Black-Owned Businesses Thriving
While the COVID-19 pandemic led to many stories of business loss and bankruptcy, there is a bright spot––Black business owners have thrived over the past 18 months.
Research shows that Black-owned brands saw the strongest rebound in the United States, up 38% from Pre-Covid levels. We want to shine a light on Black-owned businesses and brands disrupting industries and flourishing.
Established in 2020 by active-duty military member Angel Johnson, ICONI—”I Can Overcome, Nothing’s Impossible”—is a motivational and inclusive activewear line. The goal of ICONI is to provide functional and fashionable activewear and inspire customers to overcome any obstacle. The core elements of the ICONI brand are motivation, empowerment, philanthropy, and excellence.
The Search For Squat Proof Leggings
The dream of ICONI all started with a staple of women’s clothing—leggings. At the gym, Johnson tries to not only feel good, but also look good while working out. However, during a gym session with a friend, Johnson was alerted that her expensive designer leggings were also (embarrassingly) see-through. Appalled by how much she spent on the leggings and how “not squat-proof” they were, Johnson went to work. In an effort to design fitness wear that is both fashionable, inspiring, and “squat-proof,” ICONI was born. Every piece of clothing is tested to ensure that it can withstand the rigors of a high-intensity workout. Johnson affirms, “We test everything extensively! We squat, run, jump, stretch, do yoga, etc., in our leggings before they ever go into production.”
What sets ICONI apart from so many other fitness brands is that ICONI isn’t just about leggings and clothes but inclusivity and uplifting others. Each piece of clothing displays quotes to motivate people on their fitness journey. The brand’s name says it all, to quote Johnson,
"Throughout my life, those aspects have helped me overcome challenges such as being one of the first hundred Black women to graduate from The Citadel, being a Black woman military officer and now starting my own business. I Can Overcome, Nothing’s Impossible is not just about fitness but also overcoming struggles."
Getting her business off the ground wasn’t easy. She joined Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator (BBA) and soon reached customers all over the United States and was recently recognized on Oprah’s Favorite Things. Her past struggles influence her commitment for ICONI to empower and help others. As a lower-middle-class family, Johnson says, “My family didn’t just have the money to start this business, and l think historically, Black-owned businesses have lacked a lot of the resources to access capital.”
ICONI recognizes that customers want more than quality athletic wear—they want to invest in a brand that is doing good things too. In a day and age where consumers demand brands to make a positive contribution to society, ICONI is meeting that need. ICONI promises to help others as the brand grows, pledging 10% of profits to nonprofit organizations.
The passing of a father in 1999 reunited two long-lost half-sisters, Andréa and Robin McBride. However, it was their mutual love of wine that forged a sisterly bond, and from it, the McBride Sisters Collection was born in 2010.
From the Vineyard to the Grocery Store
Today, you can find the McBride Sisters Collection at popular retailers like Target and Whole Foods. But, knowing how to make great wine didn’t come easy. When they started the company, the women were clueless about launching a wine brand, let alone making wine. To remedy that, the sisters spent four years learning the wine-making process, traveling to New Zealand (where Andréa grew up), and spending time with the growers of every vintage. Once they launched the McBride Sisters Collection, their experience gave them a vineyard-to-table perspective on all aspects of wine.
Changing the Wine World—One Glass at a Time
In an industry dominated by white men, the McBride Sisters Collection shatters barriers as the largest Black-owned and female-led wine company in the United States. As one of the top Black-owned businesses in the wine industry, The McBride sisters are committed to getting more people of color and women involved in the wine industry. To support this, they created the She Can Fund (also one of their brands)—these funds support the professional advancement of women in wine and spirits. In 2020, during the pandemic, the McBride sisters awarded over $300,000 in scholarships, and in 2021, Meta (formerly Facebook) awarded the fund over $2 million.
As technology in cloud-based services has boomed due to the rise in remote work, new companies have identified ways to help. Calendly is a product that has followed that trend showing 1180% growth since 2020 and becoming a vital tool for many businesses worldwide. Founded by Tope Awotona, a Nigerian-born entrepreneur Calendly is a popular cloud-based service that people use to schedule meetings and is valued as a $3 billion-dollar company.
From Startup To Billion-Dollar Brand
The story behind Calendly is one of tragedy, hope, and triumph. Before immigrating to the United States as a teenager, Awotona lived in the chaotic city of Lagos, Nigeria. At the age of 12, Awotona witnessed his father die in a carjacking. The trauma affects him to this day, but despite that, he has persevered in the tech industry. While leading a successful career in the sales department of Dell EMC, Awotona envisioned a way to make it easier to schedule meetings online. He emptied his bank account (and his 401(k)) and poured his heart (and every dollar) into creating Calendly—and hoped that it would all work out.
Competition in the tech startup industry can be fierce, and Calendly’s growth is inspiring, as he did it all without venture capital funding. Launched in 2013, Calendly has thrived in the SaaS industry and has become a global leader in scheduling software and one of the fastest-growing Black-owned businesses in the tech field. Calendly is now used by 10 million people and boasts annual $70 million recurring revenue and future innovations in the pipeline.
To address a disconnect between the beauty industry and women of color, Diarrha N’Diaye-Mbaye launched Ami Cole in 2020. Ami Cole focuses on creating clean beauty options for melanin-rich skin. All Ami Cole products are safe, non-toxic, and provide transparent labeling of ingredients.
Quality Inclusive and Accessible Make-up
Although brands have catered to people with darker skin tones, and some new brands like Fenty have disrupted the beauty market, there are still a limited number of beauty products that cater to people of color. Named after her mother, N’Diaye-Mbaye started Ami Cole specifically to develop a line of clean and vegan beauty products with melanated skin in the forefront.
The beauty industry has a tradition of sticking to the tried-and-true way of doing things, but Ami Cole has embraced a more forward-thinking approach that taps into its audience with consumer research. This includes surveys and social media engagement to learn how consumers use their products. Ami Cole’s brand strategy has led the company to be an industry disruptor. By the end of 2020, N’Diaye-Mbaye was honored with multiple awards, including the disrupter-of-the-year award from the fashion and beauty magazine Glossy and the beauty innovator award from Refinery29.
Gen Z entrepreneurs Olamide Olowe and Claudia Tenges are making a splash in the skincare arena. In 2021, they launched their brand Topicals, which merges skincare with mental advocacy. Inspired by their own skincare dilemmas, Olowe and Tenges sought to create safe products that work on all skin types and skin tones.
Trailblazers in Skincare
Raising venture capital funding for Topicals led to Olowe becoming the youngest Black woman to raise over $2 million in venture capital funding—a total of $2.6 million (all before her 24th birthday).
Women With Ambition
Well, if raising venture capital funding wasn’t hard enough already, surveys show that in the past three years, Black and Latinx women combined received just 0.64% of total venture capitalist investment. To put into context, female-founded companies in 2019 got 2.7% of venture capital funding.
From Funding to Fundraising
Topicals isn’t limited solely to solving skincare problems. Giving back is also at the heart of the brand. Recognizing how intertwined poor skin conditions and mental health problems can be, Topicals donates a percentage of its profits to important mental health nonprofits. One organization is the Sad Girls Club, an online community and platform designed to bring women, girls, and femmes of color together who are battling mental illnesses.
We Celebrate Black-owned Businesses
Black History month is only a mere 28 days, but celebrating (and championing) Black-owned brands is a year-round effort. These five brands are just the tip of the iceberg of the impressive list of Black-owned businesses that are on the rise this decade, and we suspect this isn’t the last time you’ll hear of the triumphs of these companies or their leaders.
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