CHARLOTTE, North Carolina
Four years ago Chrishonda Benson’s daughter told her that she didn’t like her brown skin “because she wasn’t pretty.”
Her daughter, Mariah, then 4, felt this because she couldn’t find a black doll and additional accessories in the stores. So Benson, originally from Charlotte, decided to find a way to show Mariah and the other kids that they are beautiful the way they are.
Last October, she launched Pretty Dope Society, a line of personalized products ranging from mugs to backpacks with images of people of color and artwork created by black artists.
“I noticed the lack of representation of black and brown children,” said Benson, now 32 and living in Fort Mill, South Carolina. “When children are able to see themselves as the main character in their book of life, it is amazing to see their increased self-esteem and self-esteem. “
While retailers like Amazon and Charlotte-based department store Belk have highlighted black-owned businesses and inclusive products, Benson says that’s not enough.
“I just want to see more,” Benson said. “Seeing a glimmer of yourself when you shop has long been a challenge for black people in our society. “
PRETTY DOPE SOCIETY TAKES OFF DURING COVID
Since last year, Pretty Dope Society has sold thousands of products online through its Etsy store and website. Revenue is approaching $ 100,000, Benson told The Observer.
Benson started the shop with coffee mugs, then added diaper bags and blankets for the kids. The product line has since expanded to beverage items and added backpacks in June. Products have been sold from California to New York, Benson said.
The products are also personalized, which is important to Benson, who said she had never been able to find something with her name “Chrishonda”.
Benson was working in corporate communications before earning a Masters of Commerce from Florida International University in 2019. She took courses in product design and merchandising before founding Pretty Dope Society.
She overcame several hurdles during the launch of the COVID-19 pandemic, including supply chain issues and shipping delays. But the biggest hurdle, Benson said, has been “looking at the product.”
She reached out to CoCoa Twins, an African-American online clipart store to learn more about art sourcing and licensing, Benson said. Some of the national artists she uses with Cocoa Twins are Edward from EJE Selects and Glam Marks Illustrations.
Benson also opened a vinyl decal store on Etsy, Pretty Dope Vinyl, just before the pandemic in January 2020. The stores are operating full time and are Benson’s only income.
“It allowed me to create Pretty Dope Society,” she said. She plans to let her daughter take over the sticker store.
The goal, Benson said, is to continue to develop the products, including home decor, and enter small boutiques across the United States and even overseas.
“It was born out of a need that I found for my child,” Benson said. “I created it because there was a gap.”
WHAT BEING A BLACK ENTREPRENEUR MEANS
In North Carolina, the number of minority-owned businesses nearly tripled from 1997 to 2018, from 61,551 to 183,333, according to the nonprofit North Carolina Business Council. Nationwide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 41% of black-owned businesses have closed, the online advice said.
Shante Williams, entrepreneur and president of the Charlotte Black Chamber of Commerce, said it was important to make sure everyone knew that black businesses exist in all sectors of all industries, and that “we are involved. to the economy at different levels “. The chamber, formed 16 years ago, has 200 active members.
“Entrepreneurship and business ownership are a way for people to lift themselves out of poverty and build wealth from generation to generation over the course of their lives,” said Williams.
The pandemic, she said, has also helped show black entrepreneurs the importance of being in various industries, as service or professional jobs have been affected during pandemic shutdowns. For example, she said, black-owned businesses are thriving in the housewares industry where people are looking for specific types of decor.
“This has opened up the realm of possibilities for people looking to enter the space,” said Williams.
She encourages black-owned business owners to register with a black business directory and register with city and state in order to support minority businesses and diversify marketing channels. network.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE PRETTY DOPE COMPANY
This fall, Benson will be launching products with her own designs, as well as home decorations ranging from rugs and clocks to ottomans and pillows.
Next year, she hopes to do more pop-up shops in Charlotte and enter boutiques, which she has not pursued due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She would like the Pretty Dope Society to evolve into a physical gift shop where customers can purchase conversational products that are “pieces that people will remember for years to come.”
Mariah, now 8, will also help with the next branch, Pretty Dope Kids, after helping to design the line of backpacks that launched in June.
“The coolest part is that she sees products that look like them with their name on it,” Benson said. “I’m just trying to fill the void.”