Erica Patterson’s start to entrepreneurship was rooted — no pun intended — in her natural hair journey. After going through many stages of transitioning her hair throughout her senior year of high school, she ended up going for a “big chop” just before heading off to college. She knew she would need to continue keeping her hair healthy and nourished from that point on.
It was during her time attending Pennsylvania State University that Erica first came up with the idea for Erica’s Beauty Shop — a now-fast-growing online marketplace hosting the largest number of Black & Latina-owned beauty & grooming brands in haircare, skincare, men’s, kids, makeup, tools, and wellness. The e-commerce site currently hosts products from over 100 brands and counting.
Erica’s Beauty Shop was created to solve a largely-felt problem in the Black and brown community: lack of access to high quality health and beauty products made “by us, for us.” Erica’s Beauty Shop not only houses a vast category of products to be purchased from a typical e-commerce storefront, but it also offers monthly subscription boxes that deliver a curated combination of a customer’s favorite Black and Latina-owned beauty products directly to their door.
Erica goes a step further in serving her community by donating a portion of her site’s proceeds to a STEM education non-profit that is geared towards “helping African American students at levels K-12, undergraduate & graduate create successful careers in STEM.”
Our team at Buzzbassador interviewed Erica about her business, her startup story, and her experiences as a Black business owner. Read along below for the full interview.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What inspired you to start Erica’s Beauty Shop?
While I was attending college at Penn State, I had the hardest time finding hair products for myself. There was no beauty supply store for women of color in my area at all. This wasn’t the first time that I had been left wishing that I had an easier place to shop for Black-owned beauty brands, or even a way to get my favorite hair and skincare products sent straight to my door. I was “team Black-owned brands” before it was trendy, as I felt only someone like me could really understand my hair and skincare needs. So all that combined is how I came up with the idea to start Erica’s Beauty Shop — it’s where our slogan “Products for you by people like you” came from.
It’s February, which as you know is Black History Month. Why is this month important to you?
Black History Month is important to me because it’s a time for reflection and appreciation of those that came before us! I look at all the amazing things that our ancestors did and what they overcame, and it gives me the hope and ambition I need to keep shattering glass ceilings everyday. This can take the form of educating someone of a different race or uplifting my fellow Black people. Also, specifically as a Black woman I see Black History Month as a special time to celebrate our beauty!
In what ways would you like to see the community show up for Black businesses this month (and always)?
Keep shopping Black first! Before I buy anything, I always look to see if there is a company that is Black-owned that sells it. For example, I recently switched over my dog’s food to a new brand because I found a Black-owned pet food company. It’s the little decisions like that that we as consumers can make to really have an impact on Black businesses.
What are some of the biggest challenges Black and brown communities must overcome to launch their own businesses, and what advice do you have for them?
One word: capital. This answer has probably been given a million times, but it’s true.
Statistic: Black and Latina-led startups combined received just 2.4% of all venture capital investments from the past 7 years (Source: Crunchbase)
I launched my company completely self-funded and it is still 100% funded by me. My piece of advice for other entrepreneurs is to do heavy research up front into this disparity and how to overcome it. If I would’ve known now what I did when I first started Erica’s Beauty Shop, I could have avoided a lot of mistakes and oversights that affected my ability to raise capital.
Who is a Black entrepreneur or public figure that you look up to — dead or alive — and why?
Myleik Teele. I know for a fact that she doesn’t know I exist, but her honesty, her dedication and her hustle is truly unmatched. As a young Black woman, seeing other Black women like her with businesses that are profitable, have made it to the “mainstream”, and are feeding other Black women along the way — even just through passing on advice and wisdom — is so dope to me. I aspire to walk in my truth and prosper the way that she has.
Last question, specifically for the Buzzbassador community: in what ways has your brand ambassador program helped to grow your business?
Our brand ambassador program has definitely helped us spread the word about Erica’s Beauty Shop! I started the program with little direction, so once I started really focusing on it, I started to see a great return. It’s a perfect two-way street: we can help our brand’s fans and loyal customers earn money, while also building brand awareness at the same time, and I love that! I’m all about helping everyone win.
February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. History. Our Buzzbassador CEO, Calvin Waddy, says Black History Month is a great time to reflect on his favorite topic — entrepreneurship — and how it intertwines with the trailblazing done by generations of Americans from Black and brown communities.
“Black entrepreneurs are a crucial part of Black history and American history in general,” says Waddy. “Black Americans have been defined by a spirit of creativity and innovation since the beginning of our time in this country, because we as a community have time and time again been forced to break down barriers and find our own way out of difficult situations. Black entrepreneurs have invented some of the world’s most cherished products and most powerful companies.”
That entrepreneurial spirit is not only a part of Black history, but also a part of the American story still being written today, evidenced by the growing number of amazing Black-owned businesses that are a part of our economy. In fact, the fastest-growing population of entrepreneurs in America is Black women. Even here at Buzzbassador, we have the privilege of working with many Black founders daily as users of our app.
We want to celebrate this special month by highlighting some of those founders and their companies, while encouraging our readers and social followers to support Black-owned small businesses, both through shopping and sharing — not just this month, but always! Follow along to learn about 6 Black business owners across a range of industries, their startup stories, and what Black History Month means to them.
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