What Does it Mean To Be Building Black

The times they are a-changin’.

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I estimate an average of 25% of each tee shirt sold leaves the community, for years I’ve been cognizant of this big “leak” in community resources that is the printed apparel sector. For a while I have been asking

“is our purchases really supporting or building a black business, and is there a better way for our dollars to impact our community”

X-DRumper WildcardIt’s  simple question that gets emotional responses because it requires honesty and eventually a decision to change and the effort to make a difference with our own personal choices. I could not ask that question till I was prepared to make a change and play my part. As a designer and a creative industries advocate I knew it meant creating a solution to the sourcing of tees and other “Blanks” for printed apparel. Yet I hesitated for years till a sewing session with my 13 year old design mentee, made the shift possible . If a 13 year old could sew a fashion tee, then we could shift production to local men and women, creating a cottage industry that would ensure mom or/and pops was home to supervise the youth even as made an income.  I’ve designed tested the pattern thought out  implementation logistics, secured sweat equity support. identified others in regions across the US and the globe who can  also add this to their community , but actually  implementing means  an influx of cash. I created an initial supporters campaign of donations and pre sale, still for this to work  it means individuals need to CHOOSE to donate or buy. 

What it  always boils down  to is choices…

Building black means rethinking how we do things, which is why I finally gave in and not only designed blanks for the printed apparel sector, but a method of redistributing the income that production provides.  I chose some of my design ideas and revamped but  what I did notice was the growing use of tee shirt fundraising sites, they were easy, required little startup resources but was it really fundraising.

When the numbers are done an average of 15-16% “Profit” is the COMMISSION!

Everything else essentially goes outside our community! The making of the tee shirt, printing of these apparel, shipping and fulfillment need to be brought into our communities! So it was back to the drawing board. How do we BUILD an ecosystem. What would it take to create a local production system. One that would have the community earning money producing clothing or printing and even selling. Our NYukCo platform allows us to explore those answers.

The experience at our test Incubator NYukCo has shown that funding is an issue, even with the lean startup model. Space, machinery tools, supplies even transport, food and basic living expenses can drain limited resources of cash from items sold. Building black businesses eventually comes down to a question of financial support! At the community level it means education as to the impact of our shopping choices. Individually it simply means figuring out how to self fund or raise capital. Working our way through ideas that could address these meant tapping into community and brainstorming

So I set about designing a non equity, organic funding campaign for NYuKCo, creating first a pre sale model. Even though I made a decision to go the lean startup route I found myself “perfecting” to such a detail that I kept pushing the date forward.  As a community we are afraid to introduce new things, often spending so much time on the small details we never launch.

The Lean startup model allows for implementing ideas with scope for corrections, delays etc in the first iteration of an idea, Participants even consumers help make the necessary changes by identifying areas for improvement from spelling to broken links and even systems that are ineffective. I have been advocating  pre sale since 2007 but other designers have been hesitant to try. I finally gave in and CREATED a line. Figuring out the how and a mechanism is not all that is needed. There needs to be a common consensus on how fundraising works and which approaches bring longterm benefits so that mass action can take effect. All the while I kept an eye on local FB groups (very little commerce building discussion) and Black business groups, and realized few looked past the surface.

 

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Posted in Building Black Businesses 360, Creative Cottage sector.