This month I want to share how I am my creating own Black history.
I don’t mean this to toot my own horn, but to hopefully inspire others to trust their instincts. While my story relates to entrepreneurship, it can apply to other areas.
Ironies of ironies, my business is located on “Cotton” Street, a bitter reminder that the cotton industry was built on the backs of my ancestors’ free labor
Using my garage as a warehouse, 2002
20 years ago, I bought 50 mannequins on craigslist. Initially I had planned to just buy one mannequin for an art project. But then I found out the seller operated the only mannequin rental business and was leaving the state, I bought his entire inventory.
What started as a lark — selling mannequins out of my backyard — has succeeded by wildest expectations. In fact, I had no expectations, so I exceeded all of them.
I had never touched a mannequin before or know anyone in the retail industry. The only person I knew who ran their own business was my hairdresser. This was WAAY before girlbossor side hustle was a hashtag. And ecommerce was in its infancy.
Except for my driveand determination, the likelihood of being successful weren’t in my favor. I did not know anyone in the mannequin industry, I had never worked in retail and I did not personally know anyone who was an entrepreneur (except for my hairdresser).
Of course, getting outside funding wasn’t an option given the nature of my business, my lack of industry experience and racial disparities in lending practices. Granted I had lots of other business experience working in corporate America for 20 years, but this was a whole new ballgame.
Pondering the future of Mannequin Madness, circa 2003
Fast forward to today and I have been in this 3200 sq ft facility for 5 years (my second location) working with 4 employees and 4 independent contractors.
Today Mannequin Madness is the largest mannequin recycling company in the US and, after twenty years, is still the ONLY Black-owned business in the mannequin industry, no less by a Black woman.
I finally got a warehouse, circa 2005
Hundreds of thousands of mannequins have been kept out of landfills as a result of my convincing major retailers to let my company recycle their mannequins at no charge to them. We even received an award from the Environmental Protection Agency for our recycling efforts.
Note: Both the recycling industry AND the mannequin industry are fields in which Black people are underrepresented.
Like many other small businesses, 2020 nearly kicked my ass because mannequins are certainly NOT essential products. But I am still standing; I’m still operating the business.
I am in my early 60’s and have no immediate plans to retire; instead I am looking at expanding. Got more “hills to climb” before I quit.
I love mannequins. They’re good company and don’t talk back
If 2020 tried to bury you, remember that you are seeds. Use the dirt to grow. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo (those of you in the Buddhist community will understand what that means).