Plan your first post-pandemic trip with these essential Black-owned brands.
Spring begins again, and so does the desire for traveling. Travel restrictions continue to lift during the pandemic, however, the political divisiveness nationwide is at its most palpable. Thanks, in part, to many of the grassroots movements that have captivated this nation’s undivided attention, more Americans can show their allegiance to Black people through their purchasing power.
So when you book your next flight or compare prices for hotel and Airbnb stays, before you pack, consider buying one (or all) of these Black-owned, designed, or managed products and apps. Though not an exhaustive list, fitness items, beauty products, and/or apparel from the companies will become a mainstay among your essentials, while also supporting the Black-owned businesses that created them.
Top Picks for You
Founders: Ben Young, Chief Innovation Officer; Greg Coleman, Chief Executive Officer
As many hotel and resort gyms remain shuttered due to COVID-19 restrictions, getting a workout while on vacation might be difficult. Sworkit, the premium digital health and fitness app for your mobile device, was designed for individuals to make achieving their fitness goals convenient, fun, and attainable.
Short for “Simply Work It,” co-Founders Ben Young and Greg Coleman made headlines when they appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2016. They brokered a verbal deal with Dallas Mavericks owner and business tycoon Mark Cuban for $1.5 million (at a 10% equity stake), which at the time was the largest investment in a tech startup in the show’s history.
Sworkit not only features an extensible library of workouts (cardio, yoga, strength, and stretching)—designed for all fitness levels—but every workout is customizable, from time to combination, and can also be done with or without music (either selections from their music library or your very own playlist).
Bombas "The Black Hive Collection"
While Bombas’ founders Randy Goldberg and David Heath are not African-American, since their launch in 2013, their model combined quality-made socks with a mission and purpose, which also captured the attention of Shark Tank as fashion mogul Daymond John invested $200,000 (at a 17.5% equity stake) into their startup apparel brand, which has since expanded into underwear and T-shirts. With every item purchased, Bombas donates one clothing item to a homeless shelter or homeless-centered organization. To date, more than 46 million pieces of clothing have been donated to aid those in need, especially sobering in these challenging times.
In alignment with their sustainable model of bringing about awareness, Bombas launched The Black Hive Collection, a cohort of Black and BIPOC-identifying staff who developed their “brand within the brand”—from the design inspiration and packaging concepts to spurring the Black Hive’s overall creative direction and process. Keeping in alignment with Bombas’ mission, for every purchase from the collection, a clothing item is donated to one of four participating organizations—A Second U Foundation, Sister’s Circle, National Bail Fund Network, and The Marsha P. Johnson Institute—each committed to addressing the root correlation between homelessness and systemic inequality in America, which has disproportionate effects among Black people.
Founder: Gionna Nicole, Designer
Located in Manhattan’s modish SoHo district, Avid Swim combines sustainability with luxury and high-end fashion—at affordable to moderate prices. Launched by fashion designer Gionna Nicole in 2010, Avid Swim combines an idiosyncratic aesthetic to swimwear, mixing cuts with prints and other daring graphic designs. The collection also boasts interchangeable chic and sexy pieces that are prêt-à-porter, perfect for busy women everywhere—of all shapes and sizes—on the go.
Five years after its launch, Avid Swim debuted its e-commerce store, helping customers simplify their shopping experience, especially beneficial as restrictions continue to prevent us from gathering at brick-and-mortar shops. Nicole’s brand has also grown traction in fashion publications, blogs, and other media outlets like Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Tonight, and Refinery29. The swimwear collection has already been shown at New York Fashion Week twice (and counting).
Made Leather Co.
Founder: Lenise Williams, Entrepreneur/Owner
After quitting her job at a law firm, lawyer and entrepreneur Lenise Williams started her own firm to have more time to spend with her then-newborn son. Later, after recognizing her gift from branding and marketing, Williams decided to quit her practice and move to Georgia to start her own business.
Made Leather Co. grew out of her combined business-savviness with her love for Marrakech, notably their leather goods. Her goal was to offer a bespoke, high-end quality leather bag—primarily duffles, handbags, and briefcases—but at a fraction of the cost here in the States. Because the bags are handmade and hand-dyed, no two bags can ever be alike, Williams explained in a recent interview for VoyageATL.
“The process for preparing the leather to create the bags is a six-month process called vegetable tanning,” she added. “Most other companies used leather that is stripped of all of its beauty and unique qualities because it goes through chromium tanning, a chemically-based process.”
Founder: Valerie Blaise, Designer/Owner
VAVVOUNE grew out of the whimsical passion of its designer and founder Valerie Blaise back in 2015. After buying a vintage handbag online in her early 20s, it occurred to her then that she wanted to “physically make bags and work with leather,” said the Haitian American who lived in Dorchester, in an interview with BostonVoyager.
“I did much of my growing up in Boston trying to understand what being American was,” explained Blaise, “and finally being able to know it’s not monolithic allowed me to find my space in it.” Not long after, Blaise bought her first sewing machine and taught herself how to sew through books, frequent trips to other tannery shops, and video tutorials.
Blaise would later launch her brand VAVVOUNE in Brooklyn in 2015. From its geometric shapes and vibrant colors to her collaboration with celebrated designer Christian Siriano, the collection harnesses the spontaneity and whimsy of its owner, inspiring all to realize their dreams, against all odds.
Founder: Katonya Breaux
Fifty-one-year-old Katonya Breaux is not just the mother of Frank Ocean, one of the most prominent singers/songwriters working today. She is also the founder of Unsun Cosmetics, mineral-based sunscreen products designed for people of color.
Launched in 2016, Breaux developed her brand out of sheer frustration over the lack of inclusive suncare for BIPOC communities. While there are sunscreen products that blend into different hues and skin tones and don’t leave white residue on the skin, many of them are filled with harsh chemicals. It took Breaux one year to perfect the formula for her natural SPF line, which now includes tinted face sunscreen, hand cream, and body highlighters.
“Women of color need to know that [the] sun does not discriminate,” said Breaux in an interview with Billboard magazine. “I have an aunt who was my complexion but she developed skin cancer, and we were like, ‘Wait, what? So it does happen.’ If we continue with the mentality that we won’t get skin cancer because our skin is brown, that we have melanin and it’s fine, then we’re putting ourselves in [danger’s] way.”
Black Girl Sunscreen
Founder: Shontay Lundy
When Shontay Lundy launched Black Girl Sunscreen in 2018, she didn’t hire a public relations team to help get her brand’s name out there. Nevertheless, it garnered media attention as a must-have item because suncare for women of color remains ignored by the beauty industry at large.
“The sun doesn’t discriminate between complexions,” Lundy said in an interview with Refinery29. “We are susceptible to melanoma, sun damage, and sunburns. In my opinion, we haven’t been educated because of an old-school mentality. Parents would tell their children, ‘You’re Black. You don’t need sunscreen. Use shea butter.’ Shea butter doesn’t protect against UVA or UVB rays. We need sunscreen, and we haven’t been represented at all in the market.”
Black Girl Sunscreen includes SPF 30, SPF 50 designed for children, and Make it Matte SPF 45, providing sun protection for the face, leaving a flawless matte finish—sans white residue. Lundy’s suncare collection is vegan and all-natural, and can now be found online and at select Target stores nationwide.
Founder: Dorion Renaud, Actor/Brand Founder
When you first see actor Dorion Renaud, the first question one asks themselves is, “Hmm, I wonder what skincare products he uses?” His flawless complexion is courtesy to Buttah Skin, a brand with a unique formula designed to treat a range of skin concerns affecting communities of color.
As a teenager growing up in Beaumont, Texas, Renaud was plagued with acne and dark spots. Not knowing how to address these issues, he tried many quick-fix solutions, including frequent visits to leading dermatologists. Nothing seemed to work until Renaud inadvertently developed a formula while on a modeling job. When his photographer asked him to apply shea butter on his body for added glow, Renaud thought, “Why not try it on my face.” When combined with a gentle cleanser and Vitamin C serum, he soon discovered a bespoke solution for his skincare needs, and, eventually, Buttah Skin was born.
Combining naturally-derived ingredients with science, Buttah Skin has since grown into a robust line of facial and body cleansers, masks, serums, and even customizable skincare kits to help those with high amounts of melanin find their blend best suited for their skin’s concerns.
Founder: Isiah Fowler
When Isaiah Fowler first had the “vision” for his brand SWAV Eyewear, it was two-fold. He not only launched a company that would design high-end, eco-friendly sunglasses, handcrafted in Greece, but also, every pair of eyewear includes an inspirational quote engraved on the inner temples, a reminder, he says, to “never give up on the vision.”
The inspiration for his designer eyewear brand first came to him in 2011, while serving in the U.S. Air Forces. Fowler was diagnosed with malaria, but after beating the illness, he decided from there on that he would dedicate his life to impact and inspire the world. With each pair of shades sold, a portion of that sale goes to the Visionary Investment Fund, which at the start of every new quarter, they will donate the full amount to another visionary and innovator in the community.
Launching his brand in 2018, Fowler says that inspiration is needed now more than ever. “With everything going on right now, it’s so easy to get distracted emotionally,” he said in an interview with Blackbusiness.com. “The fight against injustice and discrimination is bigger than ever, and we need that focus now more than ever…that’s why our frames have ‘stay the course’ engraved on them. Everything in life starts with a vision, but for the vision to come to fruition, we have to keep sight of our focus no matter what.”
Founder: Yvonne Koné, Designer
Launching her namesake label in 2011, Yvonne Koné has become one of Denmark’s leading fashion designers. A graduate of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, her talents have already garnered her the Elle Style Award in 2017.
Yvonne Koné draws from the minimalism of her Danish upbringing with her Ivory Coast lineage to develop a line that marries her uncomplicated approach to style—as though every item were handpicked from her closet—with a deep admiration for the artisans who preceded her. Take her exquisite shoe collection—where intricate design is wonderfully juxtaposed against bold textiles and vibrant colors. While on the higher end of price, these are custom and original pieces meant to be cherished for a lifetime.