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February is Black History Month, making it a timely moment to look at some inspiring black entrepreneurs in and around New York City.
Ahead, we put the spotlight on local movers and shakers, who also share their wisdom for other aspiring small business owners.
Khadejha (“Dejha B”) Brunner
Dejha B Coloring is a coloring book brand geared towards reducing stress and helping people harness their inner whimsy.
“Lingering coronavirus trauma and mental health issues among the Black community gave me an opportunity to create a business idea for transformational change,” said Brunner, who developed the brand from her home in The Bronx during the pandemic.
“As a recording artist I couldn’t make music, due to all recording studios being closed. My friend suggested coloring books. I picked up my son’s, and instantly felt relaxed.”
After searching for adult coloring books and unable to find any that were inspirational and featuring women of color, she created her first book, “Color Your Dreams Into Reality.”
Her advice: “Whenever you are collaborating or seeking advice, do your homework so you can get the best advice, or prices, for your business,” she said.
Bishop is founder and creative director of Deity New York, a ready-to-wear luxury womenswear brand that creates “timeless garments derived from European tradition and influences of city life.”
So far, the label has made six collections and made three New York Fashion Week appearances — not too shabby for a brand that was launched in 2020 out of the founder’s personal frustration with not finding luxury garments that worked with her curvy body type, which led her to designing for herself. After great feedback from friends and family, Bishop created Deity New York.
Her advice: “Stay true to yourself and your vision. You will hear so many opinions and how you should do certain things. You will never be able to move forward with anything in your business if you try to listen to everyone,” she said.
Martinez is the force behind the Manhattan-based Black, gay lifestyle blog, Men Who Brunch. As one of a handful of Black, gay bloggers in the area, he covers everything from the best, yes, Gay-friendly brunch restaurants in NYC to LGBTQ web series you should watch. He also produces events for the Black LGBT community. “The reason I started my business is to create a community and safe space for black gay men,” he said.
His advice: “Be passionate about your business and not focus on income. Passion will keep you motivated to run your business even when you go through your downfalls,” said Martinez.
After publishing 15 books with major publishers, Smalls, based in Harlem, was frustrated that she couldn’t publish the books that she felt Black children and the community needed. “So I started my own publishing company, Literacise, LLC,” said the CEO about her minority and women-owned business.
Smalls shared that her focus is children’s books with involving storylines and appealing imagery that also strive to improve black lives with actionable information. “At 73, I am black history — to have seen the seismic changes over the years.”
Her advice: “Make sure you are filling a market need and not your own ego. Have a unique point of difference to your product or service,” she said.
Based in Westwood, NJ, Evans’ Envy Wrapz business wraps vehicles in paint protection film (PPF) to keep them from getting chipped or damaged. A car enthusiast, he started looking into PPF for his own vehicles. “I realized that I could get certified myself rather than paying someone else to do it,” he said.
His advice: “Start your business now, even if you don’t feel ready. You will never be 100% prepared, but starting and making mistakes, then learning and moving forward is better than never starting at all,” said Evans.
This Bronx native currently residing in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, created LaMonique Cosmetics to bring luxurious, affordable mineral-based cosmetic products without harmful ingredients to market. The recipient of the 2022 Meta small business Thought Starters award, her paraben-, gluten- and cruelty-free brand was also featured on Season 2 of BET’s Urban Beauty TV.
Her advice: “Know and understand your consumer base. You can spend hundreds on marketing but if you are marketing to the wrong people it can be useless,” she said.
Brownstone bars, Bodega Dreams, Across 110th Street bonbons? Don’t mind if we do. Harlem Chocolate Factory, helmed by Spaulding, creates edible versions of beloved Harlem destinations and historical sites. Visit the shop in-person, or order online or for local delivery via UberEats.
Her advice: “Ground yourself in your numbers. You don’t have to cost less because you’re black-owned; make sure you’ve accounted for your profit. Take care of your people and yourself but never lose sight of your products and services being profitable,” she said.
Like many founders, Nicole Alesi was driven to build her empire after seeing a hole in the market: She wasn’t seeing BIPOC and LGBTQ+ representation in the greeting cards market, so she started making her own.
The Upper East Side resident created Nicole Marie Paperie with her first card in 2013. Now, it’s a full-time business with an e-commerce storefront.
Her advice: “Mistakes happen when running a small business. What’s important is to take a pause and learn from these mistakes so you don’t repeat them again.”