In case you haven’t noticed, in the world fashion, you can definitely call the current cultural trends a “comeback”. Whether you came up in the 80s or 90s, the truth is, the styles that you know and, most likely love are back in. Bring on the high top fades, jumpers, leather shorts, Timbs, bucket hats, and all-neon everything. Nostalgia is flowing like the Nile River, honey.
Interestingly, the advancements in technology are what’s connecting the modern consumers with the hottest throwback fashions by offering space and opportunity for start-up boutiques to flourish online. One such boutique reaping these benefits is Sneakah “SB+” Boutique, based out of Teaneck, New Jersey. Run by three dynamic individuals, Nailah Wright, 28, Whitney L. Bryant, 25, and Ernest Freeman, 21, the mission of SB+ is rather simple: to capture a “retro period in present day culture,” carrying top lifestyle brands endorsed by fashion’s most influential.
With merchandise generally priced as low as $5 for accessories and $140 for sneakers, the affordable SB+ was conceived nearly eight months ago by Wright and launched after observing how in-demand 80s-90s apparel is. Wright approached Bryant, her childhood friend, (now Creative Director for the brand) about coming on board. Bryant, who has a background in fashion modeling, PR and media, also has roots grounded in the music industry via her father, LeCoy Bryant (a former member of late 70s Funk band MassProduction) and mother, June Smith (a former journalist for Black Enterprise Magazine) agreed. Around that same time, Wright recruited Freeman, (now the head of Business Development) whom she met while in sales during a stint in corporate America. Wright is a Kean University dropout and a former Fortune 250 employee with a background in international business and finance.
Through weekly conference calls and meetings, often in the wee hours of the morning and late at night, the trio built the business that now thrives via both their brick and mortar and online presence. More and more, the team started seeing people wearing clothes from their boutique both in person and on social media, and they realized they were on to something special. The owner of FUBU, Daymond John, voiced his support in person to the team and it further solidified that they were on the right track. According to Wright, John praised the young entrepreneurs for excelling in a time when especially those who are female and of color aren’t allowed as many opportunities in the fashion industry. His advice was simple and heartfelt: keep going and follow your heart.
The SB team did just that and are astonished by how far their efforts have brought them in a relatively short amount of time. Sneakah Boutique services customers worldwide—as far as the UK and Japan–and this fall, they will launch a back to school partnership with the legendary clothing brand Cross Colours (worn by Rihanna, Drake, Dr. Dre, Snoop and Cyhi The Prynce) in which they are collaborating to produce their own designs. And that’s only the beginning.
EBONY.COM caught up with Wright and Bryant to get the scoop on their journey thus far and their keys to success.
EBONY: What have the past eight months been like as a budding business owners?
Whitney Bryant: It’s been a learning experience. It has been fulfilling and eye opening at the same time [laughs] because yes, you’re following your dreams and you’ve been blessed with a vision—you just have to figure out how to use the tools that you have. However, you have your mountains and your valleys. I feel like in terms of trial and error it’s been an amazing journey. I’m just trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t work, and how people respond to what we have to offer. It has allowed us to be creatively expressive and really share a part of who we are because this is a part of our lives every day.
EBONY: What differentiates SB from its competitors?
WB: We try to give our customers an experience from point to the point: there’s the mobile app, online store and the showroom—we’re trying to give them, across the board, an experience versus just, “hey you’re coming to buy clothes from this website”. You can come out, you can meet us, you can meet our celebrity ambassadors free of charge, you can mingle with other people that look like you—we really try to give our audience and our customers something that they can always be interested in.
Nailah Wright: We’re trying to make [this] cost-effective and relatable for everyone.
EBONY: How do you keep things affordable for the customers?
NW: You want to make sure you’re going to vendors that aren’t [expensive]. I never want to [create] a situation where kids are standing in lines all night long and spending the night, and paying $250 for a pair of shoes. I never want to be that brand. We want to be affordable yet stylish for the consumer.
WB: And still really popular. And that’s why a lot of celebrities that we watch and know are rocking these brands that we sell. Fashion is an expression, not a bill. It’s supposed to make you feel happy and make you feel good, and we want to give that in every possible way that we can.
EBONY: Is this a full time gig for you all?
NW: SB is 100% full time for all three partners. I brought it to their attention and they jumped on board. It’s a 24/7 thing.
EBONY: What was the leap for entrepreneurship like?
WB: We all had things we were doing before this. I was in fashion and modeling—pretty much all of my life I’ve always been in the entertainment industry because of my father and his background. However, it’s a passion of mine…it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. The transition was effortless. It was like “wow, you have creative control over where you want this to go”.
NW: I’ve always done like corporate sales and different things like that so I’ve kind of been an entrepreneur in that aspect—like commission where you can work and not be capped out. I’ve always done stuff like that. I’ve always been inspired by entrepreneurship and being able to own your own stuff…it’s always been in my blood.
EBONY: What has this journey taught you about yourself?
WB: I’ma keep it real honest: for me it’s almost been like a stripping of sorts where you are broken down to your absolute core. You have to be able to think on your feet; you have to faith in yourself –you gotta believe that you can do it. You have to keep the finish line, for me, in mind at all times because that is the motivation that’s going to keep pushing you on those days where you look up and think, “can I really do this?” And then you look up at all the accomplishments and goals that you set, [and] at the time you thought were small, and you’re like, “wow, I did that!” It’s almost like an adrenaline rush but a humbling experience at the same exact time; we are so young and stereotypes have been placed on us that have [brought about] roadblocks that have seemingly tried to hold us back [by] people who are uncomfortable about what we’re doing. It’s been more and more of confirmation that: nothing that was great happened and everyone loved it. You’re going to have to be able to follow that dream that you have in your mind.
NW: It’s taught me to have a lot of patience—when you’re dealing with coworkers, staff members and a lot of different personalities, vendors…a lot of patience that I didn’t even know I had. This whole journey has definitely taught me patience.
EBONY: What is one major obstacle that you all have faced on this journey and how did you work to overcome it?
WB: The obstacles are a part of the experience. We are young women and men in a male dominated industry that culturally has been owned by another culture. I’ve worked in a fashion a long time, a lot of what we wear “streetwear culture” has really been designed and created by those that might not even [look like us]. It’s so diverse and so global, it has actually changed the definition of what terms like “urban” and “young entrepreneur” mean. Everything that I think Naila has really tried to do has been phenomenal because you have to keep ahead of the curve that whole time because you’re
EBONY: What’s one of the greatest sacrifices that you’ve each had to make for this dream?
[Both women laugh.]
WB: Ohhhh, we have to sacrifice time with our families, relationships, personal lives. We have to kind of discern what matters most and what can be placed on hold.
NW: That’s the biggest thing that you have to sacrifice—your personal life. You have to wear so many different hats that you’re always sacrificing—you’re [even] sometimes forgetting to eat lunch and breakfast because you’re always in the middle of stuff.
EBONY: What advice would you give to other Black, Fresh & 20-Somethings?
NW: Follow your heart and do your research on what you’re getting involved in, the pros and cons, what it’s going to cost you and if there’s any competition.
WB: I would also add, before to make any decision on doing anything like this—starting [something] is your own—I would really tell people to decide and commit to marrying the journey before they even make the decision to go forward. You have to commit to the journey. If you’re not going to commit it’s not going to turn out the way you want.