With an estimated buying power of $1.3 trillion by the year 2017, how and where African Americans spend their money will become increasingly important to business and to the Black community. One Minority Development Business Agency report showed that though the amount of minority-owned businesses are increasing, “they are still smaller in size and scale compared to non-minority-owned firms.” Supporting minority-owned businesses will be crucial to the growth and development of the minority economy in coming years.
De J Lozada is the founder of My Culture Hub, a minority-owned online retailer for online shoppers seeking to buy quality merchandise from ethnic vendors worldwide. De J built the company around her mission of tapping into the spending power of the African, Latino, and Asian-American community by providing e-consumers with a shopping destination that celebrates their heritage and reflects their culture.
Check out her interview below to learn more about why “spending with a purpose” is so important to the mission of the organization.
MadameNoire (MN): What inspired you to start My Culture Hub?
De J Lozada (DL): I was trying to find a doll for a young niece that looked like her. What followed was five stores and a couple of frustrating conversations with store managers all telling me, “Yeah, we had two or three and when they are gone it’s hard to get them in stock.. If you call and complain maybe they’ll send more. Go online…” That whole experience made me feel like my cultural needs were an after-thought. The concept of conscientious buying came to mind. I said I don’t want to shop in stores that take me for granted.
MN: Why are “authentic” ethnic items so hard to find offline and online?
DL: In the past, if you want something that is authentically made, you had to do destination shopping. You can easily go to eBay or Amazon and get a “Chilean” blanket, but when you receive it, it’s stamped “made in China.” We can and should do better. It takes people three to four times as many searches to identify websites that sell authentic items geared towards ethnic communities than it takes to locate similar items that are geared towards mainstream shoppers who are looking for items that appeal to those with European heritages. For example, Irish lace made in Ireland is easier to find versus Kente cloth made in Ghana.
MN: How does My Culture Hub work?
DL: Our goal is to develop an online web portal that speaks to ethnic identities and provides quality unique merchandise at an affordable price. We don’t just sell merchandise. We tell stories. People who care enough to create ethnic items are people who care enough to tell the history and legacy that comes with the item. You can go on our site and learn how cloth is woven back in Africa. You may then pick up a baby doll for someone on our site that is dressed in that same cloth.
We include information about who and how the product is made. You won’t get items on our site stamped “made in China.” The item becomes an heirloom and something you can use to reinforce your culture with your family and friends. We are seeking a conscientious shopper — that middle, upper class, or person who may not have the means but understands the value of saving up to purchase what you want. Some people think our items are too expensive. I say to my staff, “Remind them: That which is cheap is most expensive in the long run.”
MN: How is the internet helping you to reach your customer and carry out the mission of the site?
DL: The internet is the great equalizer. If you live in a community that doesn’t readily have the product you are looking for, you have to turn to the internet. There’s a great growth opportunity there. Blacks and Latinos are the new emerging markets in online shopping. What are we buying? Where is the thoughtfulness behind what we buy? Is it that we only desire the cheapest product and don’t care about quality? I reject that. There are plenty of people of color who make decent livings, are educated, and are thoughtful in their purchases that would like to have items in their homes that reflect who they are and celebrates their identity.
MN: What makes My Culture Hub so different?
DL: The untapped market is the ethnic market. While everybody is chasing that traditional customer, we’re very content to spend our time in ethnic communities who are just really starting to realize their spending power and deciding purposely to shop online and not in the stores that are just around them. Online shopping opens the world. How do you know where to find what you are looking for? That’s the beauty of our model. We’ll do that for you. We’ll find products that are representations of what destination shopping should be instead of going to Kenya or Mali to find that special item for your home.
We are operating a cooperation that is 100 percent self-funded by people of color. It takes a lot of money and time. The thing that has sustained us is talent. There are very few sites that who actually reflect the cultures that they represent. The majority of my leadership team is comprised of people of color. It’s important to have people making decisions about what we buy based on sound practices and personal experiences being people of color.
MN: What challenges have you faced while building My Culture Hub?
DL: TD Jakes has a quote that I use often: “ You should never try to share a giraffe decision with turtles. They will never be able to see what you see.” We [constantly] have to explain, “Other sites lack the sensitivity. You can go to sites and not see a Black model or obviously Hispanic model anywhere. You go to sites and women are all size 0 or 2. That’s not a reality in communities of color.” No one is really speaking to the truth of the African-American community at large. People tell us they don’t think it will work. People won’t buy on your site. They won’t support something that is Black-owned. We’ve heard it all. We’re doing it anyway.
MN: Why are minority-owned companies so important?
DL: There is nothing wrong (and everything right) about also supporting your own community interests. We need to be focused on growing Black wealth in the United States. With money comes freedom. It’s not always okay to have to ask someone else for permission to do what needs to be done in the best interests of your family. When you have wealth, you have the power and the freedom to do some of the things that we all know we need to do to strengthen our standing in society on a socioeconomic value. We need banks that lend to African Americans and Latinos and not be limited by somebody’s else’s possibility bias for our success. African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans in 2017 will have $4.5 trillion worth of spending power in the United States. We’re spending that money. We’re not investing. It’s very important that while we spend, we spend with a purpose.
As people of color get more education and become more aware of the world and what their place in it is, there will be a demand in higher quality merchandise that is fair trade [and] ethically made. We have the ability to pick what we buy. Because we are sensitive to us, nobody has to come in to train us, we don’t have to hire a group of people to come in and run an “ethnic division.” We are the ethnic division.
MN: What are your future plans for the site?
DL: In addition to having our mainstream board which has some amazing people on it, we also will have a junior board where we have young people (18 and younger) making decisions. We are going to groom those students to be the next leaders in business for our future. Learning how to fail is part of learning how to be successful. It’s really unfortunate in minority population communities that our kids don’t get that opportunity to learn how to fail. We have a low tolerance for risk because we don’t have a safety net.
MN: How will you measure your “success?”
DL: Our success will be measured by how much an impact we can make on our communities and our students. Of course we want to make money. Our biggest goal is to be an example of what can be accomplished when we work together as a community. We’re always thinking about how we can give back as we grow at the same time. It’s part of our vision that we have to support education, student entrepreneurship, and commercialization. When people come and shop on our site, they know that they are reinvesting in their own communities. Where else can you do that?