February 8, 2023

Enterprise JM

Do the Business

Angelica Nwandu, The Shade Room Founder, Launches New E-Commerce Platform To Amplify Black Businesses

As families gather around the table to celebrate Thanksgiving, most will be gearing up to secure deals the day after; however, what can stimulate the nation’s sluggish economy more than to purchase from Black-owned businesses on Black Friday?

Over 1.2 million African-Americans identified as self-employed in February 2022, as opposed to the 1.1 million accounted for in February 2020. GoDaddy, the domain registrar and web hosting company, conducted a study and discovered Black owners were the reason for 26% of websites established businesses since the start of the pandemic, a nine percent increase before the global outbreak. In addition, women led businesses increased to 57% from 48%. However, African-Americans face several obstacles to improve their economic foundation.

According to a report by CNBC’s Frank Holland, in conjunction with the updated data on Black business ownership, Black spending power reached $1.6 trillion in 2021 and is predicted to reach $1.8 trillion in 2024. However, the collective net worth of African-Americans declined by 14%. Black families also amassed $300 billion less wealth annually than White families, and the wealth gap is now a staggering $11 trillion. Homeownership which usually leads to wealth building through the appreciation of the property, is down 3% in the Black community, and lastly, Black families save $75 billion less than their White counterparts.

Although the statistics appear dismal, African-American digital users have made a concerted effort to support and promote Black owned businesses to change the course of their financial ship. The positive effects of building these independent enterprises often lead to improved and empowered communities, jobs, increased opportunities, and closing the wealth gap.

Angelica “Angie” Nwandu is the founder and CEO of The Shade Room (TSR), a multi-platform media empire reaching 27.6 million Instagram followers, also dubbed “roommates,” is leading the charge to boost Black businesses.

The Shade Room provides a digital space to magnify Black culture in entertainment, politics, national and local news, and on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, GIPHY, and its home website. Since being established in 2014, the culturally relevant media company is now ranked as the number one social brand, one of the top 25 Instagram brands, and landed as the leading media publishing label, as Comscore reports.

Nwandu’s site boasts 732.8k followers on Twitter, and she services another niche, the GenZ teen demographic, with The Shade Room Teen, which has amassed 4.6 million followers. Nwandu established such an engaging platform with high user interaction that companies such as Fashion Nova, Facebook, GMC, and McDonald’s partnered with her to gain more consumers for their organizations.

Nwandu understands the importance of harnessing her robust social media influence to amplify Black-owned businesses with the launch of The Shade Room TSR Shop, a new e-commerce platform powered by Flourysh, a community-driven marketplace featuring Black-owned brands. TSR Shop will tap into The Shade Room’s devoted followers and bring to the forefront premium products that benefit the African-American consumer in food and beverage, beauty, apparel, accessories, home decor, and items for children and pets.

Yolanda Baruch: The Shade Room has its fingers at the pulse of Black culture, and your followers reference the blog in various media sectors. But can you talk about the launch of TSR Shop and why you decided to create this e-commerce platform?

Angelica Nwandu: Black-owned businesses are the heartbeat of The Shade Room, we do programmatic and agency ads and big deals, but most of our revenue comes from small businesses. We found [while] working with these businesses that they prefer to advertise on Black media companies because Black audiences tend to spend more when they see Black ads on Black media companies. So it’s just a cycle that continues to feed itself. Over the course of the years, we’ve helped to launch over 400 Black businesses by providing affordable advertisement for them, we’ve kept our advertisement low for small Black businesses. We charge our normal rate for agencies, big networks, and other [larger] businesses. We have a passion for small Black businesses and decided that it would be great to push it a step further and give them more visibility in our shop. We vetted the businesses and made sure that not only were they legit businesses but also that they had the same commitment and passion for the Black community as we do. It was the natural next step to launch an e-commerce platform.

Baruch: How have you promoted this website?

We’ve advertised it on social media via our platforms across Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube.

Baruch: How can Black-owned businesses become a part of this platform?

Nwandu: Well, we have a submission link and see what kind of offerings they provide. We know our audience and what kind of brands they like to patronize. We know they love hair, beauty products, skin products, and clothing. We’re gearing towards those brands that provide what our audience love. They are also interested in the company’s mission; we research to ensure they have great customer service. So when we introduce them to our audience, they have a great experience with them. Their story is very important. Also, we have Angie’s page, where I’m looking through the products to choose my favorite brands. There’s an application process, and we vet from there to see which brands we would like to work with.

Baruch: Do you get a percentage when they become a part of the marketplace? Do they have to pay monthly?

Nwandu: No, they don’t have to pay monthly; we will take a percentage on the back end to cover our costs for working with Flourysh. We’re the ones that will do all the customer service for Flourysh and make sure that when they order through our site, those orders are shipped in a timely manner and that it is professional service, but we also manage the website and continue to provide this offering,

Baruch: How does advertising on The Shade Room impact businesses with their sales?

Nwandu: Before launching this e-commerce platform, we offered discounts to all our partners advertised on our site to submit revenue numbers to show how The Shade Room has affected and impacted their business. We watched companies go from just launching to six figures a month, and not every company has the same percentage; it depends on the marketing [and] on the product, the marketing, and you know how great they are at that. But we’ve seen companies make millions of dollars from advertisements on The Shade Room in a year. So the story is different for everyone. But there is huge visibility after being posted. We can promise that eyeballs will see your product, but we can’t promise that they’ll buy. But we’ve seen a lot of success stories.

Baruch: It’s interesting with the re-emergence of Black-owned businesses. There are more opportunities for Black entrepreneurs; major corporations are creating initiatives to help Black-owned businesses. Do you think supporting Black-owned businesses will be an ongoing element in the Black culture?

Nwandu: Well, I have two opinions on that. I think that a lot of companies committed to spending dollars within the Black community during the George Floyd protests. But even as a Black media company, I noticed they never had a real strategy to reach these companies. Even The Shade Room, who wanted to get advertising dollars from these companies that have committed, we do not see the dollars because you have to join a network to get seen or even vetted by them. So a lot of companies did commit; I would like to do a follow-up to see how much of the money was spent on Black businesses.

So I think that that was a trend because of the George Floyd protests and everything that happened in 2020. Everybody jumped at the opportunity to say they were spending that money, those dollars with Black companies. I don’t know [how] many Black companies benefited from that push; I’m going, to be honest. But as far as the Black-owned tag that everybody is promoting with their businesses, it’s a new movement within the community. We’ve surpassed a trillion in buying power. But a lot of that money is going outside of the community. You’ll see with the Hispanic community or the Jewish community, there’s a lot of communities that keep the majority of their dollars within their own culture and that’s very important, because how else are we going to build ourselves up if the money is flowing out of the community? So I think businesses are now saying, well, we’re Black owned because there’s this social aspect to your spending. We know that Black people love to spend; they’re not just spending with [all] businesses. They want to spend with businesses that they feel have a social justice side, that will speak up for some of the things that they’re going through, that are socially conscious, that have a passion for the Black community that are Black-owned. I think that that’s a movement within the Black community to identify as Black-owned, and it does push buyers to want to support those companies. So two things, it was disingenuous outside of the community [with] these big companies, but that within the community is very genuine, and it’s a movement.

Baruch: What are some of the benefits Black-owned brands will reap by becoming a part of this marketplace? How will it help them scale their business?

Nwandu: Some of the benefits are that Flourysh has a background in digital marketing and they have a huge client base which I think a lot of Black businesses, especially ones that are starting and don’t have that budget to market themselves the way that they can.

Even with the discounted rates that we have at The Shade Room for Black businesses, we do notice that in times like this, where inflation is crazy and small businesses are heavily impacted that even the advertising budget is sometimes too much. The idea of them coming onto our e-commerce platform and we’re taking a percentage of what they are selling versus them having to outright pay for advertising is something that can help them with the marketing automation they need for their businesses. [It] helps them scale without putting the upfront money.

Also, it’s customer service. Another thing we see is when businesses starting a year or two in have the values and want to serve their community. [However] sometimes when they do get on The Shade Room, it’s hard to manage that influx of orders, they have good intentions, but sometimes they need a little bit more infrastructure. So Flourysh will help us with customer service and getting those packages out and visibility. Working with them to make sure their product pictures and the products they’re putting on the site are clean and professional and that they’re giving their best to the customers is how they will be positively impacted.

Baruch: Why should Black people support Black-owned businesses? What are some other economic and social benefits that we can gain?

Nwandu: I think that it is crucial for us to build up the community. Jordan Peele’s movie, Nope, was one of my favorite movies this year because I didn’t understand what it meant when I first watched the movie. I remember in the theater I went to, many White people were there, and everybody walked. But it took me that night to [keep] thinking about it, and the message was so clear once I began to ponder about the movie. His movie was geared towards Hollywood and how it treats Black talent. The message was we have to end the agreement with White supremacy and create our own and have ownership. We’re already powerful in one instance because we have a loud voice, a loud culture, and we’ve seen how powerful [we were] during the 2020 movement, we got companies to commit. But at the same time, we also need to build that economic power. We will not be able to overcome a lot of the things we go through socially and systemically until we also can have that economic power and own a lot of it. So seeing Black businesses thrive outside of corporate America, outside of systems that were not built for us, is extremely important because we need to create our own playing field where we’re not subject to systemic racism. When you look at Black women in the workforce, they are the leading group of people who are the most degreed. We’re getting degrees, and we’re outpacing so many other groups in college education. Yet we’re the least likely to be promoted and the least likely to get great retirement benefits. We can continue to play that game or build our own. We set the rules and the tone, and Black people have a high buying power. But if we can spend within our own communities, imagine the power we can harness economically and achieve some of these things socially.

I saw so many like businesses emerge; we’re also the leading group of people of entrepreneurs. Social media allowed us that opportunity. We need to continue to keep it going, and we need to continue to build our community just like everyone else. It’s not like we’re trying to segregate ourselves. We’re just mimicking what other communities have done with their talents and businesses.t. So it’s very powerful for us to decrease the wealth gap and to be able to have that economic power within our communities.

To purchase Black-owned products, visit here.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

This article has been updated since its original publication.