This Black History Month, we sat down with two of Klarna’s integrated Black-owned retail partners—Coco & Breezy and Thirteen Lune‘s Nyakio Grieco—to talk about the biggest challenges and wins they faced over the past year, what Black History Month means to them and their brand, and their best piece of advice for up-and-coming Black-owned businesses.
Give us a bit of background on how your business(es) came to be.
Coco & Breezy: Coco & Breezy was founded in 2009 as a DIY project years before we turned it into a real company. Our love for eyewear stemmed from both of us being bullied as kids, so we wore sunglasses to avoid eye contact with people who didn’t understand us. A couple of years ago, we scaled from just sunglasses to introduce optical frames. As we grew as founders and began to understand the market, we realized that by offering a beautifully-designed, luxury product at an accessible price point, there was space for us in the market. Now, we pride ourselves as a brand on offering people a product that is not only design-friendly but is also going to protect their eyes, while staying culturally relevant. So many companies these days feel like they have boxes to check, but we really want our brand to speak to everybody and to make them feel like they are part of a community.
Nyakio: Patrick Herning and I co-founded Thirteen Lune out of a shared passion for inclusivity. There was a need for Thirteen Lune. Black Lives Matter had its pinnacle moment in 2020 and demanded that we, as a collective culture, address the much bigger issue of alleviating systemic racism. Being a woman of color and working in the beauty industry for 18 years, my personal experience has been challenging, disappointing, and life-affirming. Representation matters and there is so much talent and innovation underrepresented and underfunded in various industries, including beauty. Thirteen Lune is a fully-inclusive beauty platform showcasing Black and Brown founders who’ve curated products for all people. Also included are ally brands that have been true to developing and offering products for ethnic hair and skin. We believe beauty should unite and not divide.
“Being a woman of color and working in the beauty industry for 18 years, my personal experience has been challenging, disappointing, and life-affirming.”
What’s the biggest challenge your brand has faced in the past year and how did you work to overcome it?
Coco & Breezy: Being comfortable with pivoting. Fortunately, our brand has grown over the past year, but 2020 taught us not to be stuck to a single plan because the world around us is constantly changing. We had a big marketing campaign shoot planned that we had to completely restructure and shoot virtually, and we know we will continue to face these challenges as we grow. A constant reminder we tell ourselves is that we should never get too comfortable with or stuck on an idea, and instead change with the times.
Nyakio: Being that we’ve recently launched, there are not as many challenges that we’ve faced. However, due to our growth plan, we were in need of additional capital. I am happy to share we’ve been able to raise $1M during our first round of funding from friends and family such as Sean Combs and Gwyneth Paltrow.
What about the biggest win or success?
Coco & Breezy: Everyone finally wanting to support Black-owned companies. Another one of our challenges was just making sure we had enough inventory to support that, which is a good problem to have had. We just hope that people keep up the same energy supporting Black-owned businesses going forward.
As founders and activists, we are always looking for ways to educate people that just because you’re buying something from a Black-owned business, doesn’t mean it’s just for Black people. People often see a brand that tells a Black story and think, “Oh, that’s not for me,” but they are forgetting that Black women who have been in the US their whole lives have had to buy shampoo with a white woman with blonde hair on the label; we had to assimilate and see ourselves in everybody. So, we hope the narratives can change and that people will finally change that mindset and buy from a Black-owned company not just because it’s Black-owned, but because it offers a great product.
Nyakio: “I can’t believe this hasn’t existed until now,” has to be the most common and greatest piece of feedback I’ve received. To know that people see, understand, and are benefiting from interacting with the platform is what was hoped for. In addition, how Black and Brown founders are excited for a retail site that truly celebrates them.
“We hope the narratives can change and that people will finally change that mindset and buy from a Black-owned company not just because it’s Black-owned, but because it offers a great product.”
What does Black History Month mean to you, and how is your brand honoring it this year?
Coco & Breezy: We honor Black History Month every year, 365 days of the year. We want people to change the mindset that we should only celebrate Black History in February. Something we’re very passionate about is getting people to understand that we weren’t taught the real Black history in schools, but a white version of it. We’ve made it our duty as a brand to have those conversations and educate people about the Black leaders and historical moments we weren’t taught in school. So for us, Black History Month is February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, and January. But, it’s not our job as Black people to educate white people on Black History. We want to see more non-Black brands doing their research the same way we’re doing—taking the time to learn the real history. There are so many resources out there that can help us learn the truth.
Nyakio: During Black History Month, I honor the generations before me and celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of all Black people. My brand is leveling the playing field and ushering in the next generation of Black and Brown leaders in the beauty industry. This year for BHM we are honoring Black beauty icons on our social media as well as staying authentic to our story and providing a year-round experience for Black talent. Black history is made every day.
Name another Black-owned business that inspires you and tell us why?
Coco & Breezy: Sharifa Murdock is the co-founder of Liberty Fairs trade show, and she inspires us as CEOs and founders because she’s in a space where you never really see people like us. She is a woman who really makes space and opens up opportunities for Black people. Often when people from marginalized communities make it to a certain level, they feel like they worked so hard they don’t want to bring anyone else up with them, so one thing we love about Sharifa is that she worked so hard to get to where she is yet she is a mentor to so many people—we honestly don’t know how she has time! She is one of the most powerful, influential Black women in our lives and has shown us that we can do it too. As the first Black-owned eyewear company, we’ve been mentoring other Black-owned eyewear companies coming up and I think it’s our duty and job to continue to make space for and give that knowledge and those resources to others.
Nyakio: Shani Darden Skincare. Shani is a Black female founder who has built an incredible business. She’s an extremely gifted Esthetician who inspires me daily. Her dedication to her clients and innovative product development is a testament to her commitment to help others feel confident in their skincare journey.
“As the first Black-owned eyewear company, we’ve been mentoring other Black-owned eyewear companies coming up and I think it’s our duty and job to continue to make space for and give that knowledge and those resources to others.”
Can you share one tip, trick, or piece of advice that might be useful for other Black-owned businesses to thrive in a post-pandemic market?
Coco & Breezy: Break the cycle. Walk into the room and know you’re the sh*t. Black women are the most creative, amazing people in the world, but we walk into too many rooms where we automatically feel put down. We have to walk into every room knowing just how powerful we are.
Nyakio: Share your brand story passionately, honestly and with confidence. People buy into people before they buy into a brand. Be authentic to your story and in your storytelling.