Updated: Jul 8
The pandemic hit every single business hard. By the end of 2020, up to 60% of businesses in the U.S. had permanently closed. Black-owned businesses experienced more hardships than any other business. Up to 53% saw a decline in revenue and indefinite closures. As a result, several campaigns to support Black businesses sprouted.
They say when life gives you lemons, make some tasty lemonade, or grab some tequila and salt. These women showed the world what to do with those lemons. When others had to close their doors, here are four Black women who found creative ways to thrive in their businesses, proving adaptability and creativity still reign.
1. Illeisha Lussiano
Illeisha had been a successful hairstylist before the pandemic. She's famous for creating stunning and stylish looks for celebrities like Kelela, Lil Yachty, A$AP Rocky, Alicia Keys, and Kanye West. But, like similar businesses, the industry was never the same. With hair salons shut down, and minimal clients seeking hair services, income dwindled. Things were rough, and Illeisha needed to think and act fast to recover from her losses.
Her entrepreneurial instincts kicked in, and she developed one of the most innovative products during the pandemic; a braiding kit. Illeisha slowly digressed into the digital space. She taught herself how to build and manage an eCommerce store. She then taught herself product photography. She took a risk by increasing her skillsets, and her product launch was a great success.
"I made sales from consistent buyers, not those who supported Black-owned businesses temporarily," said Illeisha in an interview with Tembe Denton-Hurst. The timing worked well because people maintained their hair at home, and the market loved her product.
2. Lisa Logan
After working as a manicurist for years, Lisa launched her Nail Suite business in 2012. Her brand grew, and celebrities like Taraji P. Henson, Mary J. Blige, and even Beyonce became regulars. Lisa was a force to reckon with within the industry. Business was good up until COVID-19.
In March 2020, like other service-based businesses, her nail salon closed down. Logan never looked back. Despite the closure of her business, she didn't allow this drastic downturn to set her back. Instead, she discovered a way to pivot into a new business model.
Logan used oregano oil in her salon for years. The oil's antibacterial properties helped combat fungus in nails. A light bulb went off when her nail artist used the oil on her daughter's psoriasis. "I started mixing the oil with other oils and finally created a soap," said Logan.
Soon enough, with the help of a family member, she launched a beautifully packaged, crisply scented, customized organic oregano soap that was ready to hit the market. Logan used Tiktok to create the buzz around her product, and within a month, she was fulfilling orders all around the U.S.
Her soap became an instant hit. Even Oprah Winfrey's pedicurist, founder of the Footnanny, ordered a couple of dozens of bars. "The pandemic gave me time to create a product that will help people," she explained.
3. Debra D. Williams
At the age of 46, Debra weighed almost 200 pounds. She decided to do whatever it took to lose the weight. Debra's weight loss journey was successful; within a few months, she shed 50 pounds. "Everyone wanted to know how she had done it," Debra recalled, showing them through her SMART Fitness company.
Setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely goals is what helped her achieve her ideal weight. She launched her brick-and-mortar fitness studio in 2017, offering spinning, yoga, group, and personal training classes. Her clientele grew significantly every year, creating a positive impact on the wellness of the Black community. But, soon enough, everything came to a screeching halt when the pandemic hit.
While her business shut down in March 2021, creditors didn't stop calling. She still had bills, rent, lease payments on her equipment, and loan repayments. Choosing not to accept the circumstances, she dived deep into researching other income-generating avenues, and technology popped up.
Debra launched online training classes via Zoom. She used social media platforms to advertise her classes and registration rates skyrocketed. With the online platform, Debra could reach more clients than possible with her studio. She could reach clients from all over the world. Now she thanks the silver lining COVID-19 brought. SMART Fitness was back in business like it had never left.
4. Sydney Perry
In 2013, Sydney, who was 36 then, launched a custom cakes business in New York while still working full-time. Three years later, she quit, focusing on her business full-time. She runs the venture with the help of her husband.
"We have no plan B. The bakery has to work," they often told each other, and it thrived. Their dessert shop was the go-to place for birthday celebrations, baby showers, and weddings. Business was good. However, things changed when COVID-19 hit. The New York state-ordered closure of non-essential businesses. There were no longer events that they could supply to, and soon enough, they were receiving cancelations. With numerous canceled events on their calendars, they had zero upcoming business.
Just when everything was falling apart, Sydney had an idea. She started making quarantine-themed cakes such as Clorox wipes and Lysol-themed cakes. It was a lot of fun and helped people bring humor to the rather depressive situation. When this was a success, she then made cake jars. This pivot saved her business. Her business was buzzing again, and orders through her online store were spiraling.
She found a way to stay afloat, and when things went back to normal, Perry had established a whole new income stream. If this isn't girl power and perseverance, I don't know what is.
Black-owned businesses were the worst hit by the pandemic, but many are doing better than expected. We can contribute this to not just their creativity and adaptability but also the resilience of Black women founders is one that's underestimated. These women and many others have shown us it's possible to make any situation profitable.