From Madam C.J.Walker’s hair care products to Rihanna’s diverse Fenty makeup line, Black female entrepreneurs have played an enormous role in creating blueprints for Black-owned businesses to succeed.
Benefitting from the work of the trail-blazing women who came before them are Black female entrepreneurs at Texas State, who continue to make their mark and build businesses to accommodate people of color on campus.
Rya Russell, a health science senior and owner of Hair by Ry, says she began braiding hair her freshman year as a way to make extra money while in school full time.
“I didn’t want to get a regular job because I always stress myself out about school and my work, and I like to have everything organized,” Russell says. “So, I was like, maybe I should learn how to do hair, and I can create my own schedule.”
Russell learned how to braid hair by watching YouTube videos and practicing with her friends until finally blossoming her skills into her now-popular business of specialty locks and braids.
She says bringing her business to San Marcos was important because it allowed her to attract a new market for college students of color in need of a hairstylist they could trust.
“My favorite part about doing hair, I think, is building connections with different people, even though it’s probably like brief and just talking to somebody new every day, learning their story or why they’re here,” Russell says. “I like to ask especially freshman girls how they’re doing because freshman year is tough and sometimes we don’t have anybody to talk to, so I feel like just building those small connections with people really like makes my day.”
Along with new connections, Russell hopes to continue to spread Black culture through her business, to increase awareness of Black hair and history.
“I feel like a lot of people out here don’t understand Black hair and don’t really know exactly what a Black girl goes through to get her hair done,” Russell says. “I had a white roommate, and she watched me do hair, and she’s like, ‘Whoa, like what are you doing, like what is all this stuff?’ and I explained to her, ‘Yeah this is what we go through to get our hair done.’ It’s more than just hair. You got to detangle; you have to braid. It takes hours, so there’s a lot that goes into making us look beautiful.”
DeJ Ashford, a public relations senior and owner of DeJ LaShae Fashion, says her business focuses on making women of color feel confident in themselves through fashion.
Ashford jumpstarted her brand during her junior year at Texas State after realizing she wanted to get back in tune with her childhood love for sewing and creating.
“I came from a single-parent family from East Texas, a really, really small town and, you know, where I’m from nobody really makes it big or does anything as far as like fashion designing or anything like that, so for me it is a real personal thing,” Ashford says. “Growing up, I never thought I could do it so now that I’m actually taking the steps to move forward with my business, it’s just really important for me as a young Black woman starting out.”
Ashford says the market for Black beauty consumers at Texas State inspired her to begin making hair bonnets.
“I just always thought bonnets would come in like regular colors like just black and maybe you might get a good color every now and then, so I just thought it would be something for [the Black community] to have a better variety of bonnets to just make something more stylish and fashion-forward,” Ashford says.
Since launching her website in October, Ashford has expanded her business to not only cater to San Marcos residents but also others across the country. She plans to launch a swimwear line and a headwear collection in the spring. Her goal is to have a full clothing line by the beginning of 2022.
“I feel like, over the years, society hasn’t really appreciated Black businesses, and I think over the past year, we’ve all finally kind of been getting the recognition that we needed and we deserve,” Ashford says. “It’s really important to always acknowledge [creatives] like fashion designers [and] Black graphic designers or just any type of creative because they don’t really get the shine that they need, and they’re just as well deserving of it.”
Keyara Prudhomme, a marketing junior and owner of The Venus Lab, whose cosmetology experience in high school led her to create her own luxury lash extension business at Texas State, is now witnessing the success of her business.
“The Venus Lab is my very first official business, so I feel like it’s a stepping stone for me for many more businesses to come,” Prudhomme says. “I don’t want this to be my only business, I look at it more as an experiment and how far I can take it in experience with marketing and consumer behavior since I am taking those classes as well, so I’m trying to implement all those things.”
Along with applying her major to her business, Prudhomme views owning her own business as a sense of freedom. In the coming months, she wants to get certified in micro-blading and powder brows to expand her business to an even wider audience.
“Now people are finally branched out and finally decided like, ‘Ok I want to do my own thing, I want to take control of my life’ and like as a Black woman I want to support them in any way I can, and I hope they support me as well because at the end of the day I want to help minorities get up on their feet since it’s harder for us.”
Sahara Smith, a health science senior and owner of Sae Cured It Nails, says she decided to begin doing her own acrylic nails after having bad experiences at a local salon near her apartment.
“I started doing nails like pre-COVID, beginning of March, and because San Marcos is a college town, I thought it would bring more exposure to my business since I really did enjoy doing it, and I wanted to open it up to other people instead of just doing it for myself,” Smith says.
Her goal after graduation is to open up her own shop in San Marcos where she hopes to inspire more people of color to strive for positions of power.
“Once I get licensed and everything, I do plan on having my own nail salon, open to everyone but primarily for African-Americans and Hispanics to feel comfortable and inspired just because I feel like we don’t have a lot of salons that have [people of color] as owners; so I think that would be nice,” Smith says.
Another Black nail artist and entrepreneur on the rise is Zuri Jones, a communication studies alumna and owner of KrylicsbyZuri. Jones is a traveling nail technician from Houston who chose to stay in San Marcos beyond her graduation to continue offering nail services to new and loyal student clientele.
Jones began doing nails during the pandemic as a way to “keep busy” and relieve the stress COVID-19 had caused her from her previous job.
“My mindset originally was that, ‘I am just doing this to eliminate another bill’, I didn’t even set out to do other girls’ nails; I was just going to do my own,” Jones says. “But being able to be in San Marcos and becoming a traveling tech kind of catered to the girls that were skeptical about COVID and those that didn’t have their cars with them.”
In doing so, she was able to create a strong community of ambassadors who showcase her work on social media for more exposure and clout. Jones says her favorite part about her business is being her own boss and delivering excellence to her clients every day.
“I feel like Black businesses really capitalize on quality work, quality customer service and overall greatness,” Jones says.
Jones aspires to open up her own shop in the Austin area soon but says she will continue to offer travel services to her customers at Texas State. She says owning a Black-owned business is something she takes pride in and hopes more Black entrepreneurs will continue to defy expectations.
“[Black History Month] means a lot because I know my ancestors that came before me would be very proud just to see how far along we’ve come, just to see that we’re trying to take the reins in business and change the narrative,” Jones says.
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