This year’s CURLFEST was all about glowing, growing and sharing your knowledge! During BET Her’s women in business panel, we all were given a chance to learn from successful Black girl bosses Keisha Smith Jeremie, Junny Hibbert and Tori Soudan.
CURLFEST 2019 was not just about promoting established beauty brands. It gave young women a chance to share their up-and-coming businesses with their fellow attendees and also gave them access to women who already have skin in the game. As the founders of CURLFEST can attest to, building a business means stepping out of your comfort zone and putting yourself out there. Not only did we learn that from the Curly Girl Collective, but we learned it at the various panels especially the "About Her Business" panel presented by BET Her!
Moderator and senior vice president of BET Her, Staci Hallmon, let us all know that Black women are not only the most educated group in America, but we are also booming business owners and start businesses more than any other demographic. Unfortunately, she informed us that Black women’s businesses fail at nine times the rate of any other group due to things like “access to capital, marketing and distribution.”
That being said, three Black women who are actually successful in building their booming businesses shared their tips and tricks on how they grew their now-flourishing businesses!
Sometimes you have to start from the bottom to make your way to the top. After working as a sales executive for more than 20 years, Junny Hibbert started her fashion brand after being downsized from her corporate position at ESPN four years ago. Traveling the world and appreciating the fashion in places abroad as well as right in NYC in Harlem, Junny began designing kaftans.
“Being an executive actually worked out well for me, because I can’t take anything away from the years I worked at ESPN and other big brands. It prepared me for this journey. So, I applied all the learnings as a marketer about budgets, and planning, and relationships, and networking. I brought all of that to my business.”
Junny wasn’t the only one who had a corporate background. Keisha Smith Jeremie currently balances a leadership role at a large company while running her booming, adult applesauce brand. Sanaia Apple Sauce, launched in 2017, was made with adult palates in mind. Keisha, who you may recognize from her Shark Tank episode, created the enticing flavors inspired by the fruits she loved growing up in the Caribbean. Keisha believes her brand was “built upon the generosity of other Black women,” and, because of that, her brand will soon be available in 800 Walmart stores!
“I think for many entrepreneurs, many of us are not able to self-fund our business and quit our day job. That is definitely a myth,” Keisha told the crowd. “A lot of us feel pressure, immediately, as soon as you have an idea, that you need to quit your day job. And it’s just not practical.”
Tori Soudan's love for design and fashion started at the ripe age of 9 years old when her mother began teaching her to make Easter dresses. After studying abroad in Italy, Tori fell in love with the shoe-making industry and now has her own shoes being manufactured amongst other brands in Italy such as Dior, Chanel and more!
“I think the biggest misconception about being an entrepreneur, particularly a shoe designer, is that it’s glamorous and it’s all just wonderful and beautiful and every day is not hard work. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.”
As the entire CURLFEST experience taught us, being a business owner means constant growth. No matter what stage you are in your entrepreneurship, you’ll constantly be learning and growing from each experience fostering your business and furthering your plans for it.
“You have to learn constantly,” Tori admitted. “I don’t think you can ever get to the point where you can sit down and say, ‘I know everything. I’m good.’ It’s an ongoing learning process.”
A true sentiment to the constant evolution and learning process in growing a business is figuring out the ins and outs of actually selling a product! Kiesha, Junny and Tori all understand the importance of sourcing for products, budgeting and researching!
“Before you start sourcing, you have to look at your budget,” Junny explained. “What’s your budget? And you have to do your research. If we’re starting a business, research is key. You have to do your market research. And your budget is always going to change, right? Because as women of color, most of our businesses are self-funded! I run my business full time.”
An emphasis throughout most of CURLFEST was definitely the power of fostering a community through your immediate network and social media. From the founders garnering a huge following turning their festival into a household name globally to influencers along with Yandy Smith using social platforms to promote themselves, businesses are able to connect with each other and up-and-coming entrepreneurs are able to form a community. If you needed any other myths debunked about being an entrepreneur, each woman explained why she thought it was important to use your network, as well as being a source for someone else, as opposed to just doing it all alone.
“You don’t have to wait until you have arrived to whatever place you think in your business before you start giving back,” Keisha explained. “Whatever is for you, is for you. You sharing how you figured out access to a buyer or access to a sponsor, it never takes anything away from you… People say, open the door behind you. I’m just like, ‘Well, just open the door wherever you are’! You don’t have to wait until you’re at the top of the mountain to start doing that."
Sharing is caring! I love Black women who support other Black women. All these women admitted that their community truly uplifted, enabled and supported their business endeavors. With all that they are balancing in everyday life, Keisha Smith Jeremie, Junny Hibbert and Tori Soudan proved to all of us in attendance that if they can do it, we can do it, too!
(Photo: Jocelyn Prescod for BET)