When you think of a businessman, just like when you think of a doctor, you envision a middle-aged white man. So with a deeply ingrained bias that most people don’t even know they have, no wonder it is harder for us to get business loans or to be taken seriously as entrepreneurs. And by “us,” I mean Black women.
This was the state of mind I was being met with at every turn pre-Poplar. I was success-conscious and wanted to further myself as a writer and an entrepreneurial-minded woman. However, I felt relatively clueless about establishing a brand and rather exhausted by the superficial and vague encouragement I kept hearing.
Black women like me do not need the three empty words everyone tosses our way with a smile: just keep going!
Everyone is sympathetic to our struggle and praises us for our enduring strength and inventiveness, but who is actually empathetic enough to help?
Radical feminist Angela Davis said, “The idea of freedom is inspiring. But what does it mean? If you are free in a political sense but have no food, what's that? The freedom to starve?”
"The idea of freedom is inspiring. But what does it mean? If you are free in a political sense but have no food, what's that? The freedom to starve?"
I have felt free my entire life and been free. That doesn’t mean that I felt included or considered or accounted for. The best way I can define the Poplar Alliance is a community of empathetic women who actually believe in and advocate for freedom. When I say freedom, I mean financial freedom, liberation from limiting thinking, and the complete dissolution of the prejudicial microscope society likes to place women of color under.
I have been taught about branding and the power of networking. I’ve received personalized meetings about my career goals and how to get closer to them. I’ve been connected to women just like me who have their own drives and desires but need a community to enforce a sense of safety and sisterhood. Slowly but surely, I am moving towards my goal of financial freedom.
"I didn’t know that I would be introduced to such an instrumental organization by chance."
It was sheer luck that I met Blair Lauren Brown. I knew her as this woman with the Midas touch, supremely interested in gold and with a family lineage in ethical mining. As a former jeweler, she has an eye for raw nuggets of gold and unrefined precious gems, and she saw something in me. We connected over a mutual interest in jewelry and we got to talking. And honestly, we went deep.
In one of the first phone calls we had, I told her that all the companies suddenly hopping on the Black Lives Matter train seemed disingenuous.
It is not heroic to include diverse brands in your inventory or to have a Black model smiling and holding your products. Especially if this new wave of inclusion is more about profit than progress. So many companies are truly all dollars and no sense.
I likened the new trend to a fad, like the bathing suits that used to be cut really high on the sides. Something that people wanted to wear for 2 weeks or 2 months and then throw away.
I still remember her response: “For a lot of people it is. How do we make it more than that?”
That sentiment has been the lifeblood of the Poplar Alliance.
Blair and Beryl took the isolated mentoring relationships they had and interwove them into a community. This community isn’t about being trendy or piggybacking off of the most popular hashtags of the moment. The Alliance is about so many things. Putting your money where your mouth is and supporting Black-owned brands. Providing mentorship for young women of color who may have a strong talent but aren’t network savvy. Eliminating the antiquated idea that white wellness is superior and that other cultures are just exotic.
The idea of the Alliance isn’t new. Just like the idea of minorities being systematically discluded and culturally appropriated isn’t new.
People often claim that they’re color blind (which is problematic by the way) but the wellness industry doesn’t even claim to own a pair of these rose-colored glasses. It is proudly white.
One of my fellow Alliance members, Symone Gates, (who is also the founder of Sincerely Bade) had this to say about white wellness. “White wellness is when I enter a gym, studio, or athleisure store and am surrounded by white models, white management, and white instructors. Essentially making me feel out of place. I think any wellness entity albeit service or product that lacks visual diversity is enforcing this idea.”
I’ve felt for a long time that wellness wasn’t a space I belonged in. I didn’t see Black pilates teachers or fitness brands or healing balms or protein shakes. Everything that seemed healthy had a white face plastered on it, which effectively “othered” me.
I truly feel that entering the Poplar Alliance empowered me. I felt that room was being made for me and that there was a place for me in wellness and in business and in entrepreneurship. Part mentorship program, part survival guide, but all girl-power, the Poplar Alliance has given me a support system that I didn’t previously have.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Akua and Rachel, the mother-daughter duo behind House of Aama, had this to say about The Poplar Alliance and how it extended support to them. “The Alliance has been a support system for us as women and entrepreneurs to reach our fullest potential and not feel that there are any barriers to our achievement by providing consistent mentorship and actionable steps to achieve our goals by women mentors.” This sentiment was also shared by Blair Armstrong, the founder of Gilded. “Being a solopreneur can be lonely. It’s important that as we grow we bring others with us and I think The Alliance has the potential to do that. I’ve received help with navigating partnerships and also the growth of my business. Genuine allyship and collaboration and sisterhood are important in business and they can enhance our personal and professional lives.”
It is time to take Poplar’s lead and put your money where your mouth is. It’s like Symone said, there are so many wellness brands utilizing the popularity and creativity of Black bodies. “Many companies are highlighting the ‘coolness’ of black visuals but their management team nor their employees matched the diverse advertising they put out.” It’s not enough to just profit from Black visuals and faux representation. We learned during the election that there are so many people suffering from cognitive dissonance when they claim that they’re an ally. And it’s not okay to have such a large discrepancy between your public life and your private self.
Poplar honestly has been incredibly private about their mentoring, philanthropy, and contributions. But as of today, that is going to change. Beryl and Blair are both action-oriented people who would rather “be about it than talk about it.” However, the time has come for these women to step from behind the scenes in the hope to share their company’s legacy and inspire other like-minded people to join in. Don’t look at this announcement as the introduction of something new, look at it as the formalization of something old. Now, we are just giving a voice to what they were already doing.
It’s time to shout it from the rooftops because it’s worth everyone knowing about. Here at Poplar, we’ve built a community called The Poplar Alliance and I am better off from being a part of it.
If you’d like to learn more stay tuned on our Instagram! We’ll have details there you don’t want to miss!