Talking Shop: How Desirée Rogers and Abrima Erwiah are building sustainable retail brands for their communities
When Desirée Rogers, co-owner of Black Opal Beauty and Fashion Fair Cosmetics, and Abrima Erwiah, co-founder of Studio One Eighty Nine and Fashion Our Future, were both considering their entrepreneurial paths, they knew that empowering Black businesses and customers would be at the center of whatever paths they chose.
As Rogers considered building or buying a business, for example, she says, “It became evident to me that there’s still really a lack of what I’m going to call Black business voices both in fashion and in cosmetics. And so my business partner and I … thought, we’re such large consumers of beauty and fashion that it’s equally important for us to be on the other side of the table.” As they scaled Black Opal Beauty and Fashion Fair cosmetics, the retail businesses they acquired, they took a sustainable approach to everything, down to minimizing packaging.
Erwiah, whose co-founder is actor Rosario Dawson, is using technology to develop sustainable clothing that’s made by Black creators across the globe. “I don’t think we could do what we’re doing if we didn’t have access to technology,” she says. “Over the past few years, I’ve been working with an organization on trying to figure out how to implement blockchain in order to increase our transparency in our supply chain and to be able to give the consumer a deeper look into what we’re doing but also hold ourselves more accountable.”
Check out the conversation to learn more about how Rogers and Erwiah built their paths to entrepreneurship and what inspired them to build Black-focused retail businesses with sustainability as a top priority while using technology to achieve their goals.
Desirée Rogers: My name is Desirée Rogers. I am co-owner of Black Opal Beauty and Fashion Fair Cosmetics.
Abrima Erwiah: Hi, my name is Abrima Erwiah and I co-founded Studio 189 and Fashion Our Future.
Erwiah: When I was visiting Ghana and other developing economies, I was seeing a lot of people in this position to always have to ask for aid or to have to overnegotiate for their work, you know, and really just kind of this cycle. So I wrote a manifesto, and I sent it out to my friends, and Rosario Dawson, who's my business partner now, she invited me on this incredible and powerful trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Erwiah: And for me, that was the first time I saw what true sustainability looked like. They were making their own stuff; they were buying their own stuff. They were feeding their kids, sending their kids to school, and all they needed was a little bit of support, but they were solving their own social issues. And so I was very excited about that. And I was like, okay, that's what we have to do. And Studio 189 was born.
Rogers: It became evident to me that there's still really a lack of what I'm going to call Black business voices, both in fashion and also in cosmetics. And so my business partner and I, Cheryl Mayberry McKissick, thought it’s just as important, we're such large consumers, the beauty and fashion, it's equally important for us to be on the other side of the table.
Rogers: And so I pursued the owner of Black Opal for almost two and a half years, just really pitching that, wouldn't it be great if, if I could buy the company and we could really develop that company into something larger than it was. And so Cheryl and I bought both brands, both Black Opal and Fashion Fair, two of, I believe, the most iconic brands always dedicated to women of color.
Erwiah: I don't think we could do what we're doing if we didn't have access to technology. I’m able to look at what the factory is doing. I'm able to answer questions quickly. I'm able to make quick changes. Over the past few years, I've been working with an organization on trying to figure out how to implement blockchain in order to increase our transparency in our supply chain and be able to give the consumer a deeper look into what we're doing, but also hold ourselves more accountable.
Rogers: That’s so amazing. I mean, we try to incorporate technology into, you know, our AR work on our digital site, which we'll be launching in June that will help women of color find their foundations a little bit easier. We’re going to make certain that the products that we are putting forth, such as less packaging, less boxes, making certain that the ingredients are natural ingredients. The other way is really to make certain that, you know, we are living the walk and talking the talk. And so, what does that mean? It means hiring people that look like us, and that we continue to push for more people to be included in the beauty space.
Rogers: It’s been such a pleasure speaking to you. I can’t wait for us to have an opportunity to get together and continue this conversation.
Erwiah: I appreciate you very much. I appreciate the work you're doing. And I just want to say to everybody who's listening, you know, my favorite quote is, “The journey is the destination.” Be patient, give yourself time, and you'll get there.”