black entrepreneurs

my B.O.B. - Reflections by Zana

The latest #myBOBstory is one that will have you think about what is most important in life. This myBOB story introduces you to Founder and Owner of Reflections by Zana, Aneesha Smith. You can listen to the full interview with Alexis, as well as read the abridged version below.

You may have noticed that Reflections by Zana was featured on our Instagram. If you’re interested in being featured in the #myBOBstory, reach out via email. This series brings awareness to Black businesses from the owner's perspective. At myblackbox co it's important to know the vision and purpose behind a business.

Aneesha cares 100 percent about the representation her daughters have of their Blackness in their clothing, accessories, and society. It’s what fueled her to ensure her little girls along with many other Black girls and women had something they could call their own.

Where does the name Zana come from?

The Zana originated with my daughters’ names, I have two daughters. Their names are Zarya and Aniya. And so, I took a couple of letters from each and I combined their names.

That's really beautiful. Do they know that the business was a combination of their names? 

They ask me, “why [do] people call you Zana?” I told them that there's a ZA in Zarya, and an NA in Aniya. I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to keep it unique, and of course, my daughters' names are simple and unique. So they, were like 'Ah' —they're young, they're 12 and 14 but when we started the business they were two and a half years younger.

Why did you start Reflections by Zana? 

I started Reflections by Zana because I saw that my daughters loved art. I'm an art lover, I'm a real creative person. I'm not necessarily a grand illustrator, if you will, but I love to be creative and design things, put things together, put different elements together and they kind of took that piece up as they started growing up. I saw when they would bring me pictures they drew…none of the faces on the pictures looked like them. It's natural in a sense, because you're emulating what you see, but what do you see? You see it everywhere. Nobody really looks like you. I started Reflections by Zana to highlight the fact that they could start to become comfortable coloring in those lines and given in some color to their own creations by showing them that it's possible and it's doable. And that little girls, especially, could be comfortable in their own skin, or changing up the game and making those characters that they admire look more like them. We started with representation and painting at the very beginning. I wanted them to see the afro puff and I wanted them to see the skin tones were all different but it was OK. The hair didn't have to be long, it didn't have to flow across your face and down your back, and that's what I was seeing in their work.

I think that your reason for starting your business is something that will definitely resonate with a lot of the myblackbox audience because our future, especially if we're parents, really starts with our children. Would you say that along with your daughters, there is another inspiration that fuels your entrepreneurial journey? 

I've always given myself a reason to have a side business. I've owned several businesses; I've been an editor, I mean my husband wrote books. I've done Mary Kay at one point early when I first became a nurse. When I was little and I had a typewriter and I would type up sales pages for dance classes that I was doing for neighborhood children. Mind you, I'm a neighborhood kid myself. But, the expression piece has always been there. I could probably point to very few years in my adult life where I was not a part of a business or trying to start a business or getting to run a business. Reflections by Zana was the business that stuck. It stuck because of technology changes; it stuck because of the rising era of women who wanted to be represented in more than just magazines and television. They wanted to wear things, they wanted to make statements every day. The drive [has] always been an entrepreneurial drive.  I have brothers that have companies and I think it's just been in us. For me personally, I'm always looking for [a] way to be able to express that and get products to people in certain markets that I enjoy.

As you say, there's a larger amount of Black women who are pursuing entrepreneurial goals and starting businesses whether that be in retail, food and beverage, beauty [and] hair, or apparel. I think it's more acceptable in society for younger generations to venture out and try new ideas instead of just go with a given traditional route.  I would love to know who you consider a great example of Black entrepreneurship? 

I'm going to give you a couple of names that probably are brands that your audience may be familiar with; they're also part of a community that I'm a part of called Traffic, Sales, and Profit. These are everyday women that built up products and services that serve woman. The first one is Sassy Jones Boutique with Charis Jones. She does jewelry, unique jewelry as a subscription box service and it's just classy, uplifting products that her entire community is very grateful for the access to that and a place for that. Then the second is [inaudible]. She has another large community, she does exactly the kind of same messaging that I do, with confidence in who you are, confidence in being Black.

I'm glad that you shared other Black women entrepreneurs, because there’s sometimes a believe that woman can't support other woman; or they're afraid that there's not enough room at whatever table they found themselves at, so they won't invite others to it or help others get to it.

It's doable. The reason I didn't give you a household name was because these woman are household names in their own communities.  They're not corporate or they haven't been bought and sold and watered down. It's kind of like on the journey you meet people that are as passionate as you, and so, I did. It’s an amazing process to see behind that, to meet them, and then see them in action and mentoring others and setting a great example.

[On] that accord, I'd love to know why should consumers purchase with Reflections by Zana?

You should buy with me because of the standards. I have high standards of excellence. We work hard to provide products, especially with our art‑based products, a lot of illustrations are beautiful, classy illustrations that we really hope make those statements that you want to make when you go to work.  Make statements when you are on vacation, when you're just out shopping and you want to be seen and you want to turn heads. I find a lot of our pieces are conversational when I carry things around. And then to speak to my smaller items that I actually do hand‑make—I make badges and one of my customers had a professional photoshoot in her badge that she got from me. It's a three‑inch wooden badge and I stain it, and I paint it, and I adorn it and then I put the degree letters or the professional letters that you have earned in the hair. Before I even started offering illustrated items, I sold something as simple as a work badge. I've made almost 10,000 badges since I started doing it and I'm the only person that makes them. I will always be selling those. They will always be bought and the representation, the need for representation is real.

You bring up a good segue because I would love to know of [the] collections of your products, which is your most favorite and why? 

The illustration that gets me, brings me in the most, I would say is probably my Loc’d Goddess. She is forward facing, her hair is loc‑d, I've had a ton of customers request a locs illustration from me because I've done the afropuffs and the locs are in. She's got an African choker on and she's very lively and exuberant. Every time I'm out vending and I open something with her on it or bring something with her on it, locs or not, people stop. They stop and they turn around and they come back. So, I'm going to say my favorite so far is her. I do have another one that I'm going to be releasing—I kind of started the collection, I haven't finished getting it on my site—but Queen Zara, she's a head wrap. She's another absolutely gorgeous Black woman—full lips, nose, earrings…absolutely classy, animated, exuberant and she's going to be up hopefully [late June].

Things that represents us as we come into our own as Black women is pretty telling, especially in the options that you present with Reflections By Zana. My next question is what advice do you have for Black girls and women who struggle finding their place in society? 

Well, I will say there's a lot of hurt in the Black community. I'm a dark‑skinned woman and I got teased growing up. I got teased about being dark skin and chocolate this, and tar that. These are my school mates and people in the streets. I had my parents who really instilled a value of self‑worth. I know that everyone doesn't have somebody that's close to them that can constantly remind them that the world is a bit crazy when it comes to these matters. I feel like hopefully we can encourage women to seek inside and seek visuals. My daughters, they have Instagram accounts and I monitor them. I tag them in all the Black art I can find. I let them know it is OK to find space and to be comfortable in those spaces, and to draw, to create characters of color. Period. My 12 year old draws for me, and she's got two designs and I'm very excited to release for kids. They're just so fun and uplifting. My advice would be to find communities and it's OK if you don't want to be called Blerds or Black nerds. I'm telling you since I started this business my daughters bring me art that is colored in now. They bring me afropuffs; they bring me headbands and cute fuzzy bangs and dark skin characters. I think it's  deeper conversation, but I would say my biggest tip would be to find safe spaces and to find people who like the things that you like—and they may not be what a “typical black girl” likes or what a “typical Black woman” is interested in or should be interested in. 

I don't want to end on this topic…because we can go on forever but I do have three remaining questions to ask you about your business. The one that I'm sure everyone will want to know—especially since you are in a clothing and apparel space—how did you financially start your business? 

I was a nurse…I bootstrapped it. I can tell you that my badges paid for a whole lot of retention. Believe it or not, that badge costs $20; shipped to your house for $20.  We had to increase the price when we realized how much work it was. But that money, we [a] hundred percent invested right back. We just grew and grew and grew that bank account until we could afford to step out and explore other product options. So, you go to my Etsy shop and get to see how diverse our offers are, from compression socks to stethoscopes—I had 100 stethoscopes made, limited edition with our logo on it. It was a hundred percent reinvestment and just very careful research as to what we could afford to roll out next and keep our community interested in what we were doing. I originally started with nursing, just RNs ,and then people started requesting BSN; and then people started requesting MSN and DNP; and then social workers were like well what about social workers. And [then] doctors were like, well wait a minute I'm an AKA, but I'm also a physician, can you make that work, can you put my [Greek] letters, could it be in the hair and with rhinestones, and in I want everything! We let our customers talk to us about what they wanted to see and how they wanted to display everything they had accomplished.

That's a fantastic example of sowing a seed and watching it grow and then taking the harvest from that seed that grew into this beautiful plant, that delivered bountiful fruit and replanting seeds from the fruit that you gained. Then it blossoming from there to different professional levels and to different Greek letter organizations to other spaces of their identity because no one's one‑dimensional—I can be an attorney, and be an AKA, and be a mom.

When I tell you my repeat customers…they're so unique. I've had people attempt to offer what I'm offering and they don't last very long because it really is a labor of love— to get something so intricate and so meaningful to one individual knowing it won't last forever but the time [it] that you have is just so much about you.

I think that's why your customer base continues to purchase with you again is because of the value you bring and the sentiment that it connects with them. I think it's hard for a lot of businesses to figure that out. I would love to know from you what advice you would give to someone like you who has an idea but is afraid to take the first step to launch.

Do your research first, get a really good idea on answering a few questions as to if this is going to be a hobby for you; is this something you want to get out in the world and see where it goes? Are you prepared for popularity? Are you prepared for failure? Are you financially prepared to take the jump, does it make sense? These are questions that…as a person that's excited about an idea, you skip these questions. Because of course, it's an idea that I love and of course people will love it too because they will and you haven't really done the research into the why people may or may not be sold. I have about 7,200 sales on Etsy and about maybe 900 reviews. It's like a five star experience. That experience is something you must prepare from day one to deliver to your customers. You got to hit the ground running, and make sure that you can deliver on an entire experience with them, talk to them.

I think most people, I'll say, are very excited about their idea and the success that they can have but the work that they have to put into it, they're not very honest with themselves about that work. My last question is what can we expect from Reflections by Zana in 2019? 

Me and my husband, we go to conferences where we feel will be important and help us see what the next steps will be. For me, I feel like it's time to grow community around Reflections by Zana, so I'm going to be starting a Facebook group, that will celebrate individuality, professionalism, and allow people to show off what they purchased from us. I don't really talk to my audience directly very much and I'm going to start doing that too. I want to kind of make sure we have our collections and there's something fresh and exciting coming up. For anyone that's in the Atlanta area, we'll be at the Second Annual WeBuyBlack convention on August 23 to 25. For the rest of the year it's just kind of going to be about doing some of the fine tuning—our messages, letting our customers see us more, and starting to build a community.

Well the myblackbox community definitely should go and check you out at the WeBuyBlack Second Annual Conference in August. They can also head over to your site and go through the beautiful collections available and if they are Greek, the Greek‑lettered offerings you have. It's quite exciting to see the different variations of things that you offer on the site. I do hope that our audience supports you and of course thank you again for your time!

The alignment was amazing! Thank you so much. Thank you.

Aneesha’s mindfulness and care for her daughters’ self-image based on representation in the media clearly sparked the journey for a successful clothing and accessories brand. How inspired are you after learning about her journey?

Hueful stories for you.

my B.O.B - HourxHour

The latest #myBOBstory is one that will have you think about what is most important in life. This myBOB story introduces you to Founder and Creator of HourxHour, Alexis Avery. You can listen to the full interview with Alexis, as well as read the abridged version below.

You may have noticed that HourxHour was featured on our Instagram. If you’re interested in being featured in the #myBOBstory, reach out via email. This series brings awareness to Black businesses from the owner's perspective. At myblackbox co it's important to know the vision and purpose behind a business.

Alexis has been managing a medical condition, a growing bath and body business for the chronically ill, and life for the past 8 years with one mantra driving her forward: “My purpose is to help somebody else get through their day with their condition.”

Can you share with me why you started your business?

Actually, Hour by Hour morphed from an older business I had called Control Butter, which I made body butters. When I got sick it derailed me for two years. I completely shut down that business and I was bedridden and house bound for two years while we were trying to figure out what I had and what was going on. I remember sitting in my car one day and I had a breakdown. And an epiphany, I could do it. I had come home from work, I had left work for a doctor's appointment. They didn't have any answers for me. It broke me down. And I sat in my car and I cried. I cried for a good 30 minutes because I didn't know how I was going to get through finding out what was wrong. I told myself, if you could get through a minute, Alexis, you'll be okay. If you get through an hour, you'll be great. You're strong enough to get through an hour and at the time I wanted to redo my business and I couldn't figure out a name. And I was like, Hour by Hour, that's what I'm going to call it! I'm going to make it for people like me, people who are fighting to get through the day when they don't think they can. They can't take it day by day because that's too much. They don't know what the day is going to entail but if they take it hour by hour or sometimes even minute by minute. That's how it came to be.

I think that, one, thank you for sharing the background of how you started. I'm always fascinated by Black entrepreneurs who started business out of a need or a necessity or because it was on their heart or on their spirit to start because it was something that they lived through. So, thank you for sharing that. With that, I'd love to know what inspiration do you use today and now to fuel your entrepreneurial journey with Hour by Hour?

There's every day struggles that people with invisible chronic and mental illnesses go through. A lot of us have a lot of pain and doubt from co-workers and friends and family, things like that. We don't have a lot of support. So, every one of my products actually has a story and that story stems from a real-life experience. One of my bath salts, soaking bath salts, it is a salt that's main use is to soak in a tub. There's no fragrance, it's not going to irritate you. Soak for hours without the water bothering your skin, without getting itchy. Sometimes you need that when you have a flare, when you don't feel good but you could barely walk, or when you've been at work all day and people are accusing you of faking. A lot of people DM me, a lot of people talk to me on Instagram and social media and things like that and they tell me what they go through and it's what I go through and, I could 110 percent relate. I always try to make my products and my brand accommodate that or speak to that or reflect that and that's what fuels it, 110 percent. It's always going to fuel it because at this point it's not a passion, it's a purpose. My purpose is to help somebody else get through their day with their condition. My purpose is to help you relax. My purpose is to help you find some type of relief even if it's not going to last. I need you to have a bit of relief away from the pain and doubt and suffering that you're in.

When you think about the products that you have, of them, which is your most favorite and why? If you can, share a testimonial from a customer who’s reached out and thanked you for creating something that's been helping to soothe or assist them with exactly what you intended with Hour by Hour. 

That would definitely be my body butter. It's the product that started it all. That was my very first thing I made eight years ago, a mango body butter. Although the recipe has morphed and changed and advanced some, it's pretty much still the same staple product. Everyone who buys this butter has raved about it so far! I'm very fortunate for that. I haven't received a bad review on this product yet in the eight years that I've been making it, selling it, giving it away, gifting it. They say they love the way it makes them smell, their husbands take more interest in them, they like the way it melts into their skin, it stops the itching, stops the chafing. When they have conditions where they take medication, it makes their skin really dry and they get some relief from it. They said it's moisturizing enough to wear; it alleviates that irritation from that symptom and that's so heartwarming for me to hear. I know what it's like to be on different types of medications when you have different symptoms and you don't know where to go or what to do, how to get any type of relief. For them to say hey I need something that you made, and for a couple hours the itch went away, I was so happy, it makes me tear up. It's overwhelming. I still can't believe that I'm able to help someone like that and I don't take it for granted at all.

I'm sure that it's a very like reciprocated experience for both parties. Do you know of any other products out there that actually do focus on people who are going through mental or physical, or some other medical issue where they need similar products that Hour by Hour provides?

I would have to say I haven't found one yet, and I do search. And this isn't to downplay any other companies and their mission because a lot of the companies that are in my field have beautiful missions. You have people who want to take out all the toxic chemicals in their products and make all natural, organic products, you have people who are interested in saving the palm trees that some of our parks come from, you have people with all these other wonderful missions but I haven't come across a brand yet that solely focuses on chronic, mental, and invisible illnesses. And I think the reason behind that may be invisible illnesses they can't be seen. So, people really don’t take them seriously and people don't acknowledge them or the people that suffer with them. And mental illness is not cute. It's not sexy, it's not fun, it's not hip, it's not trendy. It's real and it's scary and it's unpredictable and sometimes it's dangerous. Now, do I make products that don't do anything different than other bath and body companies? No, I don't. I have a body butter. I can say I have very high quality and sometimes a lot of ingredients, but at the end of the day it's still a cream you rub on your body. There's a million others out there. But, is there a cream out there that you can rub on your body that was made with you in mind that it's so light when you rub it on your herniated joints you don't have to massage hard onto your skin that's already painful. Can you find a cream that's not overly loaded with fragrance that is going to make you sick because you're in chemo, but you still want a cream that has a little bit of scent, because you want to feel like a woman although you've been in a hospital bed for 27 days straight. Unless a company has a founder that's in the same situation, I don't think that they're going to be able to do it.

Pain doesn't necessarily sell unless it's the pain of an under represented group that is actually preyed upon by a majority group for pleasure. Sickness doesn't sell unless it's the sickness of a group in a country. And mental health is not sexy, no one really wants to talk about it, but we want to talk about it when it's too late because someone's killed themselves or someone has harmed someone else or someone has done something that is not revocable. I appreciate that you were speaking as a human being to these people, to women, and I'm sure men buy your products too; but to women who have felt unseen and unheard on top of going through something medically or health-wise that's probably debilitating and doesn't make them feel whole.

So what you don't have a mental illness? So what you don't struggle with depression? So what you don't struggle with anxiety, but your day was as hard? If you made it through, hour by hour you made it through, and you want to relax in a bathtub, by all means, you deserve it. You earned it. And I really want people to understand that you don't have to be sick to deserve compassion for your struggle throughout that day.

Self-care is universal. There's no qualifications needed for self-care and your products are definitely in the realm of what any woman or any person could consider as a relaxing way to unwind from their day or from a problem. Which leads me to a really great question for you: Why should consumers purchase from Hour by Hour?

If you want a bath and body brand that really was formulated for your needs as a person who's struggling through the day, come to me. From the ingredients to the scents to the actual product that I make, they're all designed to help you get through the day, hour by hour. The scents of my candles, I have a very limited selection of scents in all of my products but each scent has a story behind it, each scent and most of my candles were made with the intention to give you something to [enjoy] that's going to relax you; that's going to calm you; that’s going to bring back a good memory. Every product has a purpose. Every product has a reason behind it. People love bath bomb cupcakes, and I do them for special events and people custom order them for party favors, but you won't find them in my line because what does a bath bomb cupcake have to do with helping you get through the day hour by hour? It's cute, but it serves no purpose for what you're going through.

I love that you talk about your products having a purpose first. I wonder if you feel that you have an example of someone or another entity you think could be considered a great example of Black entrepreneurship?

I'm going to give you two people off of Instagram that I follow for motivation and information. I like Cici from the Six Figure Chicks, who makes digital products, informational digital products. She teaches you how to build an e-mail list, she teaches you how to market, she teaches you a little bit about branding and she's really good at what she does, she's very informative. But she's very authentic. When I first came across her page, the first motto that I saw was, 'I'm friendly, not free.' I was like well that's blunt, that's kind of rude, don't you think. In her caption, she said, 'I'm not for everybody, down from the way I speak to the products I make. I am not for everybody and I'm okay with that.' And that blew my mind because at the time I was like you have to cater to everybody, you have to give everybody something and she was like no, I don't. Another lady that I love is Renelle Stewart also known as Supa Cent of the Crayon Case on Instagram. I use her for drive and motivation. I've been following her since the beginning from zero to a million, literally. She started her brand for amateur makeup artists. She was on Instagram not knowing how to do her makeup and she taught herself and that's what her brand is about. When it comes to hustle and being authentic to yourself and being profitable with that, those are the two women I look up to on Instagram right now.

I recently was added to the Six Figure Army Facebook group and there's so many amazing women talking about their businesses. I don't think I've ever been exposed to such a level of consistency of Black women doing and achieving and sharing knowledge willingly. And then with Supa Cent, I was talking to a colleague recently about how while I don't really wear a lot of bright or exuberant colors, I appreciate her grind and how when she does a sale, it's millions in sales within an hour, within minutes. It's pretty amazing and she doesn't have to be in a Sephora or a Mac or a JC Penney or any of these other retailers. She's doing it out of her own space and with her own team. You can't deny that level of ingenuity that Black women bring to the table when they put their mind to it so thank you for those examples. I think this is a really great place to discuss how have you or how did you financially start your business?

In 2008 I found a local program called the Savings Match Program and what they did was up to $2,000 you could save, they would match the $2,000 for a total of $5,000. I did the program, I got accepted, I graduated and I got my money. With the exception of the money I spent on my well materials and containers, I got ripped off of everything else. I bought my computer…and I bought my containers so maybe for a total of $2,500 I got all my materials and stuff and I lost everything else with being ripped off. So, fast forward throughout the years, I'm starting, I'm stopping, I'm starting, I'm stopping because I'm so sick and because I couldn't keep the cash flow going. Instead of paying myself first I pay my business first. I make those sales, I put it back into my business. Now I'm finally at a place where I have more consistency, I have more sales coming in, and so I'm able to have a cycle of money and purchasing going to where I don’t have that gap of not being able to move product because I can't make product. I got a really big gift from the program and I didn't manage it correctly and lost it all and then I funded it through selling product and my job.

You took that risk because some people are too afraid to do that. And then you learned from the experience that you had after reaping the benefits of that program and starting over, stopping, starting over, stopping, but then still picking yourself back up and coming to a place where you could actually figure out what's going to work best for you to keep Hour by Hour moving forward to the goals that you have.

I actually read this quote that says 'It's not your fault if you're born poor. It is your fault if you die the same.' And ever since I read that it resonated with me. So, quitting to me isn't an option. Hour by Hour is going to be one of the most successful bath and body brands out there eventually. I know it's going to come to pass and I'm expectant of everything that's going to happen, good and bad.

The quote that you shared, that's a powerful message right there. That quote could probably sum up any good advice, but what advice do you have for Black girls and women who are struggling to find their place in society?

Do not wait for society to give you a place. You take your place and you tell society, this is where it's at, because society is going to place you in a place that's not beneficial to you. Society is going to place you in a place that you're not happy in. Society is going to place you in a place where you're going to suffer and let you wither away. You don't wait for society to give you permission to do anything. You make your own lane. You make a space where you feel protected, where you can be yourself, where you can flourish, because society isn't going to let you flourish. It's not. They're not going to let you evolve, so you make society bend to what you want. It's your space, you make the rules, you run the show, and that's how it is.

There's so many women who need that message and I hope that they hear it and receive it 100 percent. What advice would you give to someone like you who has an idea but is afraid to take the first step to launch?

When you say someone like me, I hear you saying a young woman who looks healthy but is not. What I would tell that woman is medically get yourself together because you won't be able to do it without that consistency. You can't get that consistency if you're always sick. Since 2008 to 2019 I failed. I'm resilient, nothing can keep me down. Train yourself to be resilient because you're going to fail, people aren't going to help you up, people aren't going to want to see you win, and sometimes you're only going to have yourself to rely on. It's lonely and it's sad but once you get your momentum and once you get going, then people will start to believe in you and help you. Make that website that looks like you made it. Make that first sample. Go to that first event, whether your 110 percent prepared or not. Build your confidence because, oh honey, you're going to need it. You need to find something that's going to anchor you down. Write what you want your business to be in five years, ten years. Write it down, put it on a door, every door of your house so you never miss it.

Wow! I don't even want to have to ask my last question because what you gave, I nearly have tears in my eyes and I was sitting here like at church, getting a good word! Last question, what can we expect from Hour by Hour in 2019?

For the remainder of 2019 going to 2020, we are planning a This is Us campaign, which is going to take a look at what does invisible illness really look like. We're working on a subscription box, that's been a big request and we're working on a kid's line because the funniest thing I've ever heard is asking a kid what stresses you out. I'm so excited to do a children's line of products catered to children because apparently sharing crayons in preschool is a stressful situation! I'm all about consistency, professionalism and presentation so I'm working on that as well.

It all sounds fantastic. I'm excited to see this kid's line too. I feel that children they're incredibly impressionable, one, and two, there's often a lot of placement of what an adult wants a child to think, believe, and feel and not enough of understanding what children are actually thinking and feeling because they're incredibly smart and they communicate well when they are given the space to do so. Where can people find you and your products?

You can find me on Instagram, @hourxhour. You can find me on my website at

Wonderful. Well, thank you Alexis for joining me, thank you so much for your time and telling the audience about Hour by Hour, your experience, as well as understanding there are so many people out there with invisible illnesses, chronic illnesses and even those dealing with mental health illness that we need to be a bit more compassionate towards; as well as being compassionate to ourselves when we need self-care.

Yes, 100 percent. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Alexis’ triumphant story should light a fire under your you-know-what! How can you not find the spirit to make your goals a reality with your business now?

Hueful stories for you.

my B.O.B - Aramark Farm

The latest #myBOBstory is one that will have you think about what is most important in life. This myBOB story introduces you to Founder and Owner of Vassell Foods (product line: Arawak Farm), Lloyd Vassell. You can listen to the full interview with Lloyd, as well as read the abridged version below.

You may have noticed that Vassell Foods was featured on our Instagram. If you’re interested in being featured in the #myBOBstory, reach out via email. This series brings awareness to Black businesses from the owner's perspective. At myblackbox co it's important to know the vision and purpose behind a business.

Lloyd has been an entrepreneur for over 30 years, but first began his professional career in Corporate America. With his West Indian background, strong familial ties, and an appreciation for alternative food options for sensitive stomachs.

Why did you start your business?

Couple of reasons; one I've been an entrepreneur since 1999. I left Corporate America because I am the proverbial nail in the wood. When a nail sticks out the first thing you want to do hammer it back in. I'm not really a conformist. I like my own destiny; I like creating my own destiny. Two, in my lifetime I've been in the media, I've been in consumer goods, I've been in high tech. But my passion has always been food. My dad was a chef. I'm a chef and it's something that I've always come back to. When the opportunity presented itself, I jumped in with both feet and started this business.

I'd love to learn a little bit more about the experience you had in corporate that helped you find that you did not want to be in that environment, in that type of work structure, since a lot of people are either working at a corporate office or they work at the front lines of a corporation and aren't always able to get out of that.

Well, getting out of it is probably the hardest thing that you're probably going to do. I was in upper management, senior management in my corporate experience. But I was never in charge of my own destiny. I had to report to somebody. It's funny how you report to somebody who's either younger, less educated, or some of the other adjectives I won't use. Let's just say that I'm just not the kind of person who's going to sit behind a desk for 8 hours and be completely productive. I was productive obviously because I was in management. It was always that inkling of I could do more. In Corporate America you really don't get the opportunity to do more, until they're ready, until they tell you it's time to do more. Secondarily, I had a little bit of a push out the door in the sense of that my youngest son had sickle cell anemia and he had a bone marrow transplant coming up. In my last corporate position I was Director of Corporate Branding and Global Sponsorship for Sun Microsystems. I was constantly traveling and I had to make a decision do I continue to travel or be by his side for the next six months as he gets the bone marrow transplant and then recuperates—it wasn't a really hard decision.

I've worked for several corporations and startups as well and I've found that what you're saying in regards to them not letting you do more until you're ready to do just don't get to be your authentic self completely. When you have life moments that arise they're dismissed and you're seen as like not 100% committed to the company, but human beings are supposed to be 100% committed to their life and those who are their loved ones in it. Not a business or some entity.

Some of the listeners might have heard Steve Harvey talk about this experience called jump. In life you have to jump when it's right. God has a way of protecting all of us even though we don't fully believe or not, you're protected. There were times in our lives when we have to drop off the cliff and an opportunity might face you and you look at it and go well I'm not ready. You're never ready. You're never ready to start, but you have to believe in yourself, and you have to jump.

What inspiration do you use to fuel your entrepreneurial journey?

My family inspires me because they are the reasons why I'm out here. Starting your own business is not an easy thing to do. I want to give the impression that out of the [businesses] that I've started, they've all gone on to be a glorious success. No they haven't, but you have to realize that it's not for everybody. Entrepreneurial life is not for everybody. There are some people who need a check every two weeks to come in the mail or go to your bank account to feel secure. And there are some people like me who look at though I might not get paid every two weeks I determine my direction, I determine my lifestyle. When I do get paid it's considerably more than what I would have made every two weeks. I think family inspires you; friends can inspire you. If you don't inspire yourself to make it happen, then you'll fall to the whims of your friends and family.

You have to maintain that value that you know your business product or service is bringing, what you put into it, and say no friend I can't give it to you for free. I think my next question plays into how value strengthens brand love, your business love, and repeat business hopefully. Who do you consider a great example of Black entrepreneurship?

I go back to Reginald Lewis and people will go, "Who?" Growing up he was a Black man that bought [what is now known as] Tropicana and you have to understand that back then a Black man buying Tropicana was completely unheard of. Tropicana is huge. He bought it and took it private. This is back in probably the 80s too. To me it's like, "How did he do that? How did he pull that off?" To me Reginald Lewis was a true inspiration that I can buy Tropicana...and to me, that set me on the path to be an entrepreneur. If he could do it, I could do it.

Those are strong examples because for Millennials or Gen Z-ers they're not always that astute on historical figures in Black communities that have done these amazing things that were never supposed to be done by a Black person or when it was first achieved it was the first time a Black person had made such a large accomplishment. We have so many amazing examples to refer to from our past, which helped pave the way for these ones today who are becoming the first XYZ. [This] leads me to my next question for you, why should consumers purchase from your business? What is it that makes your business so unique?

I'm West Indian by heritage and [we're] known for eating spicy food. I don't like incredibly hot food, but I do like spicy foods. When I looked at starting a business, I looked at my heritage and I'm a descendent of Arawak Indian. They are the indigenous people of the West Indies. Our products are vegan, gluten free, low sodium, and low sugar. I was vegan before vegan was cool. I was gluten free before gluten free was cool. People who buy my products care what goes into their bodies. They have a quality of life that is expressed in their palate. My consumer, my customer, has an expanded palate and with any product, not every product is for every person. I'm not trying to be all things to everybody; that's not my goal. My goal is to provide products that are of the highest quality, are of unique flavor profiles, and good value. We have three lines: we have pepper sauces, we have spicy food spreads, and we have dry rub spice blends. We're working with the American Heart Association to get a [claim] on our packaging because it's so low in sugar that even pre-diabetics buy from me. Most dry rubs on the market...the sodium content [is] 25%, or 28%. If I'm going to sell you salt, I'm going to sell you salt. I'm not going to sell you a product laid down with salt so I can make another quarter.

Of the product lines and offerings that you have, which is your most favorite and why?

Well that's like saying which one of my kids are pretty?! All my kids are pretty! On a serious note, the jerk would be my favorite because that's most reflective of my heritage. All these recipes are my recipes. I have to admit that the jerk is my grandmother's recipe, well my great grandmother's recipe. This is the way my family has always made it. If you look at some of these jerk recipes online and in stores they'll have 12 to 15 ingredients. Jerk has 9 ingredients, period; 10 if you add seasoning. No preservatives, no thickeners. Nothing. I'm not going to sell you something that I can't eat. I have a very sensitive system and so if I can't eat it, I'm not going to serve it to you.

How did you financially start your business considering all of what you knew you were going to be intentional with your spices?

I didn't have to reinvent the wheel. Our pepper sauces, I'd been making these years. But I’d just been putting them in jars and giving them to friends, and they come back and say "Can I have some more please?" And everybody tells you, "You should bottle this and sell it!" When I left Corporate America, I left with a pocketful of stock and I had a few dollars stashed away. But also my wife has a good job. I couldn't do any of this without her support. You know every stool should have at least three legs because [with] two legs and you know what happens to the stool. I also have investors and I'm glad to say that they're all minority investors. It wasn't like I had to twist arms to get people to invest with me. People who invested with me knew me and they knew me well enough that if I'm getting in food, I know what I'm doing. I had a chance to be Famous Amos and he said people come up to him and say, "You're such an overnight success!" And he told me, "Look, Lloyd, I've been in business 10 years. It took me 10 years to be an overnight success."

Could you share any advice that you have for Black boys and men who are struggling or struggle with finding their place in society? With your business, you've carved out your space and I'm sure probably in your personal life too. But for those who are trying to have that personal development first, I'd love to have your advice to Black boys and men who are struggling to find their place in society.

Education, you've got to stay in school. Go back to school. Don't leave school. Doesn't mean you have to go to college, but you have to know how to read and write. You can't keep money if you don't know how to add money. You have to believe in yourself. Imagine if Avis listened to their competitors and said don't compete against Hertz because it doesn't work being number two. Avis has been around for a really long time as number two. You don't have to be the best. Don't let perfect stop you from being good. We spend months and months and months of writing a business plan, and all we've done so far is write a business plan. You've got to jump! You've got to find something that you're passionate about because when you're told no more than you’re told yes, you got to be able to wake up that next morning, go dust yourself off and keep going. As young Black men we're told no way more than we're told yes. Find a mentor. A friend of mine once told me you can't make a $1 million by following people who are broke. If you want to make a $1 million find somebody who's made a $1 million and ask them how they did it. And don't take no for an answer, because sometimes that no is out of jealousy.

I've got one last question for you before we wrap up our conversation and that's for the myblackbox audience to learn what we can expect from Arawak Farm in 2019, the rest of 2019, what do you have in store?

Well if I told ya, I'd have to kill you [laughs]. Not everything that you plan goes your way. At this point retail is now one of the third on my list of things to do. Food service and private label are where we're making our mark There are some companies that we're negotiating with that are allowing us to create spices [and] custom blends for them. There are companies who are taking some of our seasonings as they are and getting exclusive rights to them so they can put them in their jar, with their company's labels on them. There are large restaurant chains who are coming to us and asking us to sell them our products in bulk. For us in 2019, is to keep pushing with the food service and private label. Yes we're still doing retail. Yes, you can still buy our products online.

There is that saying of moving in silence but I'm excited for your private labeling opportunities and also that I could still buy your sauces and spices online at, correct? or

Thank you Lloyd for joining and all the best for the rest of 2019.

Thank you for the opportunity.

Lloyd’s story hopefully inspires you be passionate about what you’re doing and don’t allow a no or requests for freebies to deter you from launching your business.

Hueful stories for you.

my B.O.B - Nubian Hue Non-Brew

The latest #myBOBstory is one that will surely inspire and empower you. This myBOB story introduces you to Owner and Creator of Nubian Hue Non-Brew, LaJoyce Waajid. You can listen to the full interview with LaJoyce, as well as read the abridged version below.

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You may have noticed that Nubian Hue Non-Brew was featured on our Instagram. If you’re interested in being featured in the #myBOBstory, reach out via email. This series brings awareness to Black businesses from the owner's perspective. At myblackbox co it's important to know the vision and purpose behind a business.

LaJoyce has been an entrepreneur for 20 years, supporting herself and three children. A vegan, natural hair cosmetologist, and colon therapist, LaJoyce has always cared about her customers and community from their heads to their souls. When she couldn’t find non-addictive, healthy, and cost effective alternatives to her coffee cravings LaJoyce did what many Black women do: made her own option.

Tell me a little bit about why you started your business.

I started my business out of need and necessity. I was a vegan for many years before it got popular. Before there was a Slutty Vegan, I was vegan. But I was a vegan addicted to coffee, which was an oxymoron. The whole purpose of going vegan is to live a healthy, happy life. The coffee was a bit addictive. It was costing me a lot of money and I needed an opportunity to wean myself off of it. I found myself struggling with the addiction to coffee. I had to find a way to get myself off of the coffee so I created my own way.

That's amazing. I don't think I've ever been exposed to a vegan [faux coffee]. But that's such an ingenious idea. What inspired you to pursue the entrepreneurial aspect of introducing your vegan [faux coffee] to market?

Well after looking for an opportunity to have a ready made coffee alternative, there weren't any; going into grocery stores; going to my local markets, like the outdoor farmer's markets that were popping up just a little bit. I didn't see anything. I'm like, OK I'm a mommy, I'm on the go. At the time, I was a natural hair care cultivator. I owned one of the first full service natural hair salons in Henry County, Georgia. In my search and in my quest I didn't find anything, so I of course had to create my own. I kind of took the concept based off of how in the medicine world they would take an addict who was addicted to crack cocaine or heroin, and they would use morphine which was another drug to win them off. In my thought process I was like, oh wow wouldn't it be great to create a coffee alternatives that looked and felt like coffee, but it wasn't coffee. It's giving you something healthy; weaning you off of the bad stuff onto some good stuff. I started playing around with some herbs and spices and I created it, then I started presenting it to markets.

I love that you mentioned how you didn't see it, So you created it. That's very much something that I believe Black women are used to—like there's nothing out there for me that's doing what I need it to do or doing what I know it should do I'm gonna make it myself. Why should consumers purchase with your business? What is the reason that they should buy from you with this alternative to coffee, as well as being something applicable to their vegan lifestyle?

Well for one, again, what a coffee is going to do it's going to at some point exasperate a woman's fibroids; it helps to agitate and create acid reflux. After a period of time I know our coffee drinkers say, I just have one cup a day. Well one cup a day, 365 days a year could totally screw you over health wise. Even if you're not a vegan—but of course [even] a vegan—you can have the [faux] coffee lattes and get some effects that are going to be good for you. As opposed to having some adverse effects like coffee would do, the vegan [faux] coffee is going to work on a holistic level. It's going to give you natural energy. So it's working internally to help revitalize you.

For those who aren't vegan and aren't as aware of the benefits of veganism—especially with finding this alternative coffee that you provide—what would you say have been challenges in getting non-vegans to be interested in this alternative from their favorite Starbucks or their local coffee shop?

To be honest, I really haven't had a challenge. What I love most about it is it's not only good for you, but it's good to you. Even my non-vegan people when they come—I always offer samples because I want you to try it—I just don't want to sell something you're not able to try it. People who are not vegan, it's the majority of them that's drinking it. They're like, 'Wow, I can't believe this is vegan!' That's why I deemed it a vegan dessert in a bottle. I've created all of these wonderful flavors to throw people off from "Oh this is vegan" because they're thinking 'vegan bland.' No, this is vegan wow! We have flavors like Pecan Pie—that has fresh pecans in it. We have Lavish, which has fresh lavender flowers and cocoa with it; Banana Almond Joy. It's like I'm introducing non-vegan people [to] an opportunity to have a healthy alternative. They don't have to go completely vegan; take some small steps into the right direction to health.

I'm glad that you brought up some of the different flavors. Of those, which is your favorite?

Because I make them all through me and then I sell them to everybody else. My favorite is the Sweet Potato Faux, of which I use a real sweet potato in it. My next best favorite is my Banana Almond Joy. It's made with real banana, I have almond butter in it. Our basis in all of them is chicory root. My next best favorite is our Tasty Tu, which is our turmeric latte. And then Eden's Garden, which is Matcha green Moringa latte.

I would probably want to try that turmeric one. To circle back in talking about like Black entrepreneurship. What inspiration do you use to fuel your journey as a Black entrepreneur?

One, my children. As a mother it is imperative that I teach my children the importance of entrepreneurship. Of course when they see me out here working and doing what I need to do for our best interest, it sparks something in them. So bringing them along and letting them see the ins and outs of business; the highs and the lows. The rewards at the end, you know being your own boss and empowering yourself as well as being able to empower others; having that true power in the palm of your hand is my inspiration. I want to be an example to my children.

What you're describing, as far as your inspiration for your entrepreneurial journey, is important from my perspective. I hope our audience understands the importance of doing this too—including their family, their children in it because hopefully that inspires them to continue entrepreneurship in their life too.

My biggest thing is there's always this dialect of what we should do. I'm a Gemini. My birthday was last week. So I'm a doer. Conversation is great, but when we're done conversing what next? There has to be a ‘what next.’ To me I'm the living example of the what next. Now I've had many businesses. I'm 45 and in my journey for the last 20 years I've worked for myself and employed my people. I am a divorcee and a mother of three. To carry that weight on my back, when people see me I want them to say she is a living example of what we should be doing; if she could do it—with no startup capital, no bank has given me big money. None. Off of brilliance, muscle, and determination. You know every day I get out here; it's like I want to make certain that I do my part. If everybody takes the initiative to do their part, I think collectively as a Black unit we'd be better off.

100 percent agree with that, especially on the point of doing. There's a lot of talk and a lot of ideating, but there's not a lot of doing. I think a lot of people fail to do. What advice do you have for Black girls and women who struggle finding their place in society?

I think that it's important to go within. There is this inner standing that we have to be comfortable with in terms of self. Oftentimes there is this stigmas that Black women and our black girls allow themselves to be crippled by; which I believe creates a fear factor. It cripples them from wanting to move forward. I think that if they go inward and listen to their inner voice, and try to elevate some of their inner power they'll have the power to kind of push some of those stigmas away and it'll empower them. Sometimes it's OK to isolate yourself. Be selfish with yourself so that you can journey within; so that you can hear those inner voices; so that you can move. Oftentimes it's too much, with society and people in your ear. Let all those people go! Sometimes you have to step away from your mother, your aunts, your uncles, and your friends. Go on a retreat within yourself. Find yourself and then make some moves; listen to yourself. It's key. You shouldn't lie to yourself.

I think the peace and the finding yourself that you're talking about, I've also had to go through that. How would you suggest that women, whether they can travel or not, find that retreat and then sustain what they gain from that retreat after returning to all the noise? Because we do get bombarded with the noise.

It's almost like you have to gangster your time. Time management is key. We understand in order to live in this society that we have to work; we have to contribute something in order to get our financial contribution, in order to live. Well, if you pace yourselves you know that there's 24 hours in a day, you work eight to 10 cut that off. But you also have to work on yourself. So you, yourself deserve some time alone. For me, having my three children—my oldest is grown now she graduated from Spelman, she's working on a master's. She's in Seattle. I have [a 15 year old 13 year old]—every day I go in my room and I lock my door; I turn off everything. I don't want to hear any noise. If they get too loud, I'm like please be quiet. I need this time. I stress to them the importance of that time. I think that even inside of your home, women and people in general, if you live with other people teach them the importance of meditating and being quiet and still. The noise is too distracting and so you're going to miss a lot of the things that you're supposed to have in terms of your connection with the most high and your ancestors. Teach everybody to be quiet around you. Your home is your safe haven. And there you should find your refuge and your solace.

I saw a quote recently that completely resonates with what you've just said it was, "Make space in silence." Thank you for those suggestions to our listeners and our readers so that they can figure out how best to reconnect with themselves and find that retreat with themselves in order to build their mental strength.

It heightens your mental capacity when you are able to be quiet and still.

Who do you consider a great example of Black entrepreneurship?

I have watched and I have been a part, firsthand, of the Black Earth product movement. Taliah Waajid and her family—actually I was married to her brother. Just the way that they worked tirelessly and effortlessly to give back and to build up for their family. It's impeccable. They ran their course and they stuck with it. Every day it was a challenge. I've seen them change, evolve, and take some steps back and ten steps forward. They are the epitome of a beautiful Black Mecca. As well as when I was younger, Dudley's I was always into hair. The Dudley family; of course the Bronners. I've seen these companies over the past year stick with it and change with the times. They keep family first and they keep their family employed. I think that in itself shows strength.

What would you say to those who have the goal of scaling their business, but being bought by a large conglomerate?

I wouldn't do it. I'd say don't do it. What will your family have? Stick with your company. It's OK. Go ahead and let it build and change; usher in the newer people; teach—extend your hand and teach the younger generation in your family how to run and maintain that business. That business that you've created, which should be your empire and your legacy, should be sending your children in your family to college so that they can get the training. Or send them to the workshops, the same training that the larger corporations send their people out to or they hire out to get, send your children and your family out to get that same education; then make certain that they have a place to work. Don't sell. We need our companies. So my advice is no, keep your company.

I'm glad that we're able to talk about both sides of this. How did you financially start your business? I know you mentioned earlier how you didn't have any funding from like a bank or anyone putting in capital. How did you make do or make it start in the realm of finances?

It was funny. I started when my oldest was in her last year of college. Spelman is a private college. It was killing my pockets. I had a mortgage. I had a child in college. I had a natural hair care salon, with seven people that were depending on me. I had to make the decision to scale back financially so that I could make some adjustments to do some other things. It seemed like even though natural hair is growing, the products it's a plethora of products out here. A lot of people do their own hair and people don't go to the salon as much. This is Atlanta, so it's a bazillion natural hair and salons out here. I decided to close the salon; that saved me about $1,800 a month. With that little by little I started to work on formulas, recipes, and trademarks—things of that nature. After my daughter graduated I took my income tax check and I bought a pushcart so that I can get into the pushcart business. From that, I've been self-funding.

It's amazing how one seed sowed another and so forth and so on, which we hear it and I'm sure people are like ‘oh, that cliche.’ But when you actually do it and then you start to reap the benefits, and then you can do again. It's amazing to see it happen and I'm sure you felt it as you were going through that process too.

Oh yes! I had three [children]—a child who had just graduated college and two small ones I was homeschooling at the time and it was strenuous. I'm like, 'Oh God, what am I doing?' Even though I closed my salon I'm a homeowner. I took a small room and turned it into a small workspace where I would still service clients. As I would service my clients doing my natural hair services—I'm a colon therapist also—so my clients love me because I'm able to mesh the two. As I'm doing hair, I would go in and make drinks. As I'd sit under the dryer I'd say good try this. What do think? They'd say, 'Oh my God, this is good!' I would do my own survey, my own market research as well. I would create these formulas. I worked it that way and I had of course some bumps in the road. It was like Oh Lord what am I going to do with this. I don't know what to do. I was able to sit down with [my children's father and we discussed some ways that I could do certain things. The first thing was of course making so that everything with my business was in place. I was on the brink of something that no one had done. No one was making vegan lattes. From there it soared. It was very, very difficult trying to do everything by myself financially. It was challenging, but I believed. I still believe and nothing can stop me.

That's one of the highest, I would say, currencies to have as an entrepreneur, the belief that you will make it and that you can do. I love that had your own focus group, market research going on while servicing your clients. Absolutely brilliant! I also love that you're talking about the proper formation of your business, because you want to protect yourself against anyone being able to trying to copyright or trademark or take your idea and then run with it because you didn't properly set your business up.

Oftentimes in business I think we are afraid, Black businesses, we're afraid to step out. We're afraid to walk in the opposite direction of the masses. It's OK. To me, the mere fact that an idea was planted, that idea to me is divine. If you listen to that inner voice that idea, that idea is coming from the most high telling you can do this. You have to listen to it and be obedient. You have to trust the process. You have to know that everything that you need and you require to help support that idea is right there. All you have to do is seek it. Don't let fear cripple you. Seek it and you'll find.

That's a great segue to my [next question]. What advice would you give to someone like you who has an idea but is afraid, as you're just talking about, to take the first step to launch?

Never let fear cripple you. Start from where you are. If you have an idea and all you have is $10, think about how that $10 could help fund and help support your idea—just start right where you are. You don't need the big balloons and the big hoopla. To me that's a farce, you'll get there. It takes some time to get to that point.

Once you put it out there and people are interested, and you're garnering that demand, that intrigued, you can build all that other additional stuff that's kind of surface level. If you're not out there doing then you can't point to what it is that you're able to provide as value—whether it's your product or service that you're doing there. There's not going to be information.

Even if you get feedback and it's bad feedback, bad feedback is still good feedback because it's feedback.

what can we expect from your business in 2019?

Well in 2019, I'm looking to expand my pushcart enterprise. I actually kind of studied King of Pop's model. I thought it was so brilliant to do away with the brick and mortar and just find ways to maximize your profit. Get out there and do. Right now I only have one push cart. I'm working on purchasing a few more, so you can see more push carts. You can see the faux coffee traps—turning all the negative things into something good. You'll see the faux coffee ice cream out more. You will definitely see faux coffee cakes and us in stores.

If anyone is in the Atlanta area where can they see you next?

Well seven days a week we are at 287 Peachtree St., which is our pushcart location. We normally get out about 10 a.m. until everything is gone. Oftentimes, and the majority of the time, [that] we're out, we sell out. We're there until we sell out. We do a lot of local farmer's markets. We do a Norcross Market; Lithonia market. We're doing Juneteenth this [year] but again seven days a week we're at our pushcart location. You can always find us there! You can visit our website— You can order, we deliver; if you purchase six or more we can deliver to you locally and we also do some shipping.

Great! If anyone is again in the Atlanta area living or visiting, or you're not local and you want to get some of this vegan [faux coffee]—Nubian Hue Non Brew— you know where to hit up to get that. I really enjoyed talking to you today and I hope the audience will enjoy this interview too. Thank you so, so much for your time today.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you [myblackbox] audience!

LaJoyce’s story hopefully inspires you to harness the power within you to start a business and see it grow for years to come because of your faith and strategy.

Hueful stories for you.

my B.O.B - People of Color Beauty

And we’re back! It’s been a little while since our last #myBOBstory and can’t explain how good it feels to share these stories again. This myBOB story re-introduces you to former Co-Founder Jacqueline Carrington, now Owner and Founder of People of Color Beauty. You can listen to the full interview with Jacqueline, as well as read the abridged version below.

You may have noticed Jacqueline’s feature on our Instagram. If you’re interested in being featured in the #myBOBstory, reach out via email. This series brings awareness to Black businesses from the owner's perspective. At myblackbox co. it's important to know the vision and purpose behind a business.

Jacqueline was born to be an entrepreneur and wants to leave a legacy for her three children to carry on. People of Color Beauty was born from a lack of representation of colors that would match well with Black women’s variety of skin tones.

I'm happy to have this interview with you and learn more about People of Color Beauty, and share it with the myblackbox co audience. Without further ado, why did you start your business?

My business was inspired by my daughter Monroe, when she was three. Anytime that she would go over to my mom's house she would always come home with her nails painted. The first thing that she would run to me and say is "Mommy, mommy, look at my nails, look at my toes!" And I would always say "Oh, how pretty, I love it." And so it was kind of a light bulb moment. I've always worn my natural nails. People would always comment that "Oh you have such pretty nails!" But I never painted them any types of colors. I would never see many images of Black women with different colored nail polishes.

People of Color the name came about from women of color because we are all types of shades of brown and even within our spectrum of shades of brown, certain colors still look better on certain shades of brown. People of Color too also means people who live in color; people who love color, they love to accessorize their attire with color. Although [People of Color] is geared towards women of color and colors that complement our various skin tones, it's obviously for anyone who loves their colors and is interested in wearing them as well.

I love that. I appreciate that you included your daughter in the creation of this business as well as revisited your own introduction to nail polish and beauty in general, and the colors that make your skin, as a Black woman, even more beautiful than it already is. Thank you for sharing the consideration of color in general, [which] is always going to be important for nail polishes regardless of who the wearer is. With that, you did touch on it little, but I'd like to explore further what inspiration do you use to fuel your entrepreneurial journey?

I've been an entrepreneur since I was a little kid. My mom and dad have both had their own businesses before. I think I was a born entrepreneur. I've always had an idea about something and trying something. Growing up my brother and I would sell lemonade on the corner of our block to cars driving by, and cookies too. Into adulthood I've tried many ideas and some successful, some not so successful. But to me, I have an unlimited amount of ideas. I [knew] that if I was focused on one idea at a time that it could become successful if I truly believe[d] in it and put the energy behind it. So is this opportunity with People of Color—especially because it's something that I'm now interested in and of course now with my daughter— I now have two daughters. I'll be able to teach them how to run a business at a young age.

That's powerful, especially as a solopreneur with your new business and the impact you obviously want to have on future customers as well as on the lives of your children as they get older and learn about being an entrepreneur. Another question I have is how did you financially start your business? Or, what planning do you have for your continued launch of People of Color Beauty?

I did of course research with regard to the startup cost of the business. Funny story, is I started this with someone who was going to be my business partner. We were going to split the cost. That person was involved with the logo design and choosing the colors and helping choose the names of the colors and then life happens and that person needed to bow out. At the time, we had put down our deposit to start the process of having our polishes made and [when] that person [left], she requested her money back because we didn't have the product yet. It was very frustrating at first. I didn't have all the money to fund it all by myself because that was not what I was planning for. I said in a quiet way, "F it, I'm gonna do it. I'm not going to let this be the reason that I don't take this idea to what I envisioned it to be." I sent her money back and dusted my hands off with that. I got the money together to keep it moving and so everything from that point on is self-funded. Some of the things that I need to finance soon in the future would be attending vendor events, so different festivals hopefully and craft fairs and Indie artisan events. I don't see it as a step back, [but] a challenge at this time.

It's great that you share this because people need to know that entrepreneurship is not easy. It's very hard work and you will have major setbacks. You will have minor setbacks; you will have moments where you're like "Why am I doing this?" You gotta take a risk or choose not to. You are clearly living the entrepreneur life right now with People of Color Beauty, as most folks do self-fund until their businesses get a bit more standing underneath them and continue to grow. I would love to know why should consumers purchase from People of Color Beauty? Is there a uniqueness that your nail polish business has that others don't have?

I would say yes and no. Most people are becoming more health conscious and kind of the last leg of that would be the beauty industry where people are putting things on their hair, on their skin that contain toxins and chemicals. A lot of women get their nails done, girls included, and there's a lot of toxins in nail polish which…your body absorbs it. With People of Color nail polish we're free of 10 of some of the most toxic chemicals that are in the majority of nail polishes. You can go on our website, they're all listed there. And the polish is vegan as well, so it's not made with any type of animal products or byproducts at all. We're cruelty free, which means at no point during the production process are any of the products tested on animals. And then we're gluten-free as well.

I wanted to have colors that complemented [a] variety of skin tones. The purpose behind our lookbook on our website would be to showcase the colors on various skin tones of brown, so that way you'll have a central location to go to try to find someone of similar skin tone to see, "OK, it might look good on me…" Those images aren't as global out there in the main beauty world. I wanted to be a source for women of color to find nail polish that complements their skin tone…to be more encouraged to buy and try different colors that they have not tried before, because they thought they wouldn't look good on them. I wanted to combat that with my product.

Well it's very helpful that you're discussing the chemicals that can be found in these polishes that everyone's probably used to having as their only options, and how People of Color Beauty is differentiated because of your consideration of not including these toxins. But also what we've been discussing like these options of what looks great with my skin as a Black woman…is always a unique selling proposition of a new business and the products that they provide. I'm curious to know of all of your products, which is your most favorite and why is there a specific polish that is your most favorite?

We're based in Southern California, [so] our first collection is called SoCal Vibe, which is a collection of 10 different polishes that kind of encompass what I believe is Southern California living. I've remembered them from the top of my head now. We have Purple Palm, which was inspired by the sunset and the purple hues that are in the sky. We have Walk of Fame, which was inspired by the Hollywood Star, kind of the pink color off of the Hollywood star. We have Valley Girl, which is well, most people know what is valley girl is— kind of that materialistic girl, a pretty girl, out shopping and living her best life. We have California Sunflower, which is a bright golden color off of a sunflower. We have Simply Terranea, which was inspired by a golf resort in L.A. that faces out into the Pacific ocean. We have Catalina, which was inspired by the waters off of Catalina Island; Oceanfront, which is inspired off of oceanfront living; Rodeo Drive, which is a nice red color, your fancy-schmancy going out to dinner or work type color; Oh, Desert Night Sky, we have, which is a nice color kind of reminiscent of stargazing in the middle of the desert and seeing all shimmery colors out in the sky. Then we have Malibu Wine, which is a wine color inspired by some of the wineries off of the Malibu coast. I think I got them all.

I've tried on all the colors. I had to when swatching to make pictures for our website. I want to say the colors that I like the most, that look best on me [were] Valley Girl, Walk of Fame, and then I also love Rodeo Drive. To me, those are my three favorites. I literally love all the colors.

Will definitely have to look into Rodeo Drive because that sounds like one that I'd love well, but I'm sure the myblackbox co audience will be very excited to check out the other 1 too and find the color that most fits them. I'd like to shift gears a little and talk more about Black entrepreneurship and particularly I'd love to know who do you consider a great example of Black entrepreneurship? 

I felt most inspired with Black entrepreneurship when I lived in New York City; the energy and hustle of the city kind of was like my air to breathe. I'm like, "Yes. This is it!" Seeing your average random person out on the corner selling bottled water for a dollar on a hot summer day; the tables that are set up in the middle of Times Square, or any random block of people selling they're African black soap, and their body butters, and their mixed tapes; and all of those things. That's kind of the true essence to me of a hustler and entrepreneur, and that's how I've always been too on the ground, whatever you have sell it and put yourself out there. I think your everyday, hustler type go-getter is my kind of entrepreneur. I saw a lot of that in New York City and I loved it. It was so inspiring to see people who look like me who were out there.

Well, you're definitely right, New York City is full of hustlers and they will find a way to make a dollar out of 1 cents. What advice do you have for Black girls and women who struggle finding their place in society?

I would say society is a man-made concept as to what's appropriate, what's not appropriate— apart from of course all your moral beliefs. So finding your place in a society where there's kind of man-made rules is hard sometimes because we all come from different cultures and backgrounds. It’s first best to be yourself and you look at what are you good at, what are you passionate about? What do you love? What can you bring to the table in any situation? And those are the things that you need to focus on because those are the things that people should see and respect, and expect of you when they see you.

What advice would you give to someone like you who has an idea but is afraid to take the first step to launch?

I would say do it. Me personally, I have so many ideas and even when I'm working on one idea, I still have more. But you have to know what idea is best for your passion; again what you're good at, and what you are actually interested in and focus on it. You can't let everything else be a distracted…and you're not going to go from startup to $1 million in two weeks! You have to do step by step. You have to write it down, make a plan, talk it out, get feedback from people who you trust, and are friends, family or colleagues to give you actual feedback for your ideas. People that are going to be supportive of you and not try to tear down your idea or make it seem like you can't do it.  

You want to have real consumer feedback as to what you could do better and also what changes you could possibly make before you launch your product out into the world.

Those are solid tips and great advice. I think that you definitely hit the nail on the head on the consistency that you'll need too. To close out our wonderful conversation and this interview, what can you share with the myblackbox co community on what we can expect from your business in 2019?

If you're in the Southern California area, you [can] expect to start to see us at different events. Any of your local festivals, vending events, or meetups. I want to start getting myself and our business out there. For those who aren't local, and even for those who are, of course with nail polish there's millions of colors but we want to strategically launch collections based on either the season or a vibe that we want to launch.  So coming soon in the fall, we'll be launching new collection of course stay tuned for that. I won't say what the collection is or even give any hints. We'll launch collections as seasons and such change.

Well, thank you Jacqueline for sharing more about your business, your Black entrepreneurship journey, and what we can expect from People of Color Beauty this year. I hope that the myblackbox co community gives you a chance and checks out the 10 colors you do have available at this time.

Thanks for having me!

Jacqueline’s story hopefully inspires you to take a risk, even when your original plans get a curve ball thrown in the mix. It may be cliché, but you truly won’t know until you try!

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