It’s no secret that the South is home to many amazing and resilient small businesses founded by bright and brilliant entrepreneurs of all backgrounds. Over the years, StyleBlueprint has shone the spotlight on hundreds of these businesses but we have never solely focused an article on multiple businesses run by Black women — until today. We need to do a better part of being an ally to our Black women neighbors and entrepreneurs. Look for more stories like this in the future, and today, meet these six amazing women, learn more about their work, and find out how their businesses have been impacted in the past two weeks as all eyes are on the very important topic of racial equality in America. Please support these wonderful businesses — and the many minority-owned businesses in your city — both today and always.
Cristina McCarter of City Tasting Tours
Cristina McCarter is a native Memphian whose passion for eating local became her lifestyle. She is the owner of City Tasting Tours, which offers different food tours of Memphis, and she is the co-owner of Feast and Graze, a cheese board delivery service. After everything shut down due to COVID-19, Cristina got creative and quickly pivoted her business model. She created a virtual food tour experience, where customers receive a no-contact delivery of a dinner for 2 from 3 Memphis restaurants as well as videos that highlight the local restaurateurs and other hidden gems of the Memphis food scene. Not only do you get a delicious meal, you get to learn something new and support 4 local businesses at once!
Cristina’s passion is supporting local. Before starting City Tasting Tours, she had a food blog and loved exploring her city. That is how she discovered the hidden gems and experiences that she now shares with her customers. When asked about what business today is like versus two weeks ago, Cristina says, “It feels the same. I still feel there is a deep need for Black businesses to be supported year-round, not just during a crisis.”
Bettina Benson of Chloe Kristyn
After spending nearly 10 years working in medical sales, Bettina Benson made the decision to develop a clothing line. Chloe Kristyn, an Atlanta-based clothing company, helps women look and feel like their best selves. “Instead of living a prescribed life in which I made the ‘safe’ and ‘right’ choices, I began to write my own chapters and design an authentic life, as well as clothing that creates a perfectly proportioned backdrop for women to tell and live their stories,” explains Bettina.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, Bettina is grateful for her platform to spread positivity and inclusivity. Since its beginning in May 2016, Chloe Kristyn has created diverse clothing to include women of all shapes and sizes. And today, this embracing mindset is more important than ever. As our nation takes a hard look at the topic of racial equality, Bettina says she feels like a weight has been lifted off the world’s shoulders. “The world is significantly more aware of a disease that has ravaged this country since it came into existence,” she says. “Now, rightfully so, knowingly or unknowingly, everyone is shouldering the effects of racism. This wake-up call has created more space and opportunity to fulfill my purpose and share my heart and gifts with the world.”
To support Bettina and her business, shop the company’s online store, sign up for its newsletter, and follow Chloe Kristyn on Instagram. Bettina also encourages Southeastern retailers and boutiques to reach out to her if they want to add Black designers to their shelves.
Mignon Francois of The Cupcake Collection
You’ve likely heard of the highly popular Nashville business The Cupcake Collection. Yet the beginning of Mignon Francois’s famous business was an unexpected one. Mignon admits baking was not always her strong suit, and it was years of drowning in debt that inspired her to make a change in her life. Using the last $5 in her pocket, Mignon bought some baking ingredients and has been creating award-winning cupcakes ever since.
Beyond her bakery doors, however, Mignon also serves as a self-proclaimed cheerleader for her local community. She sits on numerous leadership boards, including the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation, the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Pathways Women’s Business Center and Lipscomb University’s College of Business. She is also the founding member of the Nashville Business Journal’s Leadership Trust team. Through these positions, Mignon mentors entrepreneurs looking to follow in her footsteps, especially females.
“The future is female. Once you get a seat at the table, pull the chair up for another woman. You do not have to bar someone else out. If you leave your foot in the door for someone else, it can help propel us all. Empower each other to know that together, our voices can be heard,” Mignon says. “In community, we are truly better together, and you can learn from the mistakes and experiences of your sister to the left and right of you. Nurture someone else that wants to follow your footsteps. I am not trying to be successful on my own. I want to make sure the women around me are successful as well.”
To support Mignon and The Cupcake Collection, place an order for next-day curbside pickup, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram. They are always looking to connect and collaborate with other local businesses as well.
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 Birmingham 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.”
Keneisha Malone of Ziya Soul
Keneisha Malone credits necessity for the creation of her business. She wanted to find a solution for her dry skin, eczema, and hair breakage, but there wasn’t a product on the market that fit her needs. So she created her own. Ziya Soul was born in Keneisha’s kitchen in Memphis, and it has blossomed from there. All of Ziya Soul’s products are vegan and cruelty-free, and they’re made for all skin types. Her products include masks, scrubs, and oils for both men and women.
If running her own business wasn’t enough, Keneisha is also a fifth-grade teacher. While most of her business is online, Keneisha’s products are carried in a couple of stores in Memphis, and she attends a lot of festivals and other events to sell her goods. When COVID-19 hit, she had to move everything completely online.
In light of America’s current social climate, we asked Keneisha how business has changed in the past two weeks, to which she replies, “In the past two weeks, my business has been highlighted a lot, and I really appreciate the push from non-Black business owners to support us. But I hope that trajectory continues after this all dies down. I would like us to receive this type of support all the time.”
Autumn Shelton of Honeyed Lips and Skincare
Honeyed Lips and Skincare is a Nashville-based business that came about after owner Autumn Shelton struggled for years with eczema and dry skin. After attending countless dermatologist appointments and trying different skincare products, she took matters into her own hands. “I started doing my own research and learned about my body and specific needs. I was tired of the steroids and irritants in the skincare products I was using and wanted to head in an all-natural direction. That’s when I started crafting my own stuff, and it worked for me,” she says.
Today, Autumn’s store offers body scrubs, soap, deodorant, moisturizer and other basic skincare products. “The best part of my job is helping other people with similar needs and struggles. I love telling others what has worked for me and helping them pinpoint the issue they’re struggling with. I have learned a lot during my skincare journey, so being able to pass along effective information makes me feel good,” says Autumn.
Yet being a Black female entrepreneur doesn’t come without struggles. Autumn admits Black women-owned businesses have been neglected for a long time, but the recent climate has caused a surge in business. “Within these last few weeks and everything going on, my business has seen a huge increase within different ethnicities, and I honestly love it,” Autumn tells us. “I hope my brand continues to grow and touch the hands of many.”
If you’re looking to support Black businesses in your city, we encourage you to look up the local Black business chamber of commerce where you live.
We are grateful that Reliant Investment Management underwrites our FACES series each week, supporting the women of this community. Please find out more about them HERE.