How Pietra Is Helping Black Businesses Break Into the Fashion Industry

Like the inseams of a dress that no one ever really sees, the fashion industry has a history of hidden issues, including a lack of inclusive sizing, ableism, or absence of diversity on the runways and in boardrooms. In the wake of mass protests to honor Black Lives Matter, and with COVID-19 impacting Black entrepreneurs at a disproportionate rate, the fashion industry has had to flip their dress inside out and face these issues head-on.

Leaders and entrepreneurs like Aurora James, founder of Brother Vellies, have called for companies to pledge to source at least 15% of products from Black-owned brands. But before we can even support our favorite Black-owned fashion and beauty brands, we must address inequities Black entrepreneurs face when starting and scaling any business.

Globally, 80% of all venture capital firms don’t have a single Black investor, and just 1% of venture-funded startup founders are Black. This means it’s harder for Black entrepreneurs to secure private funding for their businesses. Of course, Black-owned business owners can turn to banks, but their average approval rating for a loan is around 46.6%, compared to that of a white founder at 75.3%. In the wake of the pandemic, this marginal gap in loans has resulted in over 41% of Black-owned businesses shuttering, compared to only 17% of white-owned businesses.

So, what do we do to address the systemic issues that negatively impact Black entrepreneurs? For the emerging commerce platform Pietra, the solution lies in its new fellowship. As the tech-savvy founder, Ronak Trivedi told us, the brand launched its first-ever program dedicated solely to helping 20 Black entrepreneurs break into the jewelry and beauty industry. Ahead, we spoke with four of the Black entrepreneurs who are part of this fellowship about why this opportunity is a game-changer for their business. But first, a little more about Pietra and the program…

About the Fellowship

What does it mean to be a smaller designer and try to come up? This is a question that Trivedi has spent a great deal of time pondering, and since that moment of introspection, Pietra has pivoted the company’s mission to not only be a platform in which jewelry and beauty creators can sell their products but also to launch their business.

Pietra provides entrepreneurs with an affordable way to break into the fashion and beauty space without the benefits of nepotism, or large amounts of outside capital required. Any entrepreneur looking to break into the jewelry or beauty space can sign up and the platform will connect them with a manufacturer, and then help creators with manufacturing, warehousing, shipping, returns, and customer service for a monthly fee.

As Trivedi explained, “It’s not only hard to get noticed as a small brand, but there’s an issue with access. Whether you need capital, need connections, or infrastructure. And being that entrepreneurs can’t get on a plane right now to go and meet a manufacturer in Turkey or even in New Jersey, we’re hoping to help give access to more Black entrepreneurs and remove the barriers of access.”

Pietra’s year-long fellowship program will provide its normal membership services for free for each fellowship winner. Each entrepreneur will be connected with a supplier for their products and Pietra will pay for the cost of product samples. The organization will be helping the founders with product quality control, design, packaging, warehousing, and creating an online presence.

And while some might think it’s easy enough to launch a site and start a business with a few clicks of a mouse, this isn’t the case for most. Trivedi says, “I come from this tech world in San Francisco, and a lot of us have this idea that technology has solved entry to entrepreneurship, but one of the things I’ve questioned is, ‘Where is the solution to questions that come up for entrepreneurs looking to break into the industry? How do you actually start a beauty company? What is PR? What is the best way to deploy marketing resources?’ That knowledge is so overlooked.”

“With that in mind, the program won’t just be the launch of their own shop within the Pietra e-commerce ecosystem, but it will also include meetings with mentors who will walk them through different aspects of the industry to give the entrepreneurs advice.”

“If we are successful with this fellowship, these entrepreneurs should get learnings that they can take with them for the rest of their lives,” Trivedi says. And the way forward in supporting Black creatives in the fashion industry is giving them access to knowledge, capital, and the room where decisions are made and funded. Supporting Black entrepreneurs is the way to change their lives. Keep scrolling to meet four creatives to support when their products launch on Pietra and to follow now.

Meet a Few of the Fellowship Entrepreneurs

Sarah Fleet

When did you first get into jewelry? What compelled you to start your own jewelry business?

SF: My first distinctive memory of jewelry was receiving an 18K gold locket from my grandparents for Christmas. I was maybe 5, but so enamored with it. It felt almost holy to me. Next was my mother’s heirloom sapphire ring, which I eventually inherited. I’m the type of person to want to wear the same pieces daily, and it was hard to find something that was of really good quality and would last for a million wears but also wear like a T-shirt and jeans. I decided to fill that gap. Ultimate timelessness that makes sense with sweats as much as it does with couture.

How did you hear about the Pietra fellowship? What are you hoping to achieve from being a part of this program?

SF: Thank god for targeted Instagram ads, right? I had been looking into product manufacturers and struggling with one that gave me full creative control, would use only ethically sourced materials and labor, and didn’t involve me selling both my kidneys. Pietra interrupted my usually scheduled scrolling, and as I looked through the info page, I saw the fellowship. I figured there’s no harm in applying—the worst thing that happens is they never get back to me. Honestly, I had never dreamed I would be chosen. This program can potentially change my life. Having this amount of access to something that I wouldn’t be able to touch otherwise, being mentored by the best people in their industries, and having a whole team cheering for you. That’s huge. My biggest hope is to make it work. I would love to make this my forever job. I would love to make Pietra proud to have picked me. Mostly, I want to learn as much as humanly possible.

Can you tell us what you’re thinking of naming the business? What is the concept, and what makes it unique?

I’ve already decided on it—I wanted something French, partly because I draw a lot of my inspiration from classic French architecture, partly because it’s cool as hell. I settled on Ouest (which, yes, is pronounced like “West,” the direction). In French, saying you are “être à l’ouest” basically means you feel weird or spaced out. I feel a lot of people my age feel that way, not knowing exactly what we’re doing with our lives, feeling like we forgot something, feeling we should be farther than we are. But the early twenties are like that. We have great expectations for ourselves (to be all together and confident), and that’s just not happening. I’m about to turn 24, and in some ways, I feel centuries behind where I thought where I should be, but in reality, I just didn’t have a clue what being 24 meant. You could say I was West of the center.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your creative process? Where do you draw inspiration from? How is Pietra helping bring your vision to life further?

As of right now, I like immersing myself in my chosen subject. For this line, I’ve been wearing a lot of loungewear and watching only French cinema for about two weeks. I’ll paint a lot of abstracts to start giving a concept more of a visual shape. I spend a lot of time in museums (when they’re open) and staring at one or two exhibits for a few hours, taking pictures of every single detail. Once I have a lot of content to work with, I’ll arrange it into a mood board and use it as my phone background. After that, I wait for a strong inspiration to strike.

Pietra is a literal miracle. I have full control over the designs, and I do change them pretty frequently. They do the work of finding the right manufacturer to make it happen, and they have programs to help you visualize your ideas before they get made. I don’t think I would be able to be as creative without them.

What are other jewelry brands (other than your own) you looked to for inspiration when creating your company?

SF: I love Mejuri and how they’ve changed the industry. The fact that women are buying fine jewelry because they want to, because they inherently deserve it by existing is badass. I also love anything vintage. Even if I wouldn’t personally wear it, you have to really admire the craftsmanship. And, of course, Faberge. The immaculate attention to detail and borderline Willy Wonka creativity is absolutely nuts.

Switching gears here: Do you have any tips for shopping for jewelry that you abide by?

SF: Quality over quantity. I have made the mistake of buying cute pieces that were not vermeil or solid metals, and they chipped, dented, or lost their color within three months every time. Eventually, I added up how much I spent on replacing these pieces and realized it would have been cheaper buying actual fine jewelry. Also, know where everything comes from. The diamond industry, in particular, operates on slave labor, and I don’t want to perpetuate that in any way. Buying secondhand and recycled jewelry is hot. Don’t be afraid to mix metals. Don’t be afraid to go crazy or only wear one piece. Also, if you really need a justification to buy something, just keep in mind that gold has value everywhere and you can sell if you ever need to.

Is there a piece of jewelry you think every woman should invest in?

SF: In a lot of ways, this is super subjective. What will you get the most use out of? I love rings, but switch out my earrings a lot. A good rule of thumb is to make sure it’s timeless. If you can’t wear it with at least 15 outfits, it’s not the move. I’m definitely a minimalist when it comes to fashion—I want everything in my wardrobe to be interchangeable. The same goes for jewelry for me.

What’s been the most challenging thing about starting your business? What advice would you give to fellow Black female entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?

SF: Personally, I struggle to narrow my aesthetic down. I admire so many but want to remain very cohesive and streamlined. As far as advice, don’t be afraid to ask for help, ask questions, and be assertive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve DMd someone I don’t know, and had no business messaging, asking for an informational interview. A ton of them respond, and then you have both a relationship and insight. Don’t be afraid to ask for anything. The worst that can happen is they ignore you. Also, understand that you probably don’t know what you’re doing, and just rock with it.

What are your hopes for the future of your business?

SF: Besides launching the first collection in mid-August,I want to do it all. Clothes are my true love, and it makes sense to go there next. Bags, shoes, everything you can put on… create the aura you want to project. I’d love to make an impact on the industry and give back. There’s so much that can be done.

Hawa Boyce

When did you first get into skincare? What compelled you to start your own business?

HB: I am the daughter of two immigrant healthcare providers and I grew up in a predominantly white area. When my parents immigrated, they could not afford state-of-the-art healthcare, specifically, prenatal care. My mother had six miscarriages/still-born pregnancies between having my older brother and me. She, unfortunately, fell victim to a healthcare system that fails far too many. Her experience, coupled with the summers I spent outside with caucasian girls who didn’t look like me, made me realize that my skin and hair needed to be treated differently than theirs.

With this in mind, I took a deep dive into Black skincare—a world that had not existed for me growing up. At the end of 2019, it became clear to me that I had a passion that needed to be materialized. I had to create a way to express value and gratitude for the female body and enduring spirit. I needed to impact the world in a way that empowered women and the lives that we create. I knew that I had to create a skincare brand dedicated solely to pregnant women.

How did you hear about the Pietra fellowship? What are you hoping to achieve from being a part of this program?

HB: When I have my mind on something and get super worked-up about an idea, I get insomnia and try to work on the idea during all hours of the night. I was up at 2 a.m. thinking about how to launch my skincare line, and I came across a Pietra Fellowship ad on Instagram. It was fate. I’m hoping that being a part of this program opens doors to creating products that become a household name. I hope that with the guidance and expertise that the Pietra team has to offer, I can reach those who are struggling with their skin and bring awareness to the inequality that so many women face. I can’t wait to learn from everyone who is a part of the fellowship.

You’ve not only been an ICU nurse, but you’ve also spoken about how you’ve seen firsthand discrepancies in the medical field when it comes to the treatment of pregnant Black women. Why is it so important that we address the racial bias in the medical field?

HB: Addressing racial bias in the medical field is imperative to our survival as a community. Black women are three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes in the United States. Black babies are more than twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthdays. Keep in mind that 60% of these deaths are preventable. That tells me that our bodies are not being seen and we as Black women are not being heard. We need to protect our mothers. We need to protect our children. That all begins with addressing the shortcomings of our healthcare system.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the importance of having a specific skincare regime during pregnancy?

HB: During pregnancy, our skin changes just like the rest of our body does. Often, the hormonal chaos happening internally is reflected in our skin. Many women develop acne, melasma (a form of hyperpigmentation), rashes, and itchiness often due to growing stretch marks among other conditions. Having a specific skincare regimen during pregnancy allows for consistency as well as safety. The last thing your skin needs is to be introduced to new products every week with potentially harmful ingredients that can be passed on to the baby through your skin absorption or during breastfeeding. Much like any other skincare routine, consistency is key. It’s also so important to give a skincare routine that makes you feel good! You’re growing a whole human being. It’s okay to take a few minutes and pamper yourself.

What are some misconceptions you feel people have around beauty routines while pregnant?

HB: There are misconceptions that products that are safe to use during pregnancy aren’t as effective as pharmaceutical grade products. While pregnancy-safe beauty routines tend to be more gentle than a prescription or regular OTC routine, that’s a good thing! Your skin is delicate, thus gentle products should be used. Pregnancy is not the time to be experimenting with ingredients that are harsh and unsafe for mom and baby.

Do you have any skincare tips you abide by?

HB: My personal skincare routine has evolved so much over the years. I’ve gone from just dove body soap and water to DIY concoctions to using everything Sephora has to offer. Today, I really owe my skin health to a great cleanser, hyaluronic acid serum (that I make myself), sealant (vitamin E oil is my preference), and a physical SPF. I currently use only four products, but they work so well together and it takes less than 10 minutes to get through the routine. Like I said earlier, less is more. No matter what I have planned for the day, I always apply SPF in the morning—even if I only have a date with my couch and Netflix. Yes, Black people need sunscreen too.

What’s been the most challenging thing about starting your business? And what advice would you give to fellow Black female entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?

HB: The most challenging thing about starting my own business has been pushing past the self-doubt. I would often question if the market was too oversaturated with skincare brands or if anyone would think of my products as valuable. What made me push ahead and launch Edamommy was believing in myself, my potential, and my products. I do feel that there is a need for a line that is socially conscious, transparent, and effective.

I feel that Black women and women of color need to know that there is a platform that serves them inside and out. I say to fellow Black female entrepreneurs, find that thing that you are so passionate about that it makes you want to cry and follow it. That’s when I knew I had to create my line. I would get so moved thinking about the struggles that women before me had faced, and how left out of the beauty industry women like my mom felt all those years. I knew I had to make something for us.

What do you hope your business achieves?

HB: I hope that Edamommy will serve as a source of self-care in a world that often seems to care about women of color too little. Western features are often perpetuated as the one standard of beauty. My brand will emphasize the natural beauty that every woman possesses—no matter race or ethnicity. Edamommy will give its customers confidence and comfort in their own skin. With my products, women will be encouraged to nurture and enhance the features of their skin that make them beautiful and unique, rather than change them.

Tiffany Daniels

When did you first get into jewelry? What compelled you to start your own jewelry business?

TD: I’ve been in love with jewelry since I was a teenager. At the time, I had a knack for layering necklaces and wearing multiple rings on each hand, and now that I’m in my twenties, nothing has changed but the quality of the jewelry pieces!

I wanted to start a jewelry business because I wanted to bring more Black representation to the jewelry industry, and I had a story I wanted to tell. I wanted to find a way to marry my two passions in life: fashion and science. I believe with my unique jewelry pieces sold to bring awareness and encouragement to lymphatic cancer research, I will accomplish that.

How did you hear about the Pietra fellowship? What are you hoping to achieve from being a part of this program?

TD: I heard about the fellowship through a conversation with Pietra’s consultant Ruthie Friedlander. I had already been looking to start a brand when she told me about the opportunity. I wish to gain more knowledge in being a successful business owner, mentorship, and a community of like-minded people!

Can you tell us what you’re thinking of naming the business? What is the concept, and what makes it unique?

TD: My jewelry brand is called For Elizabeth Jewelry. The name stems from my late sister, Kelly Elizabeth. She was a 10-year survivor of stage-4 Hodgkin’s Disease, which is a form of lymphoma. Her favorite color was gold and she loved jewelry, so I wanted to dedicate partial proceeds to lymphatic cancer research, which can help people who are just like her. My sister was my best friend, and I wanted to honor her legacy with this line.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your creative process? Where do you draw inspiration from? How is Pietra helping bring your vision to life further?

TD: I draw inspiration from my sister and her taste in jewelry. I’m excited because one of the pieces is inspired by a lymph node. I am a content creator, so I am designing pieces that I know my diverse online community will love and I wanted to create pieces that are unique to my personal style. I wanted to create pieces that people would automatically know were designed by me.

What other jewelry brands (other than your own) did you look to for inspiration when creating your company?

TD: I found a lot of inspiration from random pieces I’ve seen on Pinterest and my long-time favorite jewelry store, Missoma.

Do you have any tips for shopping for jewelry that you abide by?

TD: I usually look at the metals that the pieces are made of and I compare it to its price. That’s how I know if I am being overcharged. Usually, if it is gold-plated brass, then it shouldn’t exceed a certain price, but if it is vermeil or solid gold, I wouldn’t mind spending more on it. Also, I purchase jewelry with the mindset that it can be stacked on top of my existing collection. When you’re purchasing a jewelry piece, imagine how it would look with your other necklaces so you can ensure that you’d get the most wear out of your piece. All of the pieces from my launch collection are stackable.

Is there a piece of jewelry you think every woman should invest in?

TD: I think every woman should invest in a pair of medium-large gold hoop earrings. It is a staple closet piece that can elevate any outfit! It can be the right touch to a layered necklace look or stand-alone in a more conservative outfit. Depending on the hairstyle, it can elongate the neck for a chic look.

What’s been the most challenging thing about starting your business? What advice would you give to fellow Black female entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?

TD: Right now, the most challenging thing about starting my business is just starting from scratch. It means I am balancing everything from the design to the marketing to the legal side of things, while also giving 100% to my other business ventures.

My advice to fellow Black female entrepreneurs is to strive for excellence. Cross all of your t’s and dot all of your i’s when establishing yourself as a business. Establish a community of support with people who also want to be excellent. It’s important to establish a reputation that will make people want to come back and tell their friends about you.

Why do you think representation within the jewelry industry is so important? How are you hoping your business addresses the lack of representation in the industry?

TD: Representation within the jewelry industry is so important. When you see people in jewelry ads who look like you, it sends the powerful message that this product is made for you. Whereas when companies are not inclusive and ads are only targeted to a certain demographic, it sends the unfortunate message that this product isn’t for you.

One thing I was passionate about even before starting my jewelry business is bringing representation to not just Black women, but Black women of a deeper complexion. Many of my clients have expressed to me the desire to wear fine jewelry but don’t because they don’t see themselves in it. Through For Elizabeth Jewelry, I wish to not only send the message that it is for them but that it is also made by them.

Denise Moné

When did you first get into jewelry? What compelled you to start your own jewelry business?

DM: Jewelry—especially gold hoops and bangles—has always been a necessary part of my life. In college, after transitioning from being recognized as a makeup artist, I wanted to create something meaningful to not only myself but others as well. This was when I realized how powerful and authentic my jewelry made me feel. Mother Golden Jewelry signifies the beauty and the goldenness I’ve discovered within myself not only as a Black woman but as a being. I dream the same for every being that lives. Jewelry is the physical representation of the amazingness I believe we all deserve to feel!

How did you hear about the Pietra fellowship? What are you hoping to achieve from being part of this program?

DM: I discovered the Pietra Fellowship online a few months after launching Mother Golden Jewelry in December of 2019. Through being a Pietra Fellow, I hope to meet many more beautiful and driven people to hopefully form friendships, mentorships, and connections that will last a lifetime. I also hope to be inspired by the journeys of other creators, to learn to scale MGJ, and to witness myself accomplish things I may have once considered impossible.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your creative process? Where do you draw inspiration from? How is Pietra helping bring your vision to life further?

DM: I like to refer to myself as a “full-time feeler” because this describes me as an individual and creative pretty well. I connect to emotion, so before choosing to launch or design a collection, I try to connect with whatever feeling resonates with me deeply in that time so the feeling and pieces are intentional when I launch. I don’t have to second-guess. Although, usually, it does take me months of creating.

Mother Golden Liscio Hoops ($37)

What makes Mother Golden Jewelry so special?

DM: Mother Golden Jewelry is the collision of love, light, and jewelry. Our community, known as the Golden Tribe, can attest to the love felt when shopping with Mother Golden Jewelry. I also know that Minimalist Jewelry is trending, but I pride myself on the deliverance of creative pieces because I really do want you all to feel like an individual and to be proud of that. We also care deeply for every one of our customers so, when I can, I attempt to build relationships or at least introduce myself to as many of our customers as possible. Your requests will always be heard. If you desire a certain style, piece, or packaging, I promise we will do our best to make it a reality while also fulfilling our promise of affordability. This is why MGJ is special because it is tailor-made for its community!

Mother Golden Ayeh Earrings ($27)

What are other jewelry brands (other than your own) did you look to for inspiration when creating your company?

DM: Honestly, I did not look to other jewelry brands when initially creating Mother Golden Jewelry. I wanted to stay true to my intent and I also felt exclusive until I discovered many other remarkable brands. A brand that inspires me today is Adina’s Jewels. Her pieces are timeless and I can feel the care that goes into the creation of her brand. She’s also left her mark in the jewelry market today, and that’s inspiring as a new entrepreneur. Another brand is Solani, which is a Black-owned brand with very fun and unique jewelry. Solani inspires me because the founder, Anika, stays true to her intentions behind creating a fun and trendy brand and this inspires me to always do the same.

Mother Golden Sorina Earrings ($21)

Do you have any tips for shopping for jewelry that you abide by?

DM: Never settle. No matter the reason, you should cherish the jewelry you purchase or at least be confident in the pieces you purchase. The details matter. I do truly believe that simple things are what bring joy to the many small moments of our remarkable lives. We should treat our jewelry as we treat the things we love—with care and with gratitude.

Is there a piece of jewelry you think every woman should invest in?

DM: This is tough, but I’d have to say rings. When I look down at my hands and see rings on my fingers, my mental perception immediately transforms into feeling badass, no matter the time nor place. Try it—I would love to know how it makes you feel!

With necklaces and earrings, you only see them when you look in the mirror, but don’t get me wrong—I love necklaces and earrings. But this is the reason I am slow to releasing rings because the quality and design matter so much to me. I want you all to feel powerful when you look down at your beautiful hands and see them decorated with the jewels of your choosing.

What are your hopes for the future of Mother Golden Jewelry?

DM: I hope to scale Mother Golden Jewelry in the coming months. My dream is for MGJ to inspire people to follow their hearts and passions despite circumstance, so campaigns and collaborations are being designed to encourage just that.

What’s been the most challenging thing about starting your business? What advice would you give to fellow Black female entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?

DM: The most challenging thing about starting my own business would be bearing all of the weight of every decision. As a first-generation entrepreneur in retail, I often wonder if I am going about things “the right way.” I do not have many friends nor mentors in the industry yet, so I look forward to building mentoring relationships and becoming one to others. It really is a huge learning experience, but it is so worth it and has always been a dream of mine.

To fellow entrepreneurs looking to start their own business, my biggest advice is to dive headfirst into it and waste little time wondering if you should. You do not fail unless you decide to quit in the face of defeat. Seven months in, I have already had some pretty terrifying hiccups, but they have also taught me the most. There is no better experience than doing. So, get out there, learn, test, and continue to apply.

And to my fellow Black female entrepreneurs, please know that limits do not exist until you place them upon yourself. Yeah, we face daily hardships, but as mentioned before, these hardships have taught us endurance, grit, power, courage, and strength. You are more equipped and qualified than you may know and your creativity is unmatched. There is no one else like you, therefore the world deserves to know you and your gifts.

Next: Black-Owned Fashion Brands and Boutiques to Support Now and Forever

This article originally appeared on Who What Wear

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