There once was a time when entrepreneurial enterprise was a power card that only the wealthiest 1% of straight white men had access to. Within recent years, the face of entrepreneurship has been morphing with rapid frequency to reflect those that were once excluded. It's no secret that black and brown women have been disproportionally shut out of participating in venture capital-funded projects due to systematic racial barriers. Now, according to NWBC, there are more than a million business owned by black women in the United States. Platforms like Instagram have been integral in putting women of color at the forefront of entrepreneurship by giving them a way to connect directly with their audiences, clients and customers.
PAPER caught up with seven young women who are trailblazers in today's world of fashion and e-commerce and owners of the some of the most talked about brands of 2018:
Destiney Bleu, Owner of d.bleu.dazzled
Having designed custom d.bleu.dazzled stage outfits for queens like Beyonce, Mariah Carey, and J.Lo, Destiney has been dominating the fashion world with her shimmery, bedazzled touch.
How did you start your business?
I was a dancer my whole life, and then transitioned to this. When I was in college, I saw the Britney Spears "Toxic" performance and I remember being like, "I fucking should have went to school for this, like why didn't I?" But I've always crystallized stuff — my Sidekick, my phones, everything. I danced in the NBA and NFL, so when I was dancing for like the Chicago Bulls or the Atlanta Hawks or Falcons, I'd always crystallize our costumes just because I really loved doing and I always felt like they needed more pizzazz.
When I moved to L.A., I discovered the Fashion District, so I had the budget and had the opportunities to find the crystals and stuff. I just started putting them on everything. Then with Instagram, everyone's posting and tagging and so then it just kind of went crazy from there.
What's your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
My advice to other woman of color who want to start their own business is: don't listen to people. Don't be so focused on what you think it is that you're supposed to be doing, and try to focus in on what your heart is telling you. If you didn't have to get paid, what would you do? And read a lot. If people have time to scroll Twitter and Instagram, pick up a book or do some research on something you really want to do. I've learned so much just by YouTube-ing or Google-ing or going to Barnes and Noble and sitting and reading a book. Look for mentors. A lot of people are in this like observation state of just watching everyone and trying to do what they're doing. There's this other book, You Are a Badass that like kicked my ass and just really pushed me to believe in myself.
In terms of what's next for the brand, we are doing a Challenge Prize for Ru Paul's Drag Race All Stars 3, and our episode airs in March! Meghan Trainor will be wearing d.dbleu.dazzled on The Four finale as well as in her new video, and Becky G is wearing dazzle for her album cover. We also did some dazzle for J.Los Super Bowl concert and her stylists reached out to have more stuff made. I'll also finally be launching my men's unisex line February 11.
Tizita Balemlay, Owner of Plugged NYC
Plugged NYC is notorious for their remixed camouflage prints as seen on Rihanna and Instagram explore pages all over the globe. From what started out as a side hustle done out of Tizita Balemlay's apartment in Queens, has now transformed into a fashion empire for the stars.
What is the essence of Plugged NYC?
Street chic is Plugged NYC. I always try to keep the right balance of street. This year's whole holiday collection is more chic, with gowns and dresses. Since I have celebrity clients, I'm planning for my stuff to be worn on the carpet.
How did you persevere through the tough times when you were new to the city?
When I left Maryland, I went through so much before coming to New York. I prayed to God like, "God, just show me a way." And it took a lot of hard work but before I knew it, I had a brand. The fact that it happened for me, I'm pretty shook, even now. I'm so grateful, it tells me that I can do it the full way, if I did it this much, I can do everything else that I'm saying, it can happen.
What advice do you give to other women of color?
It's important to remember that in one year, it's not going be about "the hype" or about Instagram. It's about longevity, it's about the quality of your clothes. It's going to matter whether you can really sell it. Can it be in Macy's? I mean that's what I'm trying to go, I want to be a black woman knocking down white doors. I want to be like a Top Shop, I want to be like an ASOS, in terms of online sales.In the beginning, it was just mastering camouflage but then I started to really understand I wanted to one day be a company that has multi millionaire people backing it. I want to build to that point.
Adriana Sahar, Owner of Adriana Sahar
Adriana Sahar is for the whimsical badasses of the world. Sahar's latest spring Global Warming collection flips traditional cute and sweet baby blues, baby pinks, and soft greens into something more edgy and raw.
What were the beginning stages of Adriana Sahar like?
I worked in my garage for a little and then I moved to New York and I wanted to work for a few famous designers—that didn't happen and I was sleeping on people's couches. I stayed at someone's house for three months and they just had it with me, they wanted me out of their house. So I was like fuck, I didn't have enough money, literally nothing.I ended up meeting this fuckboy that I stayed with and he had a baby mama. I've never lived with a guy who had a baby mama before so I was a little worried. I stayed with him for a month until I found out that he was trying to get back with her. That really inspired me to just go back home and really work on my brand and what I want to do with my life. Me watching other people struggle and me struggling here, it made me want to do something really great. And that's what I did.
Describe the Adriana Sahar girl.
Ultimately, I would describe my brand as very dreamy, very "hot princess." For a girl who likes some fun and to maybe be herself or maybe be someone else or maybe just be weird for a day, because I feel like I'm very weird.
How do you manage to have such a versatile brand in 2018?
My brand is versatile because I feel like I'm five different people. Literally one day I'm very chic, like Kim Kardashian and then one day I'm a fucking Power Ranger and then one day I'm a bum, wearing sweats and a sweater. So I'm a lot of different people. My inspirations I'd have to say have been Lil Kim, Cher, a lot of oldie movies, the girls from Clueless definitely and Mariah Carey.
What does the future hold for Adriana Sahar, the woman and the brand?
I'm really into the old styles. In the future, I definitely want to start manufacturing, I want to start doing wholesale accounts, open stores. I'm going to start traveling the world. That's what I definitely am going to do this year and hopefully get my stuff into Paris and Tokyo.
Akua Shabaka, Owner of House of Aama
House of Aama is by a mother-daughter pair that combines African and Creole Southern Black Magic with a Victorian flare.
It's refreshing to see a mother-daughter duo taking on the fashion industry. Can you tell us a little bit about the familial history of your brand?
We [herself and her mother, Rebecca Henry] found out that we came from a long line of worker women and conjure women. This is the part of Louisiana identity that I don't feel like is talked about. You kind of saw it in "American Horror Story," with Angela Bassett's character Marie Laveau. It was kind of trying to show that during that time after postbellum south, a lot of Black people, they wanted to be dignified and to dress a certain way. But we wanted to also show in our imagery, as well as our videos, that there's still this African essence that was being lived through these people. And you see it with Rootwork, and voodoo.
What does House of Aama represent to you?
Our brand is ancestral remembrance, in a way. I wanted to show in my casting this identity of the mixed woman. I also wanted to show it in a way that remembers the Black history portion of mixed-ness. Creole people don't always look light-skinned. At first, our description was culturally rooted in African influence.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
My advice to other women of color, I would say, definitely believe in yourself because there's going to be a lot of vultures that are going to tell you that this is not working, even your own mind sometimes. With social media you get discouraged but in terms of being successful, what I'm learning even now is that it really helps to reach out to people. Be the first one to speak sometimes. I'm also really seeing the point of collaboration. I wouldn't be able to do this line if I didn't have good collaboration and people helping because they just fuck with the vision.
Atira Lyons, Owner of Atira Lyons:
Atira is the 18-year-old designer representing for the culture. She went viral on Twitter after releasing her own line of customized velvet durags.
At only 18, you've started a viral and successful brand. What was the defining moment that made you decide to go full force?
I have a fetish for velvet, I like to see everything made in velvet. I had the idea when I was going to prom — I made my prom dress out of velvet. One day I was in class fooling around and thought, "What about a velvet durag? No one's doing it and it would be really dope."
Outside of New York, durags are traditionally seen as nightwear and sleepwear, but this has recently been shifting. How integrated do you see durags becoming in everyday culture?
When people say that durags aren't for girls, I'm like it doesn't matter in this day and age. The majority of my customers are men, but my collab with Destiney Bleu is definitely going to open it up to more women. I don't want my durags to be worn to sleep, I want this to be worn outside as a statement piece, or worn like a hat, because that's really what it is. I want durags to be pushed into everyday fashion. I don't want you to feel ashamed of wearing a durag out because it's something you go to sleep in.
What is the essence of your durag collection?
This collections focus is mainly on how to turn sleepwear into fashion. I will move into other things eventually, but right now it's the durag's time to shine. That's why I incorporated so many different prints for you to wear because now we're stepping into the idea of the durag being accessory that can be worn outside of your bedroom.
What advice do you give to other young women looking to start a successful business?
I believe women are the strongest people, we're the glue for everything. I know it sounds so cheesy but you really can't give up. Your time will eventually come. I believe that everybody's time comes. I've only been doing this for a month and it took off for me. But imagine, if you were working toward something for five years and then give up, that next year could have been your time to go viral. Everyone has their time and their moment, so just keep going steady with yourself.
What's up next for you?
I'm definitely going to branch off in the next two months or so to explore my creativity and my designs, so right now I'm getting everything ready.
Ade Hassan, Owner of Nubian Skin:
Hassan has been successfully breaking down barriers and diversifying the shade ranges offered within the lingerie world.
What was the inspiration for the brand?
Essentially it was born out of frustration, because every time I went to a shop and asked for a nude bra, pantyhose, or in any situation in which I had to match skin tone I could never find mine. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and I'd always wanted it to be in the fashion space. I remember one day sitting at my desk, and the idea just popped into my head that if nobody else is doing it, then it doesn't exist, so I thought maybe that's what my business would be.
Personally, what has been the best part of being a self-made entrepreneur?
Probably one of the most exciting parts was when I received the very first samples. It was like, "This is here, this is actually happening." I think when you've been thinking about an idea for so long, you have it in your head, but when you actually have it in your hand that's a pretty amazing thing.
What do you hope women who wear Nubian Skin sets feel?
I want my brand to empower women to embrace our color. That's something I hope we convey in everything that we do. It's really important to me that people feel like they can express themselves and feel that their color is important and worth having. So a brand that focuses on giving them their skin tone is important. It's not just a make-do but a huge part of who you are.
What advice do you give to women of color that were in your position?
The worst thing is to look back 17 years and think "what if", so you might as well take the risk and leap because failing is not the worst thing that could happen. And the second thing is to believe in yourself because sometimes I think we look for other people for validation, and if we aren't the ones saying, "I believe in myself, I can do this," then how can we expect other people to?
Loza Maléombho, Owner Of Loza Maléombho:
Maléombho uses architecture-like precision to create symmetrical lines for bold, color-blocked pieces.
What was the inspiration behind Loza Maléombho?
I wanted to express myself creatively. It didn't have to be specific to fashion, but I think fashion was the lead. Since I could never truly fit in anywhere, I wanted to build my own universe where I fit and stay put. I also did not want to have to make concessions for someone else's vision. I didn't just want to create a fashion line, I wanted to create jobs, and add value to my culture, to my continent.
The brand has a huge role in giving back to the community, could you speak more to that?
After years of working in different stages of the fashion industry in the United States, I took the risk and moved back to Côte d'Ivoire to confront all of its challenges, but also to take part in all its amazing resources and craftsmanship in order to put my creativity to use towards a greater cause. To me this was my contribution to Africa's cultural and economic growth.
How would you best describe your brand?
Loza Maléombho is best described as a fusion between traditional African aesthetics and contemporary and futuristic urban fashion. We bridge tribal references with NYC street fashion. In other words, with each collection I ask myself how to communicate traditional references in a modern and universal language without losing its core value.
What do you want women to feel when wearing your items?
I want them to feel pride! To feel enlightened on Africa's heritage and to become more culturally aware. I want them to seek an understanding of the bridges that were burnt before and to embrace the African heritage. I am constantly expanding and redefining my ambitions.
What does the future for see for you?
I am working on multiple projects at the moment one, of which is about getting into ready-to-wear at an affordable cost.