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Women of Color Take Their Place in the Business World

Co-founders Sasha Matthews (left) and Michelle Blue (right) of Bené Scarves derived the name from the word “benevolent” meaning ‘characterized by or expressing goodwill or kindly feeling; desiring to help others’.

by Kalah Mingo

The world of business and entrepreneurship has experienced a shift in the past few years. According to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, women-owned businesses have grown 45 percent over the past nine years, making the rate of growth five times the national average. Georgia is the second fastest growing state for women-owned firms with a 64 percent increase, only falling behind Florida with a 67 percent increase.

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More significantly, businesses owned by women of color have increased by 126 percent since 2007, making up 79 percent of women-owned firms in the past nine years and creating a trend of ethnic diversity in entrepreneurship across the United States.

African American women are one of the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs in America. Between 2007 and 2016, the number of African American women-owned firms increased by 112 percent. Shirlynn Brownell is the face of the new American business owner. The UGA alumnus from Atlanta, GA, is a part of this success of black female entrepreneurs.

Brownell has her own line of cruelty free, non-toxic nail polish, DKT Polish. She launched her own business with just $5,000 in September of 2016 and it has been growing ever since.

 

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Shirlynn Brownell, owner of DKT Polish, got the idea for her business after she visited a local nursing home in Atlanta to paint the resident’s nails on her 23rd birthday.

“I always loved nail polish. So, it’s been like a right of passage into womanhood in my life,” Brownell says.“I didn’t just want any regular polish. I wanted something that spoke to the causes that I’m passionate about and that’s being mindful of what you put inside of your body just as much as what you put on your body.”

The message of Brownell’s line is to encourage the modern day woman to spend time on herself to promote physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

“It just reminds me to make sure you slow down and take care of you because you can’t take care of anyone else if you’re not well and you can’t fill anyone from an empty cup, ” Brownell says.

Michelle Blue, a 2013 UGA graduate from Lithonia, GA, is a part of this success of black women as well. Blue is the owner and co-founder of Bené Scarves, a luxury scarf company that supports girls’ education in Ghana. The company gives 15 percent of each scarf sold to their non-profit partner SISTAWorks, Inc. The SISTA Scholar program sponsors tuition, book supplies and uniforms for girls continuing their education in Ghana.

“It’s our mission to see them through their full matriculation of school. Whatever girl we start, with we make sure we send her through graduation,” Blue says. “We just hope that our business, our product, our work and the girls that we support is a reflection of the goodness and love that we have.”

The idea for Blue’s company began when she went on study abroad trip in Ghana. She fell in love with the young girls she met on her trip and came back to share her experience with her childhood and current best friend, Sasha Matthews. Their idea for the business came to life their junior year of college. Blue and her co-founder Matthews started their business two weeks after their graduation.

“It was intimidating. I didn’t’ know anything and so I lacked resources and knowledge that you would need to start a business, but I researched a lot. I read a lot,” Blue says. “It was definitely very daunting and a lot of unknowns, but you make baby steps. You make progress and you go from there.”

Blue doesn’t see the increase of businesses owned by women of color as a surprise.

“African American women are one of the most educated groups in the country and I think it’s natural that this is following that. Hopefully, it’s making impacts in our communities and our families so it’s definitely important.”

In the future, the partners hope to grow their business and give back to their community by developing more programs in local Atlanta schools to invest in the community that they come from.

The number and economic contributions of women-owned firms continue to rise at rates higher than the national average with tremendous growth in the number of firms owned by women of color. The new American business owner is on her rise.


Graphics by Kalah Mingo
Photos courtesy of DKT Polish and Bené Scarves

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