All Articles Tagged "business"
by Abiola Abrams
Self-love Lesson: How to launch yourself and make an impact.
Do you have a message or mission that you have been yearning to give birth to? Many of us do. Get clear about your purpose, and once you have this clarity, get clear about who you serve. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, African American and Latina women are the fastest growing entrepreneurial segment and more likely to start a business than the rest of the population. Yes! This really is our time.
As your self-worth midwife, I call this passion you want to give birth to “your calling.” Your calling may be teaching healthy eating like cookbook author Rhonda Peters, helping women tune into their sensuality like Carmen Victorino of Le Femme Suite pole fitness, empowering single mothers like Tinzley Bradford, or guiding writers to find a voice like Cherise Davis Fisher of Scribe’s Window.
At a recent party, I was talking to a woman (let’s call her Miss Jackie) who kept going on about how open-minded she is. Most people who say that turn out to be the most judgmental folks! Miss Jackie, a retired elementary school teacher, told me that her 10-year-old granddaughter wanted to be a writer. To her, this was a calamity. She told her granddaughter, “No! Get a real profession and then you can be a writer on the side like your mom.”
I happen to know Miss Jackie’s daughter, the child’s mom; let’s call her Becky. Becky is a lawyer and pretty much miserable. She has spent the majority of her legal career secretly plotting her exit but never has the courage to make a leap. It may look like she makes a big income but she has a scarcity mindset so she is often complaining about money and lives like she doesn’t have two nickels to rub together. Writing the book Miss Jackie was referring to had been the greatest bright spot in Becky’s life, but she was still stuck. Most likely Miss Jackie’s programming was stopping her from making the next move. I didn’t accept Becky as a coaching client when referred by someone else because she seemed heavily invested in her own negativity and limitations.
Somehow in the conversation it came up that my dad is a professional writer. Miss Jackie asked me what his day job had been and seemed flabbergasted that he spent the last 40 years as a professional writer, speaker, and international expert on a topic he was passionate about.
Now, it’s your turn to tune out the Miss Jackie’s and make an impact! Ready to reinvent yourself and create your future? You can do it.
How to start your mission this year:
1. Claim your unique vision.
Your way to change the world may look completely different than your bestie’s. Starting a franchise or a credit union may support an under-served community. Using your passion for math to create a tutoring business can help others to rise and shine. You may be able to build an empire with your passion for fitness. Whether your passion is makeup or politics, you owe no apology for what makes your heart sing. The fastest way to get what you want is to help others to get what they want.
2. Become an expert.
What you majored in may have nothing to do with the business that you want to start. That’s okay. While you are alive you can be furthering your education. Grab your Kindle and start reading. Listen to audiobooks while you’re driving. Watch training programs from those who teach what you want to learn. Read biographies and autobiographies of gurus who are living their dreams. Commit to reading 100 books in your field and you will be an expert.
3. Write a book.
Every day someone asks me how they can get started writing. My biggest advice as a professional writer is JUST WRITE. Twenty-five minutes a day is a great place to begin. If there is a story within you that you want to tell, tell it. If you wrote just 1,000 words a day (half the length of this article!), you’d have a pretty meaty manuscript in a year. The best thing to turn up is your voice.
4. Take a stand.
You may have unpopular beliefs but change is made by those who have the courage of their convictions. Taking a stand doesn’t require being fearless. It requires harnessing your fear into positive energy and moving forward on your mission. Many of us are people pleasers. We were taught to be nice and not make waves. We want people to like us. Growing up is realizing that no matter what, you will never have everyone like you. You might as well stand firmly for what you believe.
5. Write a letter to the editor.
Don’t just read the news, be the news. Instead of sitting around waiting for the news to declare that you are worthy, declare it yourself. Almost every publication shares letters to the editor. The New York Times and The Washington Post feature opinion sections called the OpEd. You can get your voice into the world.
6. Blog it out.
You can start a blog in 60 seconds. Ideally, you put more energy and thought into it than that. However, in our current media climate, if it didn’t happen online it doesn’t exist. The great thing about that is that you can answer your calling from your sofa. Ebony Magazine’s dedicated and thought-provoking Jamilah Lemieux created her own award-winning platform and launched herself by blogging. There are natural hair bloggers, gossip bloggers, and business bloggers creating their own publishing — and product — empires. Stop waiting for someone to pass you the mic. Take it!
7. Podcast it.
The podcast is the multimedia syndicated approach to blogging. Most podcasts are audio, like talk radio shows, although they can be video as well. I created my first inspirational podcast, The Goddess Factory, way back in 2005. People are still listening to it on iTunes today! If your calling is poetry, maybe you interview top poets. If music makes you sing, maybe your podcast is a showcase with valuable critiques for emerging musical artists. There’s something for everyone. The creators of a podcast called “Drunk History” have been invited to major news networks from CNN to FOX.
8. Launch a YouTube channel.
If you have a phone with a camera, and who doesn’t these days, you can launch a YouTube broadcast. There really is no excuse for not getting your voice into the world. Making sure you have something to say that is worth listening to is another conversation. The brilliant Issa Rae used her “Awkward Black Girl” channel to launch her into career as a writer and actor who is now working with HBO and producer Shonda Rhimes. You can use your YouTube channel to broadcast news, give reviews or give advice.
9. Start a hashtag movement.
A hashtag is basically a way of indexing an idea on social media and across the web. It is also the way to organize with people you don’t know around an issue. Movements like #BringBackOurGirls, #YesAllWomen and #BlackLivesMatter were powerful and attention-getting in 2014. Hashtag activism may sound like activism lite, but it is a powerful way to galvanize people everywhere to important ideas and causes.
10. Create a weekly meetup.
I’ve heard defeatist people complain about not being able to “get ahead” because it’s about “who you know.” If that’s the case, get to know some people! Who are you spending time with? If the people you spend your time with are small-minded thinkers, you will be a small-minded thinker without even knowing it. There’s no need to be limited by the people you already have access to. Use Meetup.com and social media to meet new like-minded folks. The resourceful Scott Dinsmore launched the inspirational “Live Your Legend” movement by creating meetups worldwide.
11. Change your own life and teach others how to do the same.
Change your own life and then show others how to do what you did as a teacher, trainer, coach, speaker, or writer. We want to learn from those who are doing it. For example, I can teach other introverts how to conquer fears around public speaking because I’ve done it. Your ministry can be based on your own internal or external transformation.
12. Learn something new and share about your missteps.
Along those lines, you don’t have to wait until your transformation is complete to consider yourself answering your calling. Maybe you’re learning how to sew so you can become a designer and you take us on the journey. Remember the movie and book “Julie and Julia” about a woman blogging her way messily through Julia Child’s masterful cooking. Overcome your challenges and we will all be rooting for you – and learning from your journey.
13. Start a business.
Your business may be a for profit or non-profit enterprise. It may be a franchise or you may be a solopreneur. Do the research, get educated, and go for it! Stay away from non-believers and other low vibrational energy folks. Be clear about who you are serving. Don’t be afraid to be specific. As they say, the riches are in the niches.
14. Get a mentor.
Here’s where a lot of us get twisted. Stop approaching people and telling them what you want them to do for you. Asking to pick someone’s brain is insulting. Author Michelle Y. Talbert of @BlackLoveRules and #HerPowerHustle calls picking someone’s brain picking their pockets. Instead, ask yourself, what can you do for them? What are you offering? Do you want to interview them? Feature them on your blog? Guest post on their blog? Take their training course? You will get a lot further with this approach. Another way to go is to join a professional mentorship group in your field.
15. Join an organization.
There is networking everywhere from the church pews to the National Urban League. Join an organization of others who are answering a calling similar to yours. Your objective here is not shoving your business card in people’s faces or taking about yourself, but developing genuine relationships. Real relationships and referrals are the power center for anyone trying to make an impact.
16. Get coaching and support.
If Serena Williams and Oprah Winfrey have coaches and advisers, why would you think that you don’t need support? You don’t have to be in an “Iyanla, Fix My Life” crisis to invest in your own personal Iyanla. There is a coach for every person and every need. Other famous coaches include AJ Johnson, Tony Robbins, and Lisa Nichols, who all help very different tribes of women. Their are love coaches, career coaches, and grief coaches. My Hear Me Roar Coaching Club is all about helping my sacred bombshell spiritpreneur sisters to answer their calling. If you want to get unstuck, enlist a life coach or business coach to help you move forward.
17. Speak from the “stage.”
Just like I said if you want to write just write, if you want to speak just speak. As my mom would say, “stand up and be counted. Speak up and be heard.” Malcolm X started out speaking on street corners. In our multimedia, multi-platform society, you can 10x that. If your passion is poetry, rent a spot monthly, invite other poets, and make it happen. If you’re a financial or legal wizard, rent a space weekly or monthly and give seminars. Speak for free in the beginning and then charge as much as you want. The marketplace will pay you for the value you provide.
17. Start a challenge.
The ALS ice bucket challenge was pretty memorable, wasn’t it? Create your own challenge that people everywhere can join. Partner your cause with a visual representation and tag folks. Alicia Keys’ #WeAreHere peace movement educates and subtly publicizes her music. Adam Bouska’s #NOH8 challenge educated people about marriage equality and helped him to make an impact.
18. Start a weekly Tweetup.
You want to begin to answer your calling from your kitchen? Start a Tweetup or a facebook group of aspiring vegans. This is the online version of a meetup. With a Tweetup or Twitter party, you meet weekly online organizing around a specific hashtag and ask or answer questions. You can develop a following around your message, mission or movement and spread your mojo, miracles, and magic throughout the universe.
19. Most importantly, believe in yourself.
Stop waiting for the world to give you permission. Our parents were living in a whole different time. There are almost no 40-year safety jobs anymore. It is okay to reinvent yourself.
The world is waiting for what you have to offer. Figure out what you want to do, learn how to do it, then move forward and monetize it. Don’t stay stuck in eternal preparation mode. You want to answer your sacred calling and start a movement? Just do it, Miss Noire!
Abiola Abrams is the author of the award-winning guide The Sacred Bombshell Handbook of Self-Love and founder of , where she offers empowerment coaching.
One might assume that living in a large city would automatically equal easy access to a wealth of talented styling professionals who specialize in black hair, but unfortunately, pricing issues, incompatible hours and distance can all get in the way of finding a stylist who best suits your needs. These were all factors that inspired friends Octavia Pickett-Blakely and Regina Gwynn to launch Tressenoire, a Philadelphia-based service that brings natural hair stylists straight to clients’ homes, offices and hotel rooms.
“We’re looking at this largely underserved market where women of color spend nine times more on hair care products and services than our counterparts and the convenient kinds of options aren’t available to us,” said. Gwynn.
She and Pickett-Blakely set out to fill that void, founding Tressenoire in October 2014. The company is already expanding, serving markets in Delaware, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York City, and Westchester County.
Users can log on to the online portal, select a style (there are also examples on Tressenoire’s Instagram account, if you need inspiration) and set a date and time. While Gwynn said they are happy to schedule clients with a particular stylist, they really want the date and time to be the guiding factor in bookings.
“All of our stylists are amazing. We really do stand behind that. We select stylists from some of the best schools of the nation,” she said, explaining that the hair care professionals on their roster have worked with Carol’s Daughter and trained with Aveda and the Paul Mitchell Schools.
Clients should wash and detangle their hair before the appointment (the stylist will blow dry or re-wet the hair, if necessary). Stylists also come prepared with styling tools and products, but clients are responsible for supplying any hair extensions needed to achieve their desired style, though stylists can give detailed advice on what kind of hair to purchase.
“We like to over-communicate when we can to make sure that we’re setting ourselves up to win and can basically slay hair when we get there,” Gwynn said.
Gwynn became a naturalista long before the current onslaught of YouTube vlogs, blogs and hair care lines devoted to natural hair care began. Her friends would frequently ask her advice on how to best care for their coils and curls. Now, she says there’s almost an “information overload.” Not only do they want to provide a technology-driven, luxury service for their clients, but they also want to educate clients on how to best care for their own hair in between styling sessions.
Before the session starts, stylists do a one-on-one curl consultation with the client, making sure they understand the density and porosity of their hair in order to empower clients to take control of their hair care. Although Tressenoire doesn’t completely buy into the hair typing system, Gwynn said they do think it’s important to help clients “get into a lane that can help guide you so that the product junkie in you doesn’t go too overboard.”
“There is nothing like talking with a licensed beauty professional and having her talk specifically about your hair texture, curl pattern and hair type,” she added.
It might come as a surprise to some that a company like Tressenoire would be so popular in heavily populated, racially diverse cities like New York and Philadelphia, but Pickett-Blakely thinks that’s a “misconception.” What she’s noticed is clients don’t only require an adequate style that looks nice, but also proper care.
“Having both of those characteristics can be difficult to find,” she said. “A big part of our messaging and a big part of our goal is to make hair care and hair styling convenient, so we have stylists that are available at a variety of times each day and different times in the week week. We offer services at times that are not necessarily traditional times that other salons would be available.”
Tressenoire also strives to make their services more affordable. “There are amazing salons in these markets, but I think the other thing that comes into consideration is price,” Gwynn said of her company’s success. “I think sometimes price becomes a bit prohibitive for some women who really just want a great luxury experience, but maybe the wallet isn’t something that they can give over at that time.”
Lucky for Pickett-Blakely and Gwynn, their business has grown significantly during the past year due to client referrals. And their clients run the gamut from mothers who want to have their kids’ hair styled without the hassle of running after them in a salon to homebound clients who may not be able to travel for a hair appointment.
For clients who have experienced hair loss, Gwynn said having hair care services done in the privacy of their own home has been an added benefit.
“That’s definitely something that we’re mindful of. Wherever you are in your hair care journey or hair care experience, this is definitely a no judgement zone.”
For potential clients who want to check out the service before giving it an official try, or people who are struggling with their natural hair care journey and are seeking help, Tressenoire will offer a quick phone curl consultation.
“Whether you become a customer or not, we really are here to empower women and make the path to beauty a lot more easy,” said Gwynn.
To set up your first appointment, visit Tressenoire.com.
There is no denying that the roots of hip-hop are amongst the most disenfranchised and underprivileged.
Its sounds, groove, lyrics, and dances were once a reflection of young, urban and predominately working-class Black and Brown people. Its soul, if you will, comes from the long line of African griots who passed down knowledge, as well as stories of struggle, discontentment, war, family, love, joy and death through the oral tradition.
But that was then. Today’s hip-hop feels nothing like its predecessor. In some ways, that is understandable. Things evolve. Art is no exception.
But sometimes evolution just sucks. Especially when that evolution isn’t from natural causes, but rather, forced by capitalistic forces. Thanks to hip-hop’s commercialization, the art has shifted its focus from being the voice of history and concern for the people to now answering the question of what happens when rampant self-aggrandizing individualism and free-market capitalism runs amok.
The griots of today are not only multi-millionaires with brands and diversified incomes, but in many cases, they do the bidding of the one-percent by representing companies and products in their “art” while selling it to the same communities from whence they came.
This more evolved version of the hip-hop culture means that anyone can come and lay claim to the art. That includes Martin Shkreli.
If the name sounds familiar, that is because he is the millionaire CEO of a pharmaceutical company, which recently made headlines for jacking up the prices on the drug Daraprim, which is used by HIV patients, from $13.50 to $750 a pill.
Yeah, that guy.
And as reported by Bloomberg, that guy is now the proud owner of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, a double album recorded and produced by legendary rap group Wu-Tang Clan. As reported in the article, there is only one existing copy of the experimental album.
Originally, the group, which is led by super-genius producer RZA, wanted $5 million dollars for the project. However, after failing to capture a buyer, they decided to put the album up for auction online.
It was reported that Shkreli only paid $2 million for Shaolin. However, RZA told the business publication that the auction for the album had attracted many serious suitors including: “Private collectors, trophy hunters, millionaires, billionaires, unknown folks, publicly known folks, businesses, companies with commercial intent, young, old…”
Whatever the price tag, the likely financial gain will probably be more than what the group has managed to earn from previous projects. According to Bloomberg, Wu-Tang’s long-awaited fourth studio album, A Better Tomorrow, which was released last December, only sold 60,000 copies in the U.S.
And it should be noted that after it was discovered that Shkreli had purchased Shaolin, RZA announced to the press that “The sale of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was agreed upon in May, well before Martin Skhreli’s [sic] business practices came to light. We decided to give a significant portion of the proceeds to charity.”
Good to know that folks still have a conscience. Still, there are many fans of hip-hop who will likely feel uneasy about the overall structure of the album’s sale.
The album itself was conceived to be a single-sale collector’s item based on the practice of commissioned commodification, which had been popularized during the Renaissance era. Unlike hip-hop of the past, which sought its validation from the streets, Shaolin would seek its hood pass at exclusive, invite-only listening parties held at museums and high-art galleries.
That means that folks with questionable connections to the culture had the final and only say on the worth of a cultural contribution. And for a genre of music which relies heavily on keeping it real, who gets to define “realness” matters.
In an article I wrote previously for The Grio about the importance of African-Americans participating in the high arts, a former Haitian gallery owner told me, “It’s to the point that some African artifacts and some famous black artists are now so far out of the financial region that we [black people] can not even own their art.”
She continued, “And if we’re not owning it, that means others are. And if we are not participating, that means we have no voice in shaping culture.”
Perhaps it’s our fault as consumers for not supporting the work of artists we claim we want to hear more from. Or perhaps Shaolin might have been received just like its previous Wu offerings because it may not have been very good.
Unfortunately, we will never know the album’s true artistic and cultural value. The moment the sole copy of the album was sold to the highest bidder – a person who can afford to buy his way into culture – it was decided that whatever monetary value it has far outweighs whatever artistic and cultural contribution it could make.
Just to be clear: There is nothing wrong with knowing your worth and getting paid for your art. But there is something wrong when art that has been created and inspired by the working class, no longer is accessible to the very people who served as its inspiration. And worse, those with no clear connections to the community get to have the final say on what is hip-hop, just because they can afford it.
By day, Mandy Bowman is a social media strategist at a media company, but for the past year, she has steadily been developing an online directory of black-owned businesses called Official Black Wall Street (OBWS).
“I remember reading that black businesses only get around 2 percent of our [$1.1] trillion dollar buying power, and that completely blew me away,” Bowman said. “I felt like with all the racial tension, and the things that were happening from Ferguson to New York, there was a huge need for us to protest with our money and recycle that money back into our communities.”
The Brooklyn native first began the project on social media in the fall of 2014, and launched the actual site in July of this year. “I found so many amazing businesses and I really wanted to spread it to as many people as possible and get as many people to support them as I could,” Bowman said.
The site’s namesake is a nod to the legendary hub of Black business that once stood in the Tulsa suburb, Greenwood, OK. In 1921, the original “Black Wall Street” was destroyed in what has been called one of the deadliest “race riots” in U.S. history. Before it was viciously dismantled, Greenwood was a town with a booming self-sufficient economy.
“That really inspired me – just seeing how this neighborhood was able to function on such a major successful level and do it all on their own. There were movie theaters, pharmacies, doctor’s offices, lawyers and nightclubs. Just thinking about it gives me chills.”
Over the years, plenty of Black business directories of popped up online, but OBWS is one of the most user-friendly and wide-reaching, by far. The OBWS directory has listings for about 1,300 businesses, including clothing companies, skin care lines, contracting and accounting firms, personal trainers, event planning and more. Users can leave reviews, get directions to brick-and-mortar stores, and search for businesses by location and category. There is also a special offers section for shoppers on a budget.
In addition to its directory, OBWS offers original business-related content, including profiles of entrepreneurs like Maci Peterson, the creator of the On Second Thought app and inspiring posts like their list of “kidpreneurs.”
“I really wanted Official Black Wall Street to be a hub for Black business, but also Black excellence. I wanted people to be able to go on there and support their own, but also draw inspiration from all the businesses there and all the stories about successful entrepreneurs and successful businesses that we’ve started ourselves,” said Bowman.
So far, Bowman says the response to OBWS has been amazing. She has been inundated with requests to post or promote new businesses. For a long time, Bowman says that OBWS was “a one-woman show,” but she has begun to bring on contributors and now has help updating the site and responding to emails.
“This is like my first-born, so finding the right team is very important to me. I would have to find someone who is as passionate as I am about Black culture and supporting Black businesses,” she said.
In the future, she wants to continue to publish more original content. She’s also working on an OBWS app to make the directory more accessible for shoppers, noting that when she first began her quest to support more Black businesses she found other directories but they were difficult to navigate. So far OBWS’ functionality seems to have hit the spot.
“I’m just really appreciative of all of the support from people,” Bowman said. “When I first started this, I intended for it to be something small to post on social media sites. It’s grown to be a lot larger than I expected, just with the people who are submitting businesses – both consumers and business owners.
Are you currently dreaming of ways to quit your job to pursue your dreams of being an entrepreneur? Or are you currently managing a side hustle and looking for ways to transition into working on it full-time? As any entrepreneur will tell you, running a business is no easy feat and knowing the right time to take the leap is crucial.
We chatted with Nubian Hair Oasis founder Donnet Bruce about what it’s like running a hair company while still maintaining a full-time job. She shared with us her inspiration for launching a side hustle, daily challenges she faces, how she manages the two responsibilities, and her plans for eventually becoming a full-time entrepreneur. Check out the interview below!
MadameNoire (MN): What inspired you to launch Nubian Hair Oasis?
Donnet Bruce (DB): It was an idea I had for several years. I was disappointed from going to local beauty stores here in Miami, Florida. The customer service wasn’t the best. I felt as if the individuals, typically men, behind the counter were just trying to sell something instead of providing customizable options that were good for my texture of hair. I read an article in Essence about the beauty and hair industry and how much Black women spend on their hair. I wanted to start an online store where I was able to provide a really good customer service experience for women.
I’m a woman. I love wearing extensions and wigs. I wanted to provide and source for quality products for women with textured and transitioning hair. I also wanted Nubian Hair Oasis to be a place where women left empowered, inspired, and encouraged.
MN: You also have a full-time job as a Digital Marketing Manager. How does Nubian Hair Oasis fit into your life?
DB: I’m what they call a multi-passionate entrepreneur. Prior to me getting into this corporate job over a year ago, I was freelancing. My background is in integrated marketing; I have a Masters in that. I’ve worked with different brands developing marketing strategies, public relations campaigns, social media campaigns, etc. Now, I’m working as a digital marketing manager for a major automotive group in the Southeast. That is my 9-5. On nights and weekends, I work at building and operating Nubian Hair Oasis.
I am the main person working on the company. I have an associate who is a really good friend of mine that helps out with social media. I’m working to change that. There are so many different facets and divisions within Nubian Hair Oasis. There are so many ideas I have to take the company to the next level. I will be looking for talent to help.
MN: What are some of the challenges you face while growing your company?
DB: I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s very challenging and exhausting. One thing that helps me is remaining in a positive state of mind. For example, when I wake up in the morning, I wake up with positive thoughts. I talk to God. I visualize myself in a year or two or what I will be doing in my life after the corporate world. I’ve gotten so used to that, as soon I wake up in the morning, my mind clicks. Everything that is happening right now is for a reason. Any job that I have or take helps me.
Yes, I could be operating Nubian Hair Oasis full-time; however, this is where I am right now. I do what I have to do during the day for my company and it really helps me get through the day. I know that everything that I am doing is setting me up for the next big thing in my life. Staying focused helps with those challenges and beating the exhaustion. Another challenge was having the time to take on and do everything. There are major roller coaster days.
Trying to find an honest manufacturer and supplier was a challenge. In the beginning, I took the time to vet several suppliers and manufacturers. I spent quite a bit of money ordering samples and taking the word of a manufacturer that said their hair was good quality and human hair. I’m all about quality. The fact that I would spend a lot of money to get the hair and have to send it back to the supplier – that was a project within itself. I took the time to pause on promotion and find the perfect supplier and build better business relationships overseas.
My goal is to travel overseas. I want to spend some time with my makers. I am always looking for ways to improve product. I want to spend time with my manufacturers and make sure what they are producing is Nubian Hair Approved.
MN: How do you manage juggling a full-time job and being an entrepreneur?
DB: I wake up earlier, especially if I have urgent to-dos and tasks. It’s more quiet and serene at that time versus leaving the 9-5, hustling through traffic, getting home, having to make dinner, and trying to get back into that hustling mode.
On weekends, you can find me at a coffee shop or somewhere in Miami – headphones in, working on inventory, a new collection, or answering customer emails. Also on Saturday, I fulfill orders.
I put everything in my calendar. I even put my 9-5 schedule. I designate days when I work for Nubian Hair Oasis. I use the Passion Planner – which is a calendar and journal in one. It’s filled with good quotes and milestone evaluations.
MN: What’s been the hardest part about keeping Nubian Hair Oasis in business while still having a 9-5 job?
DB: Finances. I’m funding my business on my own. I pay for marketing, shoots, inventory, etc. I don’t have any major complaints because it’s something that I wanted to do.
MN: Do people at your job know that you have your own company?
DB: I believe in operating with integrity. I don’t want my bosses to think that I am on the job trying to sell and promote. Once I leave, that’s when I turn into Nubian Hair Mode. I have let a couple coworkers know that I operate and run Nubian Hair Oasis, but you don’t want your boss or employer to feel like there is something else taking you away from doing the job or that you are heavily promoting your company too much on their time. There are some companies that encourage their employees to share their side hustle. I’ve worked for one before. If you’re in a setting where you know it’s not encouraged, keep it private.
MN: What plans are you putting in place so that you can run Nubian Hair Oasis full-time?
DB: Save. You should always have your exit strategy account going. As you get paid, continue saving. You’ll know for a fact that if you decide to resign, you have cushion.
Set a goal. If there’s a date that you want to leave, set it and post it by your bed or night stand. Do everything you have to do to prior to that date. That includes getting more sales, gaining more customers, marketing and promoting more.
Always meet and network with people. I just spoke at the New Orleans Hair Expo for Essence Festival. I met so many women there and got sales. Continue getting the word out about your business. Use social media. That will help make it a little bit easier when you decide to leave your job.
MN: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
DB: Just the other day I was talking to a friend who is heavy in the tech scene, has opened businesses and runs a few companies. She told me I cannot do it on my own. You need a team of ninjas/superstar people who are going to help you take your company to the next level. As I grow I delegate, and if I’m not strong in a certain area I make sure I outsource those tasks instead of spending a slew of hours on something and the end result may not even be to my liking or match the brand.
Give tasks to someone who can knock them out. Pay them and keep it moving. Learn the art of building a team. I believe in my vision and mission to take Nubian Hair Oasis to the next level. As a CEO and creative director, I oversee so many different areas. I oversee branding, marketing, PR, operations, inventory…having a strong solid team will help.
MN: How do you respond to those who think you aren’t qualified to run a hair company?
DB: My background is in integrated marketing, experiential marketing, branding, and social media. There may be questions that arise. People [may think], “Donnet is not a hairstylist. What does she know? Why should I trust her?” It goes back to why I wanted to do this. I love hair, styling, and makeup. I know quality. I really care about making sure women go out into the world with something that they are happy with and looks good. I love protective styling and rocking extensions, especially being a natural now. Eventually, I do want to open up a storefront. We need that in South Florida — a Black-owned beauty supply store.
When I have my customers send me emails praising the fact that they loved the hair during vacation and went on a romantic getaway, and everyone is complimenting them on their looks, that makes me feel good. It makes me think about why I even started in the first place. Everything that you do in life sets you up for the next chapter. I probably didn’t even realize how branding and marketing would help me. It helped me establish the logo, feel, and colors — everything about Nubian Hair Oasis.
[Not feeling qualified] was one of the reasons I put [starting a business] off for so long. It’s a personal thing – one of those things where you are talking yourself out of something. You’re your worst critic or enemy. Year after year, the idea would come to me. I’d always push it off and say, “Naw, I went to school for this. This is the path I should be on. What are you talking about?” Even talking to friends, I was like,“No, I can’t do that. That’s not what I went to school for. I ain’t no hair stylist.” It’s a testament to doing what’s in your heart. Do what you want to do and love to do.
According to the 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, African American women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States, with firms growing 322% since 1997. As of 2015, firms owned by African American women number an estimated 1.3 million firms, employing 297,500 workers with an estimated $52.6 billion in revenue.
Meet Dr. Denyse Ray, CEO and founder of Lady Ease Wear (which includes the lines Salon Ease, Cross Culture, and Mi Nudes). Dr. Ray is also the first African American woman to own an apparel manufacturing company in the state of Hawaii. Since manufacturing is known to be a male-dominated industry, Dr. Ray’s success is particularly noteworthy. That’s why we chatted with her about the journey of being a Black female business owner in a state whose Black population is only 2.3 percent, business challenges (and successes), what’s it like being able to design clothing for the Obamas, and how she hopes to impact the larger business community.
MadameNoire (MN): How did you get interested in manufacturing fashion apparel?
Dr. Denyse Ray (DR): My background is as a Psychological Tramua Specialist. I was a clinical first responder to every major disaster on US soil. I remember standing there in the aftermath of 9/11 and there was a lot of particulate matter in the air and nothing to cover my face. As a clinician, I was there for the emotional component, but that day I realized there was an untapped market. That untapped market was women. We weren’t going to go into the home depots and buy those ugly white masks to cover our face.
Over a few years, I designed and developed washable reusable face masks. They launched in 2008. Those masks started the manufacturing component. I was adamant about keeping my products in the USA, but it was difficult for me to find someone to manufacture my product.
Ultimately, I started my own manufacturing company. It was supposed to be for my products alone, but [I later] expanded from 4,000 square feet to 7,800 square feet in order to accommodate other designers and people wanted items sewn here in the US.
It was brutal for many years to learn the components of manufacturing. I wouldn’t find out until much later that I would be the first African-American women to own a manufacturing company in the state of Hawaii. My tagline is, “Lady Ease, Putting The W-O in manufacturing.” It’s a very male-dominated industry. The fact that people fail to look at manufacturing [is interesting], specifically apparel, as it as a multi-trillion dollar industry.
I wanted the State of Hawaii to not only rely on tourism as its only resource for generating revenue. It’s been a pretty difficult climb. Today in 2015, we are about to launch a job training program teaching native Hawaiians- women, recent releasees from prison, those considered low-income, and single parents- how to sew and start up their own manufacturing business. I am pretty proud of that.
MN: What made you choose Hawaii as your business location?
DR: I’ve been here for many years. My husband got a job and I came along with him. I said that I was never going back to the mainland. We stayed and I immersed myself in the community. They adopted me and gave me a Hawaiian name. I am currently writing a book “Mirroring Images: The Traumatic Journey of Native Hawaiians.” I am writing it because the Native Hawaiian community is very much parallel to the African-American community, most specifically as it relates to the traumatic journey we had. I want to use the journey and accomplishments of the African-American community as examples to help the Hawaiian community reclaim their identity and move forward.
MN: What is it like being a Black woman in business in Hawaii?
DR: Hawaii is a difficult state for small business period. It doesn’t matter what race or gender. It’s not as difficult as it would be somewhere else where there are alot of people doing the same thing and fighting for the same small pool of resources. That’s what makes Hawaii very appealing for a minority group. There is only one of us doing one thing.
Shipping is difficult because it’s so far from everywhere else. With each challenge comes a responsibility to determine how to overcome, preserve, and make an example so that those who we work with and for will not be deterred.
MN: How did you get the opportunity to design for Barack Obama?
DR: I am very good friends with his sister. I was able to get access and custom-make shirts for him based on his direct measurements as a result of the relationship. There are many policies that exist when it comes to gift-giving the president and his family. Most of those shirts will end up in his library and museum because he will be unable to keep them past wearing them through his term.
That is my proudest moment at this point. To be able to end up in history at the first African American female manufacturing company to produce garments for the first African American president in his home state [is amazing.”] I’ve also made items for Mrs. Obama and their children. They both have items from each of my lines but I only make each in a limited edition. His shirts, designed from our Aloha pattern, were made from one fabric and were ever repeated.
[As far as tailoring and design goes], the president only has a small group of people that he works with. It tripled my pride that I am in such a small group of identified people who have made a contribution to his eight years in office.
MN: Did the opportunity to create clothing for Barack Obama impact your business?
DR: It wasn’t something that we could publicize. My employees were loyal. Their pride showed through the craftsmanship. I am not certain what it will do business wise now that people are becoming aware.
MN: How profitable has your business been?
DR: Initially, we thought we wouldn’t eat again! We cashed in our savings and retirement and invested that money into the factory. We invested in human capital. Being that we are in Hawaii and have to ship everything here by the ton…for a few years it was quite a struggle. We would sometimes look at each other and wonder whether going back into practice was the best route for me.
The type of returns we are seeing now are making my husband and my investment well worth it. We persevered with the belief that we were doing the work of the community and our life purpose. Now, we are in a position to have job training programs.
MN: What’s the greatest business lesson you’ve learned over the years?
DR: It cost me 1.2 million of our dollars to find out that we should not have ever opened the doors to a manufacturing company until we trained the people. There is a distinct difference between being a seamstress and/or tailor. They are only working with a design for one person at a time. In manufacturing, there is a time when you are pushing out 10,000 units for one garment. There is a deadline when those 10,000 need to be in the stores.
For the first few years, it was brutal. We would not make deadlines. I’d return money. Those were during the times when we thought we were doing everything incorrectly. What we found as we went along is that we were training the next generation of manufacturers. Training is critical.
MN: What are you most proud about in regards to your business?
DR: If we go back to the washable, reusable face masks, there are about 7-8 videos on YouTube and one of those stories is about a girl with an autoimmune disease. They attribute me giving her that donation of masks and her wearing them to helping to save her life. I’ve donated these masks all around the world. Having the product is not just about making money. If I have something that my neighbor needs and cannot have access to…it is my responsibility to provide that. It has everything to do with the benevolence that exists in my heart to share with the people the knowledge, gifts, and products that I have that can help them.
Even with the fabrics that I buy from around the world, the person that sells to me is now able to select an organization that they would like some of the proceeds from the sales of the garment to be donated to. Those are the types of things that make me the proudest about this journey.
MN: You didn’t plan on going international until 2017, but now plan on expanding sales to Senegal, Zambia, and the Ivory Coast in 2015. Why this choice?
DR: Everywhere we go, women are fashionable. Women are the nucleus of revenue. If we’re smart, we won’t just stay in the Americas. We’ll reach out and become global connections to everybody. Why not sell to women everywhere in the world? They are our customer!
MN: Why is it so important for Black women to support one another?
DR: Black women have finally reached the point in our lives where we understand each other and are supportive. We are right where we belong. We are a powerful group of women and are finally acknowledging that. We look around and acknowledge that every other culture and race attempts to emulate us. We are acknowledging the fact that all of these falsehoods that have been stated about Black woman have been because other cultures have created the hate climate. Now we are applauding our haters. We are so grateful for each time you try to hate on us because we look in the mirror and say, “You just trying to be me.” It’s time, girl! We need to get in front of the people. We need to be allowed to tell our stories so that the hunter is not telling the story for us.
Are you a woman who's about her business or know someone who is? We want to hear from you!
MadameNoire is providing two women a chance to win a makeover by African Pride for sharing their story of their journey to becoming a boss with us. To get your name in the running, upload a video of yourself or a family or friend you want to nominate to Facebook or Instagram explaining how this person is a boss why they should be picked for the makeover and be sure to use #BeTheBossMN hashtag. Then send an email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following:
- subject headline: #BeTheBossMN Contest Entry
- Link to your video on FB/Instagram
- headshot of the person nominated
- Full name
- A short paragraph explaining why the nominee should win the makeover
When uploading your videos to Instagram and Facebook, please make sure the privacy settings are public or we will not be able to see your entry.
Check out the video above for more details and good luck!
The owner and chief cook of Marcy’s Diner, located in Maine, Darla Neugebauer received backlash via social media for yelling at a toddler for crying incessantly during a recent visit. Neugebauer wrote on Facebook that the girl had been crying for over 40 minutes, when she slammed her hands down on the counter and told the young child, “This has got to stop!”
The Associated Press reports, Neugebauer observed the parents of the 21-month-old child during their visit. They ordered three pancakes for their daughter but didn’t feed her when the food arrived. Neugebauer said of her behavior, “Life’s full of choices and you’ve got to live with all of them, I chose to yell at a kid, it made her shut up, which made me happy, it made my staff happy, it made the 75 other people dining here happy, and they left. They may never come back, other people may not come in. Their loss really.”
The child’s mother, Tara Carson, wrote on Facebook that people should understand crying is normal for children to do, especially if they waited a long time for food. Carson added that she turned to her daughter after Neugebauer yelled at her and said she is not raising her child to become someone like the owner of the diner: “I felt helpless as a mom that, you know, I couldn’t do anything to help her, because I can’t explain why there’s crazy people in this world that behave like that.”
Although tons of people have added their two cents on the Marcy’s Diner Facebook page, Neugebauer seems #unbothered. In many of the diner’s Facebook posts, Neugebauer notes she gets “sh*t done” and her supporters have left encouraging messages, noting they will continue to support her business.
Should business owners ask families with crying children to be quiet?
Getting fired can feel like the worst thing in the world. But it doesn’t have to. See getting fired as an opportunity and it could be just what you need to jump-start your career.
As anyone involved in the music industry knows, public relations is an ever-important part of launching (and maintaining) one’s career. How you handle your relationship with your target market could either help or hurt, so having someone on your team whose job it is to manage and leverage those relationships is crucial.
Meet Sasha Brookner founder of boutique public relations firm Helio PR. Over the past 16 years, Brookner has worked with artists such Ceelo, N’Dambi, Katt Williams, Goapele, Ledisi, and Lira. We chatted with Sasha about her background, what it’s like being a publicist, and how she believes the branding and publicity paradigms are changing for emerging and established artists.
Check out the interview below!
MadameNoire (MN): What inspired you to be come an entrepreneur and launch your own PR firm?
Sasha Brookner (SB): When I was growing up, my mother and grandfather both had their own businesses. I was able to see the freedom they had as business owners. That was always in the back of my mind.
I went to UCLA and majored in history. During my last year, I didn’t have enough credits to graduate on time, so I decided to do some internships in publishing, A&R, promotion, and the last one was publicity. It was cool because I was working directly with writers to develop stories. I didn’t have to deal directly with the politics of music executives and labels. That was the beginning where I figured out I could do this.
As soon as I graduated, I got a job at Red Ant, a subsidiary of BMG, as an assistant publicist. When Red Ant went under, an associate called me up and wanted me to come over to The Courtney Barnes Group. I worked there for a couple of years and branched out and started my own company.
MN: What were some challenges you faced early on?
SB: When you start your own business, you have to be the rainmaker. At the time, I had saved up enough money so that I really wasn’t stressing it that much. Public relations is great because there wasn’t a lot of overhead. I started working at home. There weren’t a lot of hurdles because I was already seasoned as a publicist. Everyone told me that if I really did a good job and focused on whatever I was doing, things would spread word of mouth.
Another challenge was that I had to be very creative because I was working with independent grassroots artists who didn’t have radio, marketing, or worldwide tours. We were up against corporate firms who are already established and working with major label artists. In the beginning, you had to be much more creative with pitching.
MN: Who was your first client?
SB: N’Dambi. She had such an interesting story. Before we knew it, we got her in L’Uomo Vogue and Vogue Hommes. She was getting so much press even Erykah Badu (who she sang background for) was like “Wait, who’s doing your press?” This was before the female neo-soul thing took off. Now, it would be almost impossible to get a background singer selling CDs out the trunk of her car into these outlets.
We get 85 percent of our clients through referral. That started with N’Dambi. Then, Ledisi and Goapele were calling me. I saw artists that were falling short in marketing. That was our niche in the beginning. We expanded to painters, graphic designers, actors, and spoken word artists.
MN: What is it like to work with mainstream celebrity clients versus more grassroots artists?
SB: It’s easier. We started working with Katt Williams during the end of his Wildin’ Out season on MTV. He was taking off with Pimp Chronicles. When you’re working with someone who everyone wants to interview, it’s more work, but it’s not as challenging. It’s not like you have to pitch. Then again, there are problems such as personalities and missing photo shoots. When there’s a lot of money involved, there are a lot of issues and then you have to do crisis management.
Grassroots artists are my favorite and more satisfying. You’re taking people who normally wouldn’t get this type of exposure who are seasoned in their craft and helping them get to a plateau that they probably would not have.
With bigger artists you don’t want to over-saturate the market because you are getting so many requests. With independent artists, you want to do as much as you can that is quality press.
MN: How has the PR world changed over the years?
SB: The biggest shift has been the digital world. When we first started off, it was just magazines and television. Magazines worked four-to-five months in advance. Now, you can do a story and 24 hours later the story is up on an online site. The pieces are much more topical and newsworthy.
When I started off with music artists, they were just in musical publications talking about music. Now, the majority of my clients are all using fashion (and other creative avenues) as outlets to promote whatever projects they have.
MN: Why has celebrity branding become so prominent in our culture?
SB: The word “branding” has become a buzz word. I like my clients to be more fluid. I like to go and let it happen organically as opposed to typecasting someone, putting them in a box, and then selling that to the media.
However, I understand the importance of creating an identity that is recognizable to the people and the fans. Some people skip over the “Why are you important? What void do you fill?” You definitely have to live your brand, master your craft, and be known for something.
If it doesn’t match your personal brand, you shouldn’t do it. There are people like Taylor Swift who turn down movie scripts all the time that don’t reflect who she is. Or, someone like Immortal Technique, a rapper, who turns down corporate endorsement deals.
Reinvent yourself. Beyonce is the paragon of this. Do it so that it is an evolution and not a marketing scheme.
MN: How would you advise the everyday woman trying to build her brand?
SB: Interacting on social media is important. You have to figure out a way to mix the professional and personal. I’m really big on presentation. Find a good photographer and good writer for your bio.
That’s really important and is the first thing that you should do. When you’re dealing with media, they are top-notch English majors that went to journalism school and know their stuff. You can’t just hit them with something that is wack.
Network. I’m on Facebook all the time. I realized that all these people (like editors at Vogue) who may not have gotten back to me before were following my political tirades on Facebook. They loved my radical ideas and were like, “If you need anything, just shoot me over an email.” I realized that I was creating more relationships when I wasn’t even trying to.
Go to the sites that you want to be on and look for the Contact or About Us in the masthead. You can reach out to editors just to establish a relationship.
MN: What has allowed you to get so far in your career?
SB: Picking clients wisely is important. I won’t take on a client if I don’t think I can get them any press. I don’t care how much they’re paying. The industry is so small. People talk. We get 85 to 90 percent of our clients via word-of-mouth. I don’t want anyone unhappy. We’re very selective, however, yes, you do have some pay-your-bill clients.
Be proactive. Meet people. I always tell people, “Be careful. You could meet a guy at a party. He could have on ripped jeans and Birkenstocks and you pay him no attention. He could be the brother of the CEO of Coca Cola. You never know who somebody is.”
Be organized and get back to people. There are a lot of publicists I know who don’t. Even if I get back to say that an artist isn’t available or we can’t do it at this time, I make a point of trying to get back to people. I know publicists who worked at major labels and ignored everyone. Then, they branched off and started their own PR firms and those same editors won’t deal with them.
MN: Where do you see Helio PR going in the next few years?
SB: People have been asking me that for years, but it’s really just been consistently what I’m doing such as finding new acts that are dope. I don’t see myself being in a high-rise or corporate entity.
Although I only have four to six clients at a time, they are clients we are really invested into. What I do sustains my lifestyle. I get a lot of freedom. I get massages. I sleep eight to nine hours. What I do affords me the ability to live my life and do what I want to do.