Meet the Black Female Entrepreneur Who Grew a Multi-Million-Dollar Business — Without a Dime in Venture Capital Funding

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Mother and business owner Crystal Etienne acknowledged being the “underdog” when she first launched her period-proof underwear line PantyProp, now known as Ruby Love, in 2015.

There were similar brands already on the market, but she didn’t let that stop her from going all in. Now, the entrepreneur’s unique undiees are making money hand over fist and earned her $100,000 in revenue in her first year — all without the help of investor dollars.

Ruby Love
Entrepreneur Crystal Etienne (center) built her period-proof panty brand into a million-dollar company without any outside funding until 2019. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Etienne)

“I was just frustrated,” the New York woman told Atlanta Black Star about what inspired her to launch her company. “I’m an avid sanitary pad wearer, and one day out the blue I just thought it was very frustrating — disgusting is the word I like to use. It was sticking out of my underwear … and I just felt like today, in this age, we could do better.”

RubyLove, a brand committed to the belief that “periods should never stop a woman from doing, being and going” offers a line of leak-proof, stain-proof intimates that allows ladies to be worry-free during that time of the month. Etienne said her brand’s patented technology, which includes a dri-tech mesh and built-in liner for absorption, is what makes her underwear line unlike the rest.

RubyLove says it is also the only period-proof panty brand that offers swimwear with leak-proof protection. Plus, a “pocket” allowing users to secure their own sanitary pad has made the panties a hit among women who don’t wish to insert tampons, menstrual cups or other objects into their bodies.

Etienne’s brand isn’t just for the ladies, however. Her company also offers loungewear and boxer briefs for men who many have incontinence issues or certain medical conditions.

According to her website, Etienne spent many years “testings hundreds of prototypes, tweaking designs, and being her own best guinea pig to perfect the exact equation of design, technology, fit and most importantly, security” behind each of her products.

Etienne and her company have continued thriving; in just her second year of operations, she managed to triple her revenue to $1.1 million. She’s since turned her brand into a $10 million company in three short years.

Ruby Love
Ruby Love provides women with unique, breathable underwear that boast “maximum absorption, protection against leaks and stains, peace of mind and complete discretion” during that time of the month. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Etienne)

Moreover, Etienne recently secured $15 million in funding from London-based global investment house The Craftory, taking her panty business international. She’d built her brand without the help of outside funds, until now.

“I founded the brand in hopes that period issues be consigned to history, and I am excited to continue the growth of the company with the help of the team at The Craftory,”  she said in a statement. “Their support means that my vision for Ruby Love – to deliver confidence to women, whatever time of the month – can continue to be a reality.”

The business owner proudly boasts that she’s “always been profitable,” but admits there have been plenty of pits and peaks in her journey to entrepreneurship.

Aspiring entrepreneurs run into a number of challenges when trying to get their business off the ground, from building a successful brand consumers can’t get enough of to balancing the quality and growth of their companies. Lack of access to venture capital funds has proven to be a monstrous issue for African-American businesswomen in particular, seeing as less than 0.2 percent of all venture deals have gone to Black women-owned start ups.

Because of this, Etienne was forced to “bootstrap” or pour back into the business what she earned from customers.

“Anyone knows that bootstrapping is like the hardest thing that you can do,” she told ABS. “But it actually has become one of my triumphs. Not having to answer to anyone [and] actually being able to keep my focus on running my company and providing to my customers, and not trying to rush because of investors telling me anything.”

Ruby Love
Ruby Love’s patented technology, which includes a dri-tech mesh and built-in liner for absorption, is what makes the underwear line unlike the rest. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Etienne)

“It feels good to still have control over my company in that way,” she added. “I just want Black women to know that we don’t have to depend on other dollars. There are other ways of doing, and to grow your company.”

As only the fourth Black woman to raise millions like that on her own, the thriving entrepreuner offered three nuggets of advice to aspiring business owners who are struggling. For one, she says one must remain positive.

“If you have a product that people want, that’s a positive,” said Etienne. “That’s the main thing, whether you have a lot of money or not. As long as you have something that people want.”

Etienne also encourages budding business owners to think bigger than and beyond just “mom and pop” shops.

“Being a Black woman is something to be proud of,” she said. “I tell Black women all the time to think big, and to know they can actually do it and bootstrap it, instead of begging for pennies on a dollar … and give away any type of control to investors.”

And lastly, Etienne says to (truthfully) tell the consumers what they are getting.

“Tell people directly what your product is,” she explained. “Don’t try to entice, or be very gimmicky.”

Etienne said there are big things in the works at RubyLove that she can’t speak on, but promises that it “will be completely epic.”

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