April Showers, a California native with roots in Monroe, Louisiana, remembers her childhood fondly, especially her visits to grandma every summer. Today, she lives in Los Angeles with her two sons, Jessie and Christopher, ages 14 and 10. “They are my two bright, beautiful, smart, and intelligent black boys,” she remarks, beaming with pride. It is easy to fall in love with April’s presence, “I think spending time down south allowed me to have the hospitality side mixed in with me being a California girl.” Perhaps it is why she has successfully managed to build a strong community for her brand, Afro Unicorn.
Sitting with her for an hour flew by as we spoke about her brand, career, and how to build a strong community online. “I started in the music industry, working on music in motion pictures. That is where I met singers and later started managing artists. But it doesn’t pay as much to be in the industry. So I left and got a job in real estate. I later opened my insurance agency, which I still run to date. I’m approaching my ninth year as an insurance business owner.”
April is the ideal candidate to talk to for any young entrepreneur who wants to start a long-term brand with trademarked designs and a strong customer base. We talked extensively about entrepreneurship, print on demand, and building her brand, Afro Unicorn.
Let’s hear from April as she shares her story, from trademarking her designs and building a brand to how she has built a network of support and community.
Ecommerce Is the Future, and I Wanted to Be In It
I have always been very entrepreneurial and had my two businesses, but I wanted something tangible, which I could own. In real estate, the business is very transactional, and as an insurance agent, the business model is not a real franchise; I am an independent contractor. One day, I came across an article titled “a better lemonade stand.” In the article, they talked about opening a T-shirt brand in less than 24 hours.
The premise immediately sparked my interest. The article gave links to print on demand companies like Printify, Shopify, and WordPress. Still, the key message was you should never rely on only one entity to dictate your livelihood. The best way to go about business today is by owning an eCommerce business. From that moment on, I set on owning an eCommerce business, and that’s why I started Afro Unicorn.
“From that moment on, I set on owning an eCommerce business, and that’s why I started Afro Unicorn.”
Finding My Unicorn, the Inspiration for My Brand
A friend of mine kept referring to me as a unicorn. He said it was because I was balancing a lot in my life – my two business ventures, children, and personal life – in a way he considered very motivating and strong. He would say this a lot, but it didn’t resonate with me because I’ve never considered myself what someone would call a “girly-girl.” I thought to be an actual unicorn, you had to be the “typical girly princess.” But then again, I was juggling so much, and if that’s what it takes, then yeah, I’m definitely a unicorn. And so are many women living like me, being unicorns themselves. So I started using the unicorn emoji a lot on my phone.
But one thing that always bothered me was that the only unicorn emoji available was white. Representation matters to me, and this unicorn did not represent who I was. So I reached out to a graphic artist and asked him to create a unicorn of my likeness. One notable thing he did was he gave me designs on unicorns in different shades. I went, wait a minute, we come in all different shades of melanin, and I’m not the only unicorn. There are other unicorns that want to be seen. I just needed to let them know and bring them into the circle.
“I was told I was a unicorn, a magical being, and I wanted other women like me to feel the same.”
How to Build a Strong Community With a Clear Message
From the get-go, the most important thing was to spend the time to build the brand before I opened the store. I was very cautious of the legalities of coming up with something that didn’t exist. Some copiers are going to try to copy your design and your style. I wanted to protect my brand through a trademark and copyright legally. I filed for a trademark in February 2019, and after many revisions, I got approved in October 2020. It took a while, but as long as it was filed as a pending trademark, I had legal protection to build my brand.
I then made sure to build my brand with a strong message and learned how to build a strong online community. This would give ownership and meaning to the brand. So that if someone saw it at the local flea market selling my brand, they would instantly recognize it as counterfeit because they know Afro Unicorn and what it stands for. I call it putting weight on your brand. Because when you have weight on the brand, people can’t just pick it up and run away with it.
Afro Unicorn is a strong community of women entrepreneurs, trying to create multiple streams of income. It stands for independence and that we can do it all without relying on one source of income to dictate our livelihood. We are Afro Unicorns. Now, if a celebrity wears my shirt on TikTok, the comments all say, “that’s Afro Unicorn.” That’s because we build the brand and not just an online store.
“When you have weight on the brand, people can’t just pick it up and run away with it.”
Putting Some Weight on My Brand to Build a Community
What’s great about a community-based brand is that I get to know the women wearing my shirt. I built my brand on social media through Instagram by first spotlighting the women within my circle, highlighting the gifts and talents I saw in them. I intended to build a strong community of women who supported and promoted each other’s businesses.
When I had my launch event, I took pictures of all the ladies in the Afro Unicorn brand and posted them. It quickly caught on that if a small business wore my brand on social media, I would spotlight their brand on my page. It has now grown into a strong online community of women who acknowledge and support each other. The network has now grown to an even younger audience, including kids. Last week, I hosted a young CEO forum with kids as young as 7 to 11 that have small businesses that they’re doing right now. And I call them my Afro Unicorns in Training.
Finding My Place in POD and Opening My Online Store
When I opened my store with print on demand, I originally went with a competitor. But when they sent me my Afro Unicorn shirt, the color was so off the unicorn was orange. My brand is about representation. I am very adamant that these unicorns’ colors come in different shades – the correct shades – and orange is not one of them. When I got that shirt, I was so disappointed because I knew I wanted to go into print on demand, but it made me feel like I couldn’t.
So I pulled back from POD and sourced a screen printer to do my shirts in the correct shades. It wasn’t until the guy that helped me navigate setting up my shop found Printify. He started selling accessories through Printify, and I later joined in. I started with just a couple of notebooks and mugs and bags, and those items came out so beautifully.
Actively Empowering My Online Community
We launched Afro Unicorn with a clear mission; To empower women of color to pursue different business opportunities available to them, whether it was a small eCommerce store or owning Chick Fil A or McDonald’s. I use the platform I have with my online community to give them advice and to guide them. I initially wanted to start holding conferences where women would have the opportunity to pitch their businesses to potential women investors and entrepreneurs. When the pandemic hit, I moved this initiative online with a series we call “ Small Business Saturdays.”
Every Saturday at six o’clock in the morning on my Instagram page, I ask anyone in my community with small businesses to tag me in a post with their business information. I then reshare these stories or posts on my stories. We get flooded with at least 100 businesses every single Saturday. I meet them two hours later on live, where I typically bring on a guest, and we discuss a topic related to business, such as financing, marketing, and even self-care. People want more, so I’m currently in the process of developing two ebooks. One is to teach people how to start their brands organically from scratch. The second is how to get influencers to promote your brand for free.
Getting Celebrity Endorsements for Free
I was still using a screen printer for my t-shirt when I caught the attention of the celebrity Tiffany Haddish. I sent her a comment on her Instagram post and said, “Hey, have you ever seen an Afro Unicorn before? I created a brand for women of color who hustle. Follow the movement”. To my surprise, she wrote back to that comment, and she said, “If you make me one with a silver horn, I’m gonna rock the hell out of it. Here’s my address.” It blew up! Within an hour, it had over 10,000 likes. She had included her address, so everyone was replying to her, promising to send her their stuff. I thought she would never find my shirt, but she did. Since then, she has worn my Afro Unicorn shirts on many casual occasions along with other celebrity figures such as Sherri Shepherd and Kym Whitley.
Finding the Right Partner and Overcoming Business Challenges
What happened when Tiffany wore my brand was everyone rushed over to my store on Shopify. But I had no inventory because I was using my screen-printer. I didn’t have enough items, which was not good for business when I had successfully driven so much demand to my store. That’s when I decided to try out Printify for my t-shirts. I quickly ordered samples to make sure they looked great. And that’s how I started selling entirely with Printify. The lesson I learned was that for my brand to be successful, I should never be in such a position again. With Printify, I made sure I never run out of inventory.
I have come to really appreciate working with Printify on my brand. Afro Unicorn was only supposed to be my design on a white shirt in three different shades. But now that my brand has grown, the challenge is keeping up with the demand of what people want. I get several requests a day asking me if I can put the Afro Unicorn design on a different item. Thankfully, Printify has helped me do that, and we now have over 150 items in the store.
The other day, I got a request saying, “can you please do a duffel bag because my daughter is now in swim class, but backpacks don’t have enough room.” As we speak, I’m working on including duffle bags in my store, just like that. Printify allows me to give my consumers what they want. I have a brand with a beautiful, unique, and magical message. It makes me proud that I not only figured out how to build a strong online community but now I can offer the products the community really wants.
“I really appreciate working with Printify on my brand. Afro Unicorn was only supposed to be my design on a white shirt. It is so much more.”
Becoming a True CEO With Printify
When I was running my business alone, I spent most of my time fulfilling orders and printing shirts. I didn’t have a lot of time to put on marketing strategies or time to follow up with customers. There was barely enough time to engage on social media or to figure out how to build a strong online community. I was stressed out, and it was taking the fun out of running my business. But with Printify, I have a lot more time to work on other aspects of the company and build my community. If there’s an issue with an order, I can reach out to the Printify team to resolve it.
“Printify allows me the time to run the business and not work in the business.”
I like that I can be the CEO of my business and manage it while the fulfillment aspect is well taken care of through Printify. Recently Printify added two features that I like because they make it even easier on me. The order routing feature and, my personal best, the new Out Of Stock feature. It was a feature I desperately needed because now I can make adjustments to my store beforehand to avoid disappointing my customers.
Push Through - My Advice to Fellow Entrepreneurs.
Nurture your customers – I can’t express that enough. Follow up and follow through. Put systems in place where you can engage with your customers. That is the only way I know how to build a strong community online. Many of my customers thank me for the simple thank you note that I send them. Always keep learning to find a groove and because things are ever-changing, make sure that you stay ahead of the curve. Build a network with other like-minded people. You don’t always have to be the only person driving your brand, have other people around you. Find the people in your circle that you can bounce things off to get different perspectives and ideas.
Make It Happen Today!
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