Updated: Nov 20, 2020
When people see themselves, they believe in themselves, and they encourage other people to do so as well. Sasha-Loriene
The portrayal of Black people in the media tends to be associated with negativity––this is of no surprise. Because of this, these images make it challenging to discover positive reflections of Blackness. Also, the availability of positive images are so far and few in between that there isn't enough of a ripple effect. Now we're seeing more and more Black and Brown entrepreneurs creating businesses with the idea of reaching out to communities that have historically felt invisible.
Black Girls Who Paint
Sasha-Loriene McClain created BGWP for selfish reasons. As a closeted artist for many years, she feared sharing her work with the world. But the most significant reason for this was the lack of representation. She could always find positive representations of women in science, entrepreneurship, and business, but she never could find successful Black women in the arts. Despite living in such a diverse city as D.C., connecting with other women who looked like her and were artists was almost impossible.
As a young child, Sasha-Loriene was shy and introverted, and art was her beacon. Like most creatives, she followed the corporate route, and with Liberian parents, the message was clear: pursue a good education then get a good job. The message seeped into her psyche that she never thought to challenge it. Her parents fled Liberia during the civil war and spent many years rebuilding what they lost.
Sasha-Loriene couldn't outrun her calling. And she couldn't outrun that inner-child. "I needed to see a community of successful Black women artists, loud and proud of sharing their artwork," she said. The question that nagged her the most was if she had more representation, would she have pursued her art sooner? "Instead of complaining about it, I'll do my own thing, create my own table, invite people who look like me, and have more representation," Sasha-Loriene said. BGWP was created for those little girls who no longer have to wonder if they, too, had seen themselves represented in media, would they have pursued art sooner?
Again, "When people see themselves, they believe in themselves, and they encourage other people to do so as well. "
"I created it for the little girl in me." Every month BGWP Awards Fund gives away $75 gift cards for two girls between the ages of 6-18 the Girls Award, which allows them to purchase art supplies from an art store. Not only that, BGWP provides the Student Award, where students between the ages of 17-21 who are enrolled at least part-time in a visual arts program can receive $750 to help offset academic costs.
What are you most proud of when it comes to BGWP?
Sasha-Loriene is most proud of the relationships that she has built over the years of developing and refining BGWP. She has met most of her closest friends through the organization and finally feels she has found her tribe. Before BGWP, her network consisted of non-creatives. The platform that she has created has helped her step into her light as an artist. "It has connected me to other dope Black women artists," Sasha-Loriene said.
What's the biggest fear you had during your business journey?
Sasha-Loriene feared putting herself in the spotlight. She was comfortable being in the background running her business as opposed to owning it in the forefront. Sasha-Loriene hid behind the weeds, but she learned that she had to be more transparent for growth to happen. She had to become more comfortable being the face of her business. Sasha-Loriene never had any fears about the company growing because it grew like wildfire. The more she niched down and focused on her target audience. But the more that Sasha-Loriene shared her personal story and did more online interviews, the more people became a part of the community. She never cared much about a repost of her art on Instagram.
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
Sasha-Loriene said, "I was terrified!" When she first pitched, she relied on Google and watching YouTube videos. Attending the pitch practice was incredibly helpful for her. "Going to the pitch practice was super helpful. I thought I knew, I thought I was prepared, but after the pitch competition, I went back o the drawing board to redo everything. I received feedback from the pitch competition that helped a lot."
The BGV pitch practices help entrepreneurs to get laser-focused on your delivery and clear on your message. "It's not the type of feedback that this went well. There were direct questions that pierced my soul. Exactly what I needed to hear, no sugar coating, and no one was afraid to tell you something that could benefit you," she continued.
She says for those preparing to pitch to have a strategic plan regardless of what stage your business is in. Have a plan but be flexible. She suggests to start with broad milestones but then niche down as much as you can. Don't wing your pitch, she says. Follow the instructions and the resources that BGV provides, attend the pitch competitions, and pitch practices.
Tell us about a significant setback you had in your business and how did you recover?
BGWP grew organically, and in the process of rebranding, her business COVID hit. This gave her time to rethink the structure of her business. Before COVID, she allowed the company to flow. Sasha-Loriene focuses on being more intentional and scaling her business into an entity that genuinely helps develop Black women artists.
How do you measure success?
"It's hard to measure success in COVID because of the many transitions," she said. Her membership is how she continues to measure the success of BGWP. She isn't concerned about social media, paying for posts, but what she is focusing on is, are her members benefiting from being a part of the community. She hopes to see more Black women artists in galleries but also owning galleries. She aims to hold space for the ecosystem for Black women artists to build a foundation and become successful entrepreneurs and business owners in the art industry.
Support isn't always given to women of color in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Sasha-Loriene says she's received quite a bit of support. However, some of the issues were related to her having the word "Black" in the name. Most people don't understand why her business is only for Black women or why it can't be for just Black painters, and why it's all artists. That hasn't stopped her from furthering her mission. "So many women feel how I've felt, and that's why I've received support, and it's been so successful," Sasha-Loriene said. There's a massive disconnect in the art industry for women of color, and as her business continues to grow, she continues to learn and adjust so that she can support more women.
When she first started her business, she tried to do too many things, and the messaging got lost. Now she has tightened her niche and feels more confident than ever before. "I'm not for everybody, and I'm finally comfortable saying this. I wanted to save everyone, but I realized it's a mutual relationship," Sasha-Loriene said.
There were many times that she wanted to quit, especially when you take on a project that morphs into something that becomes bigger than yourself. "You almost feel as if you're swallowed up in some way," she says. "More and more, Black women are not respected for, and not cared for, especially with the Breonna Taylor verdict," says Sasha-Loriene. Moments like this remind herself that she is doing this work not just for her inner child but for the future inner child of the future, where again, they won't have to wonder. But most importantly, they can do anything in this world regardless of whether the world doesn't want them to be seen.
What's the most critical lesson you've learned about business, in general?
"You can't take everybody with you, you can't, you're never going to please everyone, or satisfy everyone, there'll always be someone who wants more," says Sasha-Loriene. She recommends setting boundaries sooner than later and not be afraid to do so. Not everyone is taught how to set boundaries. She finds that people have a hard time saying no, even when saying yes is detrimental to their emotional health.
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to be successful in business?
Resilience is the key to success. "We're always going to be put in positions that's going to make us uncomfortable or an unforeseen circumstance. We have to be ready to pivot. There will always be high highs and low lows, try to stay grounded, celebrate the wins, knowing anything can change, and that's okay, it's not a representation of my hard work," she says.
What's the biggest risk you've taken in your life thus far? And how did it turn out?
The most significant risk Sasha-Loriene took was quitting her corporate job. She had huge plans on helping people Black and Brown students attend college, but right after graduate school, she started working for an institution that seemed to hurt more than help, and she felt as if she was losing herself. The work that she was doing no longer was in the alignment of her original mission.
With the elections in 2016, everything changed, and working at her corporate job caused her stress in her body. It was at that time she learned there was no such thing as job security. Sasha-Loriene didn't have a backup plan when she quit, but she did have some savings and supportive parents. She moved back home, and it was that time she gained a deep sense of clarity of what she wanted to do. Sasha-Loriene swapped her corporate job for a part-time job at an art gallery and worked as a bartender. She then focused on BGWP and decided to pursue the business on a bigger and more profound scale.
What's the most exciting part of your business?
Sasha-Loriene loves working with different partners and building relationships. By working with multiple partnerships, she's able to provide a robust membership platform. Sasha is in this work for the long-haul to permanently change the demographics of the arts. Therefore, she becomes excited when she finds resources or opportunities for her members.
What do you think the future holds for Black women entrepreneurs?
The future is very bright, and Sasha-Loriene believes that the world is finally waking up and seeing that Black women are killing the game in all industry sectors. "They are making a purposeful attempt to silence us because they know that we're really powerful," she says.
Three years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel happy about your progress?
Three years from now, BGWP will have an incredible membership platform with a robust directory, where it's more than an ecosystem but a self-sufficient organism. It will move from strictly a virtual platform and have more members and staff in the community doing big things. She hopes to see members starting their passion projects and getting their art into fairs, galleries, movies, and whatever else they can conjure up, they will do. And the directory will help them get there.
Owning a business while balancing a personal life can be demanding and taxing; how do you take care of yourself?
When Sasha-Loriene first started her business, she worked from 12-12 every day. Whenever she received an email, she responded right away. However, Sasha-Loriene understands the importance of deadlines and no longer allows deadlines to consume her personal life. She has gotten better at creating boundaries and taking time out for herself first before anything else.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
When people see themselves, they believe in themselves, and they encourage other people to do so as well. Sasha-Loriene
What book or podcast would you recommend?
Book: You Are A Badass In Making Money
Podcast: The Read, listening to more podcasts, The Friend Zone, Mental health and wellness, millennials in 2020.
What is your favorite app or business hack that you can't live without?
HubSpot and Hootsuite.
Name one food item you have a hard time saying no to.
Crabs, she always gets it if it's on the menu.
What's next for Black Girls Who Paint?
Sasha-Loriene is planning on expanding her team so she can continue to scale. Expanding our team, scaling, having more of a team aspect to help with market strategy, help streamline certain things, looking forward to more membership benefits. Sure now what she needs to get done.