How was the idea for The Black-Owned Market (theBOM) formed?
The idea behind theBOM is twofold. My parents are small business owners of a beauty supply store in Massachusetts and it was the first of its kind. There wasn't a blueprint to follow when they set out to start their business in 1988 as Haitian immigrants. I saw how us being there as a business and supporting the community was a source of inspiration. After graduating college, I came to New York City and found there were more options for shopping Black. However, people didn't know about them or there wasn't a convenient way to do so. I wanted to create a space that did just that.
In 2014, the conversation around buying Black and supporting our own was really buzzing. When I'd go to places like the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg, there weren't many Black or brown faces. I thought it'd be cool to create a central location where people can shop Black owned brands, giving them a platform not only to sell their products but to let people know they actually exist and are creating amazing things.
theBOM celebrated its one year anniversary in December. What was the biggest lesson you learned in the first year of execution?
In year one, I spent a lot of money. The first and second BOM were funded through my emptied out savings. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I wanted it be an experience exceeding the typical flea market visit. I wanted people to leave feeling inspired and that's exactly what happened. However, I realize now that there are definitely places I could have cut costs. I probably paid too much for venues and could have kept decor minimalistic. Thankfully, the third one was fully sponsored.
How about your biggest barrier in the first year?
The biggest barrier I experienced in the first year was my own insecurity. In January 2016, my goal was to make theBOM happen before the end of the year. I felt that if I didn't, I would be a failure. I have had lots of dreams and never moved on them. But theBOM weighed on my heart for two to three years. It was difficult to overcome to fear stopping me from just doing it, but that made for the best feeling after the first one was accomplished.
What elements of theBOM do you pay special attention to in aiming to create a stand out experience?
My rule of thumb is quality of product and quality of story. I vet every single business owner that I decide to work with. It's not so much about me being a gatekeeper as protecting my brand and the spaces we create. I rely heavily on intuition to do so. I'm not paying attention to social followings or where their brands have been featured. My concern is if they are positive individuals creating impactful, quality products and could benefit from my platform to serve as a launchpad.
How do you sustain a relationship with your vendors?
theBOM is a white glove experience for our vendors. All they have to do is bring their products. We handle everything else for them, including custom displays, with the mindset that theBOM is their concierge. Business owners often say that it makes them feel special. They also carry the sentiment that being part of theBOM is being part of an elite group of business owners. It's a cool feeling to be the person to provide them with that. We elevate our brands in any press we receive, have an official photographer whose photos they are free to use, provide networking and exposure to new customers. It's really important to me to create a community for the business owners. Still working on it.
How do you protect the integrity of theBOM as you seek out sponsors and collaborate with other brands to achieve scale?
I make sure that I'm in alignment with any entity that reaches out. theBOM has worked with brands like Google, Shea Moisture and Jack Daniels, whose intentions I trust while they offer a chance to propel my narrative forward. Even when I do things personally, Adidas and J. Crew recently, I need to be able to speak passionately about what I do. All partners must display my brand and me in a positive light, not just for their own gain. It's always a stepping stone to where I ultimately want to be.
Many founders are the face of their brand. How has it been stepping into that role for you? Could you share more about the recent opportunities with Adidas and J. Crew?
Those two opportunities came out of the blue. For J. Crew, I was nominated by my community team at WeWork to be highlighted in the campaign. I appreciate the exposure to J. Crew's social audience and the opportunity to go on an all expenses paid trip to San Francisco to speak on a panel with LinkedIn where I met C-suite executives from WeWork.
Adidas was an Instagram DM that came along with an NDA to learn more. Once I did, the project felt so authentic. I'm a transplant, but always say Brooklyn adopted me. So, to be in Brooklyn Museum for Black History Month and featured among activists, educators and change agents is an extreme honor. In the exhibit, called ‘Black History, Black Future’, we're identified as builders of the Black community and tell our stories, not just wear a bunch of Adidas gear. We're alongside heavy hitters like Muhammad Ali, Jam Master Jay and Missy Elliot, true trailblazers. It's going on through the 28th.
As theBOM expands and I think about how to do that more quickly, these opportunities lead me to people I want to be in front of because they have the infrastructure and capital to help make that happen. It's key that I stay true to who I am and live an authentic life. That also applies to any brand I partner with.
What is on the horizon for you?
As far as theBOM, I'm trying to build an empire. This year I'm working on better establishing our online presence. We're creating an e-commerce platform, a blog and tightening our social strategy. In the coming years, I want to create what is essentially a Chinatown for Black people in major markets.
On the personal front, I'm turning 30 in two weeks and am really excited about this new decade. My 20s have shown me the power of work manifesting what you want. Now I'm tapping into understanding how much power I have as an individual. I'm excited to be more present for my family and friends. When you go through something as tough as starting a business, it's important remember those who sacrificed to be there for you.
How do you stay motivated as you strive to achieve your goals?
It's definitely seeing that my parents still work. As long as they're grinding and hustling to pay bills, I have to work to make sure their next decades on this earth are as smooth as possible. I want to provide a life for them ten times better than the one they provided me, and it was very good.
I also draw motivation from the messages of support from people who have come across theBOM. The DMs and tweets help me realize the impact I have upon people and keep me going.