It’s no secret that Birmingham is home to many amazing and resilient small businesses founded by bright and brilliant entrepreneurs of all backgrounds. We want to shine the spotlight on five local businesses that are owned and run by Black women as part of our coverage of local businesses. We need to do a better part of being an ally to our Black women neighbors and entrepreneurs. Meet these five amazing women, learn more about their businesses and find out from them how their businesses have changed in the past two weeks as the country’s focus has turned to the very important topic of racial equity in America.
Kimberly Wiggins of Cakes by Kim
Kimberly L. Wiggins is the owner of Cakes by Kim, LLC. This wedding exclusive, appointment-only cake design boutique serves the brides and grooms of Birmingham. Kim is professionally trained as a special education teacher, so Cakes by Kim was born out of a need for a creative outlet. “When the idea presented itself, I was teaching, in graduate school, and extremely busy. So I committed to experimenting with cake decorating (I’ve been cooking and baking since age 10!) during my first free summer, and that is just what I did,” says Kim.
Since launching her business, Kim has enjoyed the best of both her creative side and her teaching side. “Cakes by Kim has grown by leaps and bounds in ways that I could have never imagined,” she says. “I’ve been blessed to work with some of the most amazing clients and wedding professionals; my work has been published internationally; and I most definitely have been able to express my creativity through cake art — all while continuing to serve the students with disabilities that I love.”
When asked how her business has been impacted over the past couple of weeks during the protests, Kim replies, “I’ve seen an incredible outpouring of support from wedding industry colleagues over the last two weeks. However, I can’t say that the last two weeks have made an actionable impact on what it’s like to be a Black woman-owned business at this time. It would be great to see the support received turn into opportunities to work with wedding vendors that I haven’t worked with in the past. Of course, that is something that only time will tell.”
Crystal Mullen-Johnson of Strive Counseling Services
Crystal Mullen-Johnson, LICSW, PIP, RPT, founded Strive Counseling Services on July 3, 2017. “Strive Counseling and its core principles are a product of my mother’s legacy as a social worker coupled with my father’s entrepreneurial spirit,” says Crystal. “Those core principles led me to establish Strive in downtown Birmingham in an effort to reach all populations regardless of their socioeconomic background.”
Crystal’s mission through Strive is to provide quality mental health counseling to individuals and couples while focusing on empowering clients to build a foundation for a healthier life. Strive Counseling also provides community education through psycho-educational learning sessions and webinars. Strive’s Community Mental Health Awareness Initiative, a partnership with the City of Birmingham Mayor’s Office Division of Youth Services, was launched in 2019 to promote mental health and wellness.
Strive introduced Telemedicine earlier this year to great success. “Our business has increased as a result of adding Telemedicine to an already effective business model,” Crystal says. “This has allowed us to reach beyond the Greater Birmingham and Jefferson County area.” And in light of the pandemic, economic downturn and racial demonstrations, Crystal acknowledges the tremendous impact these events have had on mental health, offering, “Strive will continue to provide quality mental health services to those in need. We are here to serve.
Joanna Sheppard of Valia Rose Events
After planning an intimate event for a dear friend, Joanna Sheppard’s hobby of putting together events flourished into Valia Rose Events, a company that provides full-service planning, design and management services. “We create custom, seamless and sophisticated planning experiences for each of our clients,” says Joanna. “And because we forge a bond with our clients, the details cultivated into our designs reflect the personal styles of our clients.”
The company’s organic growth emerged from the desire to create magical moments, enlightened guest experiences and memories to last a lifetime. “Every logistical element serves a purpose for a celebration that speaks to you, your family and your guests for generations to come,” Joanna adds.
As a Black business owner, she explains that the impact of the past two weeks hasn’t been noticeable in terms of her work, but she has seen an increased discussion of race relations. “There will not be direct progressive changes for myself or minorities until there are honest efforts to consider creatives, like myself, by promoting and celebrating diversity,” Joanna explains. “This lacks both within and outside of my business industry. Our company strives for diversity and inclusion of all races. I am thankful for the vendors and clients who choose us based on merit and not the color of my skin. It is my prayer that more businesses become committed to a society that is diverse, inclusive, tolerant and respectful.” Ultimately, she wants to be hired for her solid work, not her skin color. “We want clients and vendors to not feel compelled to commission Valia Rose Events because we are a minority, but consider and select us because we are awesome, amazing and damn good at what we do. Through humanity, WE MUST ALL SUPPORT EACH OTHER.”
Dana Benson of The Esthetic Loft
“The Esthetic Loft was born out of many life challenges I was facing; challenges many of us, women in particular, face with the realities of life,” says Dana Benson, founder of The Esthetic Loft, which opened in 2014. “I wanted to take those painful experiences and make something beautiful and meaningful for others.”
The team at The Esthetic Loft uses a holistic approach and a regenerative experience to help its clients feel their most confident. “As my business grew, I developed a variety of beauty and wellness services. From teaching to esthetic services, The Esthetic Loft promotes self-care from skin to within, in natural ways,” Dana continues. “Whatever your true beauty goals are, even just to be healthy and glow, The Esthetic Loft’s team aims to provide a haven where you can be nurtured and encouraged, and [we] help you discover what self you want to portray and be.”
While the spotlight on race has been bright over the past two weeks, Dana says it’s going to take much more work to make an impact for Black women business owners. “I still face the same challenges I faced two weeks ago, however I pain for the injustice and oppression in the world, and I look forward to a time when it’s nonexistent.”
Kristal Bryant of K & J’s Elegant Pastries
K & J’s Elegant Pastries, a custom cake shop that specializes in custom cakes for all occasions, moved into its first brick-and-mortar store in 2013. Chef and owner Kristal Bryant offers many sweet treats such as cupcakes, pastries, ice cream, cookies and so much more. “We pride ourselves on our unique designs that are custom-made for you to order. We bake with the freshest ingredients and offer the best quality product for the best price,” shares Kristal. “We are committed to creating the best cakes that will definitely make your event unforgettable.”
After branching off into the world of ice cream in 2017, K & J’s quickly became known for its Kollosal Milkshakes. These shakes became widely popular in Alabama and placed this small business on a national stage. K & J’s and Chef Bryant have been featured in many national publications and won several awards, such as Best Bakery four years in a row, Best Small Business, and Small Business Owner of the Year.
Now more than ever, we encourage you to support local minority-owned businesses. To find more of Birmingham’s Black woman-owned businesses, in particular, visit the Birmingham Metro Black Chamber of Commerce. Also, BE BHM normally publishes blkLSTed, a directory of Black businesses and nonprofits. The list is temporarily unpublished due to recent events, but continue to check back HERE for its return.
To read more FACES interviews, click here.