It started with a Facebook post.
Curator and entrepreneur Shantrelle Lewis took to the social-media site to find sharp-dressed brothers for her exhibition, “The Dandy Lion Project.” When Tony Lawson, also an entrepreneur, responded to Lewis’ online query, the two quickly bonded over their shared history — they attended Howard University at the same time but never met on-campus — and a strong interest in business.
That connection soon turned into a relationship that blossomed in several ways. In November 2015, the couple launched Shoppe Black, a site that promotes Black-owned businesses and culture around the globe. And last month, Lewis and Lawson were married in a “Nigeria meets New Orleans” themed ceremony that Okayafrica dubbed “The Biggest, Blackest Wedding of All Time.”
EBONY spoke with the newlyweds about the site, working together as newlyweds and how Black businesses can become wealth generators.
EBONY: How did Shoppe Black come about?
Lawson: We both have an interest in creating wealth in the Black community and understand that business ownership is the way, or one of the ways, to create wealth. That being said, when the Mike Brown shooting happened, there were a lot of calls to action demanding a boycott of businesses that don’t respect Black dollars and the support of Black-owned businesses. We sat down and figured out, okay, what’s the best way for us to organize and let people know about the Black businesses that exist. We knew that there was a need for it. We’re always looking to support Black-owned businesses and this is a way to compile all that information in one place and make that information interesting and aesthetically pleasing.
EBONY: What is the company’s mission?
Lewis: Right now, we are providing content around Black money, thought, love and culture. In early 2017, we will launch the directory and business services. Our primary mission is to make the process of supporting Black-owned businesses, like our business easy, to make it exciting, to create power, give us a source of power within our community and within society at large. The sheer size of Black buying dollars is overwhelmingly powerful.
Lawson: Additionally, another goal of the company is to reduce the rate of Black business failure. Black businesses fail at a rate higher than all other businesses. We want to be a hub for Black business. The services and exposure we provide will help put them in a position where that rate will decrease. You may not know that, okay, there’s a Black-owned leather bag company, a water company or a toiletry company. Those companies are out there, and it’s our mission to let the people know that they do exist and support them.
EBONY: You’re both entrepreneurs (Lewis founded William +James, an online haberdashery) who are used to doing your own thing. What’s it like to run a business together as newlyweds?
Lewis: It’s hard. When you wake up to the person that you’re in these meetings with and you might not have the same ideas about how to go about doing something, it can be an easy job, but a lot of times, it’s a heavy job. How do I get across my point, but then also do it in a loving way? Where I’m not walking away with an attitude and he’s not walking away with an attitude. It’s a challenge, but I think that our principals are so aligned that it makes it easier.
At the end of the day, I know where his heart is, I know where his passions lie. I think it’s the same for me, in him.
Lawson: I do agree that it can be challenging. At the same time, it’s really gratifying to know that you’re working with somebody who has views and goals that align with yours. In the past, before I met her, I may have been dating someone who [I didn’t] have anything in common to when it comes to business. As an entrepreneur, most of the books that I read are about business. Most of the shows that I watch are about business.
Finding someone that you can actually have conversations and plan the future with, as it relates to a company and entrepreneurship and building wealth for us, and for our people, it’s really gratifying. I’m very grateful for that.
EBONY: Speaking of planning, you were married in November and that wedding looks like it was a blast! It’s also been dubbed as the “Biggest, Blackest Wedding of All Time.” What went into crafting such a dynamic event?
Lawson: We made a purposeful decision to ensure that the majority of vendors we hired were Black— and we accomplished that. Also, some of the core values and key components of Shoppe Black are Black love, Black culture and Black thought. Obviously, we’re Black people who are in love and expressing our love through showing the videos and our pictures to people created a special moment.
EBONY: Are you surprised that clips of the wedding went viral?
Lewis: We didn’t realize it was going to go viral — that wasn’t the intention. We both were just committed to people having a good time. I think we achieved that.