'This Is A Very Strange Time To Be A Black-Owned Business'

Trinity Mouzon Wofford shares what it’s like to process these past couple weeks and how reactions to her brand have changed since demonstrations began in the U.S.

This story, as told to Janna Mandell, is from the perspective of Trinity Mouzon Wofford, the co-founder of Golde, a Brooklyn-based superfood-fueled beauty and wellness brand, which she co-founded with partner Issey Kobori in 2017. In a short period of time, Wofford has hit several career milestones, including being the youngest Black woman to ever launch a line at Sephora and being chosen for Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list. Yet she and her company still face daily obstacles, forcing her to live inside the anxiety dream. You know the one — you’re on a busy sidewalk with people bustling past you, but you have to use every bone in your body to propel yourself even an inch forward. Here at HuffPost, we think it’s important to give powerful voices a platform, especially one like Wofford who speaks with such naked candor and emotion. We’re listening.

Like the rest of the world, I heard the news of what had happened in Minnesota sometime last week. Just before that, I remember learning from Issey, my partner [and co-founder], about Christian Cooper, who had the cops called on him in Central Park while bird-watching, of all things. We kind of had a laugh about it because I was like, “Jesus Christ, Black people can’t even go bird-watching.” In this situation, no one got hurt and the woman who made the 911 call got shut down real quick — and so aggressively that Cooper said something like, “We don’t need to ruin her life. I think she got the point.” It was nice for once to make that point without something devastating happening. We started off the week with, “Oh, this is so ridiculous.” It was then followed by one of the most horrifying accounts of police brutality that I have experienced in my lifetime.

“This is a very strange time to be a Black-owned business. I’m seeing lots of folks who never showed any enthusiasm for my brand suddenly singing my praises from the rooftops. ... It’s hard to react.”

In order to give an honest account of what it was like to learn about George Floyd’s murder, I have to give some background on how I, as a Black person, process these things. By “these things,” I mean the repeated and systematic attempts to destroy Black life and livelihood. When these news stories surface, I often intentionally withdraw from that information — because if I allowed myself to really feel it, I don’t think I could function in my demanding daily life as an entrepreneur.

I don’t think I processed it for at least a couple of days. I started seeing messages of solidarity streaming in on social media and I still didn’t process it. By Friday night, I remember saying to Issey, “We need to do something. And we need to do it tomorrow.” On Saturday, I knew we would donate some percentage of our weekend sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and I knew I needed to write a note addressing what we were feeling. This wasn’t the first time I’d sent a note to our community during a challenging time — I had sent my last update just a few months prior, when COVID-19 first began to sweep across our country. However, this was the first time I had to lock myself in our home office and cry for 30 minutes in order to let the words flow. As I wrote our statement, I decided then that the weekend donation amount would be 100% of our profits. It was the only thing that made sense to me.

This is a very strange time to be a Black-owned business. I’m seeing lots of folks who never showed any enthusiasm for my brand suddenly singing my praises from the rooftops, which I guess is a form of repent for them. We’re also getting a lot of retail inquiries from stores this week whom we had unsuccessfully pitched in the past [that] suddenly want to carry our products. It’s hard to react. One retailer actually made a typo in their email and called us The Honey Pot Company, the name of another Black-owned beauty brand. My first response is naturally frustration. On the other hand, do we commend them for trying to bring on more Black-owned brands?

That being said, when I sent out the note announcing that we would be donating 100% of our profits, our online sales skyrocketed. Our sales beat out Black Friday, literally 10 times our average for three days in a row. We sold more product on Monday, June 1, than the entire month of March, and raised more than $10,000 for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund within 72 hours. There were tons of notes attached to orders thanking us and expressing solidarity. One kind customer offered her design services gratis, noting how impossible it must be to continue to operate a business with no time for personal healing. It’s been incredible to see that response. Genuine support is extremely moving, and then there is something else. Something else that is hard to put your finger on.

“I’m empathetic to the reality that this has been a wake-up call for a lot of folks, but it can be challenging to separate the profound from the performative.”

Yesterday, I read a Slack message from a white founder looking for guidance on “his dilemma” — that social justice isn’t a part of his brand message. I will present that without comment. Though what I have found most frustrating has been the investors who passed on our deal for being “too early” (in spite of these investors having funded pre-revenue businesses from white founders) and are now posting about Golde. Suddenly, investors who ghosted me are asking how they can help. I’m empathetic to the reality that this has been a wake-up call for a lot of folks, but it can be challenging to separate the profound from the performative.

If you’re in a position to help, find ways to empower founders of color so they can reach the same success as white founders. My experience fundraising was harrowing, and that’s coming from someone who was the youngest Black woman to launch a line at Sephora. I hear from so many of my peers how hard it is to get support early on. So to the people who have the power to enact that kind of change: You really need to step up.

I’ve been asked what people can do to support Black-owned brands. It depends on what you have the means to do. Talk about Black-owned brands you love and support. But talk about them only if you actually support them. If you don’t support any Black-owned brands currently, find a brand and buy stuff from them. That’s really important. That’s one of the most powerful ways you can voice your opinion in a capitalist structure.

“If you’re in a position to help, find ways to empower founders of color so they can reach the same success as white founders.”

If you’re a minority, you think about race all the time. Things happen to you and you always wonder, “Was that because … ?” If you are in the majority, maybe you thought of race after watching “12 Years a Slave” and that really gave you something to think about for a few days. But being forced to think about the discomfort is something that is new to most people.

If inequality is not something you’ve dealt with every day of your life, then the sudden oppressive weight of it can feel so shocking that you think, “Why isn’t everyone onboard right now? Hasn’t everyone seen the news? The videos? Let’s fix this.” Unfortunately, this is nothing new and change will come incrementally. But it’s good to be frustrated and angry. I really do believe feeling that frustration and anger is the most important thing that anyone can do right now.

As a brand, you have to say something. As a person, you have to say something. It’s your choice whether you’re going to say something genuine or something that’s bullshit — either way, you’re going to have to approach it. This moment in time is forcing a lot of people to do the work they have been sidestepping their entire lives, which I think is really, really good.

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