This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of ESSENCE magazine, available on newsstands now.
When the pandemic hit, some business-minded Black women leaped into action. They used their prowess and innovation to build up companies that would be of value to many. Here, the entrepreneurs describe starting—and growing—their new businesses.
“MY INCOME DRIED UP!”
Hairdresser and fitness instructor Monique Walker was not exactly trying to launch a business—but when the pandemic shut down salons and gyms last spring, her resources dwindled. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” says Walker, 41. A friend suggested she teach virtual dance classes to bring in money. “I began researching names, logos and website creation, and by July, it was a real business,” says Walker, owner of Verve Fitness LLC in Memphis, Tennessee.
After investing $5,000 from her family, a grant and her own coins into her business, Walker now teaches sculpt, yoga and other classes six days a week, for $12 a session online. “Creating an experience via Zoom is challenging,” she says. “So I learned everyone’s name, said it during the workout, and provided specific corrections and encouragement.” It’s working: Verve Fitness pulled in close to $15,000 before the end of 2020. Next up: A brick-and-mortar fitness studio.
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“IT WAS TIME TO PIVOT!”
In March, Michelle S. Felder’s event planning business came to a screeching halt. “I was faced with 11 canceled events and no other income,” says Felder, 44, of Cleveland, Ohio. “I used what I had, to provide what I needed”—which meant taking reams of Ankara fabric sourced from Ghana, a little tech-savvy and her hustling spirit, to create and sell masks for COVID-19 protection.
In April, Felder launched Cotton Blocks by sewing masks, handling fulfillment and building a website. “I wanted to address the need for safety and educate the community about Black change agents,” she says— so she named each mask after notable Black figures from the present and past. The masks sell for $15 to $18—and have earned her company more than $16,000 at last count. In 2021, the company will phase out of masks and launch a streetwear clothing line. Don’t be surprised if home decor designs are to follow!
“I SAW A HOLE IN THE MARKET!”
Talia R. Boone’s company was born of desire. “I was desperate to have flowers after two months of lockdown,” says Boone, 42, founder and CEO of Postal Petals in Los Angeles, a delivery service that offers customers fresh farm-totable blooms in bulk, with the option of a weekly, biweekly or monthly subscription. When the Los Angeles flower market she patronized closed its doors due to the pandemic, Boone scoured the Internet looking for a wholesaler.
“I tried to convince him to ship me a small order of flowers that I could arrange for my home,” she says. “I soon realized what I was looking for didn’t exist.” So she went to work, creating a blueprint for her own website and hiring a developer from Fiverr. In September, the site launched and attracted some investors, prompting Boone to consider a more formal investment round. “We’ve mostly grown through word of mouth,” she says. “Looking ahead, we plan to roll out gift boxes and cool artist collaborations, to tap into a broader audience.”