skinned girl in Miami had its challenges, too. Learning to care for her skin and her hair assisted in her journey of learning to love and admire herself more. For Jacq's Organics, education is not only the motive, but the standard. When you visit the website, not only can you learn about your skin-type, how the product is made, and the daily routines you need for your age range, but also nuggets of information that you're not going to find just anywhere.
“We absorb everything we put on our skin through our bloodstream. Eating natural foods is not enough. Slathering toxins on your skin just doesn't make any sense."
More than a passion, but a way of life, Barbara found her life transformed into a vegetarian life-style with a vegan brand. But the transformation didn't happen immediately.
“I already shopped at farmer's markets because I was a very conscious buyer, but the more I researched, [I realized] everything in my refrigerator was soy. I learned that it mimics estrogen and that was feeding my thyroid." From hummus and chickpeas to chicken and white rice, Barbara learned - and spread the word - that her food choices were killing her.
“And then I look, and I have this make-up artist display of products in my closet," she continued. “I have bags of MAC make-up, Estee Lauder, Clinique…it was crazy. I just started throwing my stuff away, and that's when, for me, when I felt that sense of calmness."
Those products - the ones she placed in her hair and on her skin - were causing equal amounts of damage to her health. And just like over 70% of all beauty products catering to Black women, they included “the dirty dozen". “The dirty dozen is basically a list of 12 common ingredients that you will find in, not just skin and hair products, but also in food that are a no-no," Barbara explained. “They're linked to cancer, birth defects, ovarian issues, stuff that has harmful side effects. But it's ingredients, preservatives, and products that are basically in everyday [items] that we don't even think about. Everything from toothpaste to clothes, canned goods, sugar, milk - everything."
Like most people, this was news to Barbara. Her infatuation with those products had begun nearly 10 years prior, when she made the decision to leave Miami for Orlando. “There's something about moving away from home and having to live on your own. It kind of shapes you into being - to think independently," she said. “Within six months, on January 5th, 2000, I went natural - I shaved my hair off. So when I would go back home to Miami people would be like, 'Girl what is wrong with you? Somebody broke your heart? You gay now? What's going on?' And I'm like, 'No this is more me learning about myself - exploring.'
"Miami was still about the quick weaves and getting your hair done every two weeks and that high maintenance life. And me, I was like in an environment where nobody knew me. It was a beautiful thing because then I learned about loving Barbara for who she was."
Photo by: John Catignas
Barbara began playing with natural soap formulas to create alternatives for her and her family - not only to save her skin, but to save her life. “It was therapy for me because, here I was, middle of the day, can't go anywhere [on bed rest], can only walk 30 minutes a day, and it just became peace for me because it was a way for me to heal my body, my mind, and my spirit in a sense."
Spending the bulk of her time home alone, sick, and barely keeping down food, she twiddled her thumbs and contemplated a solution. That began with finding the right doctor. “I think the only person I told close to me was my big brother, he's like my best friend. My close girlfriends knew some-thing was wrong and I didn't want to tell them I was pregnant. I eventually told my aunt and [I found out that my] doctor at the time was giving me some misinformation."
Her aunt - who also took over as matriarch following her mother's death - luckily stepped in with her nursing expertise. “'That could kill you,'" her aunt told her. “'We don't even know if we're going to make it through your pregnancy for birth. We don't even know if it's benign.'"
Barbara's doctor at the time was attempting to coax her into a vaginal birth, which in her state could potentially be very fatal. That's when Barbara found out that her mother had had a hysterectomy due to ovarian issues in her lifetime - a health conversation that they were never able to share. From there, she knew to seek out a gynecologist who specialized in ovarian care.
That was the missing key.
By the time her daughter reached full-term, she gave birth to her via C-section, and subsequently had the tumor removed immediately following. Both surgeries were a success and propelled her to her next move: expansion.
Photo by: John Catignas
By 2011, Barbara wasn't selling anything she made, but all the products she was making were in excess. After giving them away to her family and friends, she heard stories of them hiding their homemade pieces away from their own spouses to use in solitude. The response was that good. On a fluke, a girlfriend convinced her to sell her products at a Farmer's Market and she ended with nearly $600 in sales! From there, she started to think differently about keeping her products to herself. So, in 2012, she set up an official online shop and company. Pedaling quality work, peer and local engagement, as well as an in-demand product, Barbara spent her free time (literally in-between 16-hour or more workdays) to work on her company.
Although she did not appreciate the amount of time working for someone else caused her to spend away from her family, Barbara had a lot of love for her day job and wasn't quite ready to chuck the deuces to her “real job" in lieu of her hobby that was making a profit. Not just yet anyway. “It wasn't until I got this huge ass order that was bigger than my salaried paycheck. And I was just like, 'I think this is for the birds.'"
It was early 2015 when she decided to make the leap from Jacq's Organics acting as a side-hustle to being her full-blown new entrepreneurial career. When Barbara handed in her two weeks' notice, Jacq's Organics was being recognized locally as a growing, thriving business - and once she told the world her own story of triumph, so was she.
Falling into fear nearing the end of her job, Kareem Abdul-Jabar - a regular at the job's networking events - said something to her that has stuck with her to this day.
“He was like, 'God has a plan for you and you're on that plan, you're on that journey. Don't be afraid, it's going to be hard. Everything you need is inside of you.' And when he told me that, I had to walk off. I almost started crying because that's what I needed," she said, laughing joyously.
But it wasn't without preparation.
Photo by: John Catignas
With loyal customers, a growing newsletter, and an easy-to-navigate website, she was ready. “I was able to give my full attention because I'm not really into multitasking, I think it's a gimmick. When you give something your full attention, you start to see your work. That's when my customers doubled, I was getting a presence online, I was still networking, going to events, talking about my business, working with non-for-profit organizations. I was able to be present, complete-ly there. And the transition for me, that aha moment, was when I got that first full [check]."
She was successful, so successful, in fact, that a year and a month to the date of walking away from her full-time corporate job, she was able to rent out her own separate space for her business and say goodbye to using her kitchen for home and work.
From being known as her mother's daughter to stepping into her own light in her mother's name and later manifesting her journey for the love she has of her own daughter, Barbara's life and continuously growing legacy is a testament to time and true liberation.