Illustrations by Sabrena Khadija.

Starting and sustaining a business is rigorous — full of details and to-dos, branding considerations and market fluctuations. It requires gumption and stamina. Challenges are often heightened for Black owners, from limited access to funding to racism and bias. That said, there are many, many thriving Black-owned companies. We asked 10 Black female entrepreneurs about their triumphs, trials and crucial lessons they’ve learned. August is National Black Business Month, but these women are worthy of recognition year round.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Maya-Camille Broussard

Broussard is the founder of Justice of the Pies, a bakery

(Caroline Taft)
(Caroline Taft)

Q: What inspired you to start your business?

A: I created Justice of the Pies in memory of my late father, Stephen Broussard. My dad was a criminal defense attorney who absolutely loved to bake (and eat) pies and quiches. The company was created to celebrate his love of pies and to honor his belief that people deserve second chances.

Q: What struggles did you face when you first launched? What struggles, if any, do you continue to face?

A: I actually didn’t have many struggles when I first launched. This is my second entrepreneurial endeavor, so I tread very lightly and was very judicious with every move I made.

Q: What is one of your proudest professional moments?

A: I am proud to be continuing the entrepreneurial legacy of my grandparents, Mary Jane and Luther Billingslea. ... Their spirits live within me and I’m proud to be able to represent them well.

Q: What is one hard lesson you learned?

A: Just one? That’s hilarious.

Q: What is your advice for other Black business owners?

A: Be clear about your ask, be thorough with your practice, be kind to yourself.

Q: If you could go back in time, what is one thing you wish you could tell yourself when you first launched your business?

A: More life, less work.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work?

A: My dad’s favorite poem was “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley (which he learned while pledging Kappa Alpha Psi, Greater Theta Chapter, of course). In that poem, the line he loved to shout was, “It matters not how strait the gate / How charged with punishments the scroll, / I am the master of my fate, / I am the captain of my soul.”

In being an entrepreneur, I feel that I am in total control of my creativity, my time and my success. I determine my rise and the intensity in which I want to proceed in business; I also determine when and how I rest. I determine my own wealth, and that wealth does not equate to an accumulation of money — but rather the wealth is displayed by the way in which I’m able to live my life.

Franci Girard

Girard is the founder of the Sixes, a fashion line for tall women

(Robert Clyde Grima)
(Robert Clyde Grima)

Q: What inspired you to start your business?

A: The idea for the Sixes has been brewing since I was about 10 years old. ... I was bullied because I was this lanky, awkward kid. When I started playing sports in high school, I started meeting other tall women who had similar experiences and realized that there was an opportunity in the marketplace to provide high-quality, fashionable pieces with a focus on fit for this customer.

Q: What struggles did you face when you first launched? What struggles, if any, do you continue to face?

A: In the beginning, I struggled with being a perfectionist and wanting to continuously tweak the brand until I thought it was perfect before putting it out into the world. I had to realize that sometimes perfect is the enemy of good enough, and that it was actually better to launch “good enough” and then take live feedback from customers to get closer to perfect.

Q: What is one of your proudest professional moments?

A: The idea for the brand had been brewing for quite some time. Actually having the courage to build it from scratch is something that I’m really proud of.

Q: What is one hard lesson you learned?

A: I’ve come to learn that I have to take care of myself and the other parts of my life that are important in order to show up as my best self for the business.

Q: What is your advice for other Black business owners?

A: You have to be willing to take risks to receive the kind of reward you may be seeking.

Q: If you could go back in time, what is one thing you wish you could tell yourself when you first launched your business?

A: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Building a successful business requires an immense amount of discipline and, in most cases, time.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work?

A: I’m also a tall woman and so I can identify with a lot of the pain points that my customers are looking to have solved.

Amanda-Jane Thomas and Shanita Nicholas

Thomas and Nicholas are the co-founders of Sip & Sonder, a coffee house in Inglewood, Calif.

(LaDonn Williams)
(LaDonn Williams)

Q: What inspired you to start your business?

A: I grew up as an army brat, traveling across different countries and states. I came to find solace in knowing that wherever I was in the world, I could find a coffee shop and have all the comforts I associated with those spaces. When I would go back to my extended family in Prince George’s County in Maryland, I noticed that those same experiences weren’t available in the communities I called home, predominantly Black neighborhoods. —Shanita Nicholas

Sip & Sonder was a response to my own experiences with coffee growing up and my realization of the power of place-making to empower Black communities. Honestly, I never thought that I would own a coffee house. Growing up, I didn’t have any coffee shops in my community, and when I did frequent this one coffee shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with my mother, it was always a treat, but a fleeting one. Whenever I met folks who had these long histories frequenting coffee shops, that wasn’t an experience I could relate to. —Amanda-Jane Thomas

Q: What struggles did you face when you first launched? What struggles, if any, do you continue to face?

A: When we first started the endeavor of building out Sip & Sonder, we had to not only take on the role of entrepreneurs and business owners, but also of general contractors, painters, plumbers, project managers and more. All while continuing full-time legal careers as corporate attorneys. We have to constantly remind ourselves not to pack our schedules every minute of every day, to take deep breaths every so often and to know when to say no. —Shanita Nicholas and Amanda-Jane Thomas

Q: What is one of your proudest professional moments?

A: The beginning of 2020 started hard for the Los Angeles community with the untimely passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and the other passengers on that flight. The day after we all digested the news, I sat at the coffee shop and noticed a customer who was flipping through a few of the books we have scattered around Sip & Sonder. We struck up a conversation and she told me that she woke up that morning and knew that she had to be in Sip & Sonder that day because she needed the silent support of her community, to be in solitude (but surrounded by the comfort of others) while we collectively grieved. I was thankful to have had the opportunity to create a space that provided that intangible need. —Shanita Nicholas

Q: What is one hard lesson you learned?

A: Don’t sweat the small stuff, but pay attention to the details. —Shanita Nicholas and Amanda-Jane Thomas

Q: What is your advice for other Black business owners?

A: You need to be your own biggest cheerleader, but also your biggest critic. As a Black business owner, you cannot discredit the utmost importance of striving for excellence in execution, paying attention to every little detail and putting yourself in the shoes of your most ornery and opinionated customer or client. Anticipate the criticisms and get in front of them. Black business owners unfortunately carry an unfair burden — we’re not allowed to mess up without cancel culture swearing off Black business. It should be okay to make mistakes sometimes, but we’re often not afforded that luxury. The good news is that though it might be unfair, you can get ahead of it by keeping it real with yourself about where you dropped the ball, what you need help with and what you can stand to do better. Throw in some self-love and forgiveness, and you’ll be on your way. —Amanda-Jane Thomas

Q: If you could go back in time, what is one thing you wish you could tell yourself when you first launched your business?

A: Budget better. Prepare for unforeseeable financial changes both personally and with the business. —Shanita Nicholas

“You are not your business!” When we launched Sip & Sonder, I gave it my all — financially and emotionally — in many ways to the detriment of my personal wellness. —Amanda-Jane Thomas

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work?

A: The most rewarding part of our work is being in a position to inspire action in other people, whether that looks like building a business, expanding perspectives of what an entrepreneur looks like or introducing a new coffee experience to the communities we sit within. —Shanita Nicholas and Amanda-Jane Thomas

Nnenna Stella

Stella is founder of the Wrap Life, which makes headwraps

(Mirza Babic)
(Mirza Babic)

Q: What inspired you to start your business?

A: Short answer, I started the Wrap Life because I love the convenience of shopping online and I thought headwraps should be included as a curated online offering. Long story, I wanted a new way to express myself and discovered that wearing headwraps is transformative. It creates a major mood shift and I wanted other women to have access to that feeling.

Q: What struggles did you face when you first launched? What struggles, if any, do you continue to face?

A: I didn’t know a lot, and even though I’ve learned so much, I’m aware there’s still so much I don’t know. I also struggled when I assumed my failures said something about me instead of acknowledging them as feedback mechanisms.

Q: What is one of your proudest professional moments?

A: Year after year, I’m able to refine my skills and the way I communicate. Styling a cover for Vogue magazine was cool. And designing and opening a retail store in Brooklyn was very cool.

Q: What is one hard lesson you learned?

A: Things will go wrong and pretty much everything is my fault. I know that sounds intense, but when you can work with that, you can start asking yourself questions that will offer solutions.

Q: What is your advice for other Black business owners?

A: Hire a professional coach who has experience running a company. Work with someone who can be your “translator,” someone who understands finance, growth and company culture. ... Always work with someone who knows more than you. And find a skilled CPA and bookkeeper.

Q: If you could go back in time, what is one thing you wish you could tell yourself when you first launched your business?

A: When you consistently show up, you can see the growth and you learn so much.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work?

A: I get to make beautiful things. It’s such a privilege to get to decide how I want to work and how I present my product to the world.

Erin Carpenter

Carpenter is the founder of Nude Barre, which makes nude intimates to match a variety of skin tones

(Kwame Owusu-Kesse)
(Kwame Owusu-Kesse)

Q: What inspired you to start your business?

A: As a professional dancer, a recurring challenge was the need for proper undergarments. We were required to wear nude undergarments as a part of our uniform. I was constantly racking my brain, wondering, “How do I get a shade that’s my color if nude is always beige on the market?” I learned that dancers were dying their undergarments and tights to match their skin tone.

Q: What struggles did you face when you first launched? What struggles, if any, do you continue to face?

A: Changing people’s conditioning that nude is one shade.

Q: What is one of your proudest professional moments?

A: Seeing celebrities in Nude Barre products and them personally telling me how much they love them.

Q: What is one hard lesson you learned?

A: Things change all the time and you need to be flexible and a good problem solver.

Q: What is your advice for other Black business owners?

A: Keep going! Networking is very important as you grow.

Q: If you could go back in time, what is one thing you wish you could tell yourself when you first launched your business?

A: I would have raised outside capital sooner.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work?

A: Meeting the customers who are so happy that our products exist, especially those who now feel more confident.

Hana Getachew

Getachew is the founder of Bolé Road Textiles, a design studio specializing in home decor

(Tara Striano)
(Tara Striano)

Q: What inspired you to start your business?

A: Since college I had the inkling that I’d do design work in Ethiopia. I didn’t know what form that would take, but I spent years exploring the possibilities.

Q: What struggles did you face when you first launched? What struggles, if any, do you continue to face?

A: It was hard in the beginning to know what to focus on and how many resources to put toward any one effort. After five years, it still feels like an educated guess, especially this year with all its upheavals.

Q: What is one of your proudest professional moments?

A: I’ve had a lot of great press and exposure, but several months ago an Ethiopian news agency ran a brief segment on me and my work. Hearing my story in Amharic was very moving. Getting texts from all my aunties and uncles made me so proud.

Q: What is one hard lesson you learned?

A: My business grew 80 percent one year and I neglected to think about taxes (all the taxes). I had a rough time paying Uncle Sam the following March.

Q: What is your advice for other Black business owners?

A: Now’s our time!

Q: If you could go back in time, what is one thing you wish you could tell yourself when you first launched your business?

A: Same thing I tell myself now: Trust yourself, trust your vision, trust the universe. It’s all going to be okay.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work?

A: I love that I get to tell stories of Ethiopia through my work. I love that whenever my pieces get recognition, it’s also recognition of Ethiopian ancestry and artistry.

LaTonia Cokely

Cokely is the founder of Adjourn Teahouse

(Conroy Cokely)
(Conroy Cokely)

Q: What inspired you to start your business?

A: My mom always made tea sipping something special and communal; we drank tea together. I can vividly remember how “grown” I felt drinking tea and how it made my insides feel warm and cozy.

In 2004, I lost my father to cancer only to lose my mother to breast cancer just 10 years later. For me, tea drinking became critical in my healing after my parents transitioned. It was literally how I began to usher myself through grieving.

Q: What struggles did you face when you first launched? What struggles, if any, do you continue to face?

A: I entered the food space and tea-making as a creative, not necessarily a business executive. So, I had a rather steep learning curve. Additionally, starting a business is costly and Adjourn Teahouse is bootstrapped; I don’t have any investors. I was able to launch a successful Kickstarter campaign in January 2019.

I also struggled finding a community of like-minded Black women in business. This was important to me for many reasons, namely the lack of access and resources many people of color experience starting out.

Q: What is one of your proudest professional moments?

A: (1) Partnering with a major global retailer this fall and (2) actually starting a business and being able to see it blossom right before my eyes. It has been wonderful to transition into this work full time.

Q: What is one hard lesson you learned?

A: One hard, but beautiful, lesson I’ve learned is to be myself! I bring a lot to the table even if a seat for me doesn’t yet exist. My thoughts, ideas and being matter.

Q: What is your advice for other Black business owners?

A: You don’t have to be perfect, but you must be authentic! [Customers] are looking for brands that make them feel seen, loved and appreciated. As Black business owners, we often find ourselves trying to figure out how to cater to customers and clients based on standards that are often biased and rooted in white supremacist culture. ... Give yourself some grace. My mother left my sister and I with a beautiful intention before her passing” “I forgive myself for not being perfect.”

Q: If you could go back in time, what is one thing you wish you could tell yourself when you first launched your business?

A: Stop saying, “I don’t know.” Though this may be true, you do know a lot and so does Google!

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work?

A: Seeing customers enjoy something that I create with love.

Erica Davis

Davis is the co-founder of The Sip, a sparkling wine subscription service

(The Sip Society)
(The Sip Society)

Q: What inspired you to start your business?

A: The Sip was truly inspired by my monthly girls’ nights with my best friend and now co-founder, Catherine Carter. What started as a nice way to relax and unwind together soon proved to be a challenge. It became hard to find a different brand we had not already tried, and then even harder to figure out where to purchase the bottle once we discovered a new champagne house.

Q: What struggles did you face when you first launched? What struggles, if any, do you continue to face?

A: I think our first initial struggle was figuring out where to start. We knew two things for sure: (1) we wanted there to be a seamless discovery process that didn’t currently exist in the market and (2) we wanted it to be an online and offline experience where women could connect and celebrate in a judgment-free zone.

Q: What is one of your proudest professional moments?

A: The first time one of our sippers organically posted and tagged us on Instagram. The satisfaction of seeing that we brought joy to her life made all the difference and the hard work worth it.

Q: What is one hard lesson you learned?

A: Success is built on many failures, but what you do with those lessons truly is what will determine if you succeed or not.

Q: What is your advice for other Black business owners?

A: Create a business you are proud of and passionate about. Do it despite any historical information that would suggest you don’t belong there. Because you are enough, you do belong and you deserve to follow your dream.

Q: If you could go back in time, what is one thing you wish you could tell yourself when you first launched your business?

A: Be patient with yourself. You can’t do and be everything for everyone.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work?

A: As women who grew up in Oakland, who have now founded a business in our community; we are realizing our true potential and are dedicated to investing in others and so that they can do the same. That is why we pledge that for every Sip purchase we will give access to clean water for women and children in need through the East Oakland Community Project.

Shontay Lundy

Lundy is the founder of Black Girl Sunscreen

(Tony Bowen Photography)
(Tony Bowen Photography)

Q: What inspired you to start your business?

A: I was underwhelmed by the options for skin protection for women of color. Healthy skin has always been a priority for me, and I knew that there had to be a solution to the lack of options.

Q: What struggles did you face when you first launched? What struggles, if any, do you continue to face?

A: The myth that Black people do not wear sunscreen. The biggest obstacle was and still is relaying accurate information and education to shift a mind-set of a community that does not believe they need sunscreen.

Q: What is one of your proudest professional moments?

A: I celebrate all the small wins. I need the small wins to get to the big wins.

Q: What is one hard lesson you learned?

A: Don’t wait for the last minute. Plan ahead with inventory.

Q: What is your advice for other Black business owners?

A: I always have three pieces of advice: (1) Lead with intuition; follow your gut instincts, (2) clear out the minutiae; do not let outside noise interfere with your vision, and (3), consistency is everything.

Q: If you could go back in time, what is one thing you wish you could tell yourself when you first launched your business?

A: Don’t think small. Think big!

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work?

A: Waking up every day knowing that I love what I do.

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