I started a business about a year ago
It was called: Blacademix.
The name came to me one day while finishing up my data collection, and as I was talking to myself about how I wanted to go about analysing my findings, I thought: “I’m Black, I’m an academic, I’m a Blacademic.” It spiralled from there, and I was getting bored of the same old same old of the PhD experience (wake up, write, read, stress about the inadequacy of my work, stare into the vortex of imposter syndrome, try to claw my way out, and finally finish that bit of writing after re-reading it and realising it’s actually pretty good…but no one will care anyway, so whatever…I’m tired). This was the cycle. So I needed something different, something to empower myself.
Something to empower others.
I created Blacademix as the ‘empowerment brand for women of color’. It was very vague, indiscriminate. It sounded like a place for Black academics. But in function it was a t-shirt brand with empowering ‘designs’ such as: ‘Empowerment’ and ‘On the Rise’.
They looked OKAY but ultimately were really lackluster. I also, personally, never really wore t-shirts outside of lounging around at home or volunteering on a house building site. So why was I making something I didn’t really want or use?
I started, then, to think about what I wanted Blacademix to be: a place for an intersectional discussion to emerge. I wanted to showcase Black women across the diaspora who were icons and leaders. I wanted to ‘educate’ about Black women’s histories in culture and the arts. So, I started designing patterns to be printed on tote bags. I loved doing that! I got to draw, paint, dabble in graphic design. I got to use my HANDS. But it still didn’t feel right, because I was using a dropshipper to execute the production of my designs and didn’t have control over the distribution process.
I felt too far removed from a holistic creative process
And then I started a full time job as a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) and decided to wind down Blacademix. I had also lost some of the essence of the business. What sort of entrepreneur did I want to be? Was I just trying to make money, money, money? Or was I trying to build a community around my brand and make a difference in people’s lives? Could they not be both?
As a researcher, I explore the connection between social enterprise and cultural/creative enterprise. And, I struggled to see the balance between the two before starting my research project. But, ultimately, this connection is what created that tension in Blacademix. Black culture and social enterprise…? Social enterprise in Black cultures? This is where I was circling my thoughts in those design moments. I was making empowering designs to serve a social mission, while also making money from my artistry. And, I needed to find the time to reconcile both of those feelings with each other.
I needed to find my own style of mission and money
So I winded down Blacademix and I gave myself some space. I thought about what I really enjoyed about the business: researching iconic Black women, making art from my research, sharing this with others (mostly on social media), talking to others about my ideas and business dreams, seeing sales come in, and the responses of my domestic and international customers when they received their items. I loved ALL of that.
What didn’t I love: working mainly on a computer, having most of my interactions occur via social media (mainly instagram, too), ‘hustling’ which really felt like peddling what felt like were inauthentic products (t-shirts) to people I wanted deeper connections with, not having control over the entire selling process (production, distribution, etc), and the feeling that I wasn’t fully imbued and in sync with my own brand partly because I couldn’t see and touch my products fully. I couldn’t see the long-term vision of the brand.
Realising these things helped me shift my thinking around myself and my flavour of entrepreneurship. I want to MAKE things for people with my own hands, be an artisan. I want to create the brand experience from start to finish, from choosing materials to developing the packaging experience to customer engagement. I want to be fully vested in the ENTIRE brand. So, I decided to pivot towards crafts, a place that I know quite well from my own practice, but I didn’t want to make crochet hats (which is what I do as a hobby from time to time). I did, however, want to challenge myself to learn something new and face a fear of mine: working with clay.
So, I did; and BossiRainbow emerged. All of those intrinsic desires to empower others feeds BossiRainbow, because what’s more empowering than a boss-pair of dope earrings that make you feel like a million bucks? What’s more empowering than self-expression through accessories? I love my accessories, right, because they make the outfit. Accessories can also be timeless and sentimental. I want to make special items for people who desire to feel strong, and powerful, and beautiful everyday.
Through the process of making, I’ve come to realise that BossiRainbow also makes me feel strong and empowered because I am pushing my own boundaries and proving myself wrong everyday. Yes, I can do it and I will and I have and, yes, people are responding with eager anticipation and nurturing power. And, hell yes, we are doing it our own way. Through these affirmations and finding patience in myself, BossiRainbow can be all those things I wanted in my previous business.
Peace and Rainbows ✌🏾 Jaleesa, Founder + CEO