Black female-owned businesses are the fastest growing economic force in the U.S. The number of black women-owned businesses grew 67 percent between 2007 and 2012, outpacing the 27 percent growth rate for female-owned businesses, reports the U.S. Census Bureau. The rapid growth is particularly impressive and hard-won considering the challenges that black women face as entrepreneurs, including lack of startup capital, resources and loans, along with racial and gender discrimination within the largely white, male-dominated sectors of financing and technology.
In spite of considerable hurdles, Shaunt’e Lewis, founder and CEO of Shaunte Lewis Art, has built a highly noteworthy business as a cosmetologist and an artist. We chatted with her about what it took to get to this point and what’s next for her.
Callie Zimmerman: Tell us about where the idea for your business came from.
Shaunt’e Lewis: Growing up, I always wanted to be an artist. I just did little fairs and things like that. Throughout high school I took all the art classes and my mom was a hair stylist working in different salons. When I started working in a salon as a braider, my art had kind of been put on the back burner for that. After high school, I went to cosmetology school and still didn’t pick up art. Hair just became my job, but art was always something I wanted to pursue as a career. In 2016, I started painting again. At the same time one of the salons I was working at was closing, so I went to different salons and couldn’t find a place to work. That’s when I decided to open up my own salon. I was like, how can I combine these two passions? In my first salon in Broad Ripple, I decided to make it into an art gallery as well. That’s the first time I ever put my art out publicly. That got the ball rolling for my art career.
CZ: Can you elaborate more on the products or services you offer?
SL: In the salon I do mostly African American and mixed hair. Lately, I’ve been specializing in those who have adoptive transracial or black kids that need help with their hair. I do braids. I work with a lot of kids. I meet a lot of adoptive parents. As for art, I do paintings on canvas, I paint on different objects, like jackets, I do paint parties, and I’m also a Henna Artist — that’s part of the salon services I offer. I sell prints out of my salon as well. The salon is an avenue for me to showcase my artwork. I recently started doing nails after I posted a picture of artwork on my own nails and everybody was like “I want that.” I never did nails before that.
CZ: Who are some of your professional mentors?
SL: I have never had any professional mentors, but there have always been people I looked up to. That’s one of my goals for 2020, to get a mentor. I think that’s something that will take my art career to the next level. I would definitely view my mom as a mentor, for the hair part of things and entrepreneurship. That’s all I’ve ever known. She’s always had her own business. That’s how I learned how to do hair, was seeing her do hair — seeing her be there for us. I have four kids. I was like, “Okay, I can have a career and be there for my family.”
CZ: What are some challenges you’ve faced running your business?
SL: Initially, wanting to open a salon, the financial part was the biggest difficulty — trying to find funding. I went to the bank and that was unsuccessful. Now, I would say it’s always being by myself. I paint at home in my studio. I still communicate with clients, but I’m working alone. That is probably one of the biggest difficulties, being a solopreneur and not having other people to collaborate with.
CZ: What’s your favorite way of communicating with and marketing to your clients?
SL: Definitely social media particularly Facebook and Instagram. Instagram is good for mainly my art and getting it out there, because it’s more visual. And then with Facebook, I use targeted marketing and ads, and connect with people more verbally. I also do networking events. I’m part of Indy Mompreneurs, where I get to talk to a lot of different moms that are entrepreneurs. I try to go to different events here and there and talk to other business owners.
CZ: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
SL: I’m not sure I’ll stay in the beauty industry, but I would like to focus more fully on art. Hopefully in the next five years, I will be able to be a full-time artist and have that support my family and I. That’s where my true passion lies, with art.
CZ: What’s one big project you’re working on right now?
SL: One of my bigger, more recent projects is… I’m having an art show at Saks Fifth Avenue at Keystone at the Crossing. I’m working on getting together a lot of paintings for that, which will be in August of 2020. It’s a joint show with two other women.
CZ: What issues are important to you today?
SL: I would say being a female entrepreneur and not having resources and funding. It’s a lot harder for females, especially African American females, to get the resources and funding that they need. I want a better system to help women start businesses and to be able to succeed as much as their male counterparts.
CZ: What are some goals you’re working towards for your business?
SL: My main goal is to pursue my artwork more full-time and get more gallery showings, but also to start collaborating with more businesses.
CZ: What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
SL: It’s important to network as much as possible and build a support network, even if you don’t have that with family and friends. Have a focus and a passion for what you do, because that will get you through the hard times. And get your name out there. Don’t be afraid to step out there to make your dreams come true.
CZ: Is there a quote that has inspired you along the way?
SL: “To achieve anything you want in life, you must start by getting out of your own way.” — Unknown
It took me a long time to have the confidence to put my artwork out there. Once I did, I felt like I got so much support. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t get out of my own way and put myself out there. I don’t think my artwork would have grown as much as it has, either, if I didn’t place myself in the position to learn from other people.
Shaunt’e’s artwork will be on display at Saks Art Gallery (8701 Kestone Crossing on the third floor) Monday, August 10 through Monday, September 7 along with artists Quiana Quarles and Ayanna Tibbs at the Saks Art Gallery. Her reception will be held on third Thursday, August 20. Don’t miss out, be there!