A day in the life of a 23-year-old, 6-figure-earning marketing entrepreneur who started as a waitress at Steak-n-Shake

Sherane Chen
Sherane Chen

At 16, Sherane Chen started her first job at Steak-n-Shake as a waitress. By the age of 21, she’d launched a business specializing in restaurant marketing. Today it earns six figures, and Chen also works full-time as a marketing lead.

She got here by gaining restaurant industry experience, studying marketing, and having the confidence and wherewithal to spot an opportunity to combine her two areas of expertise.

During and after college at the University of North Florida where she studied communications, Chen worked in restaurants. She made sure to build a savings, because she knew one day she wanted to start her own business.

After years as a waitress, she got a job in marketing at a local place called Oceanside Grill where she learned the operational aspects of the restaurant business. When she launched her own marketing firm focusing on social media management, graphic design, video creation, and hiring in 2019, Chen landed her first clients selling marketing services door to door.

“I would say, ‘hey I found your social and saw you weren’t active and I wanted to give you some tips on how you can get more customers in the door,'” she told Insider. She would leave behind her business card and wait for them to call.

Today her company has 17 clients and makes over six figures a year, according to documents provided to Insider. Chen also works full-time as a marketing lead at a business coaching company. To Insider she reveals what her typical day is like, from walks on the beach, to endless Zoom calls with clients.

She wakes up at 7 a.m. making her first of many cups of coffee

Chen’s day typically begins at 7 a.m.

The eponymous restaurant company she founded has always been remote, which has allowed her to work from wherever, whenever. It currently has two-full time staffers including a graphic designer, a social media manager, and a part-time copywriter.

Before the pandemic, Chen used to work from local coffee shops, but now that she’s working from home, she invested in a top-tier coffee machine that keeps her going throughout the day. “I truly don’t know a marketer who doesn’t love a good cup of coffee to get all of the creative juices flowing,” she added.

Sherane Chen

After having her coffee, she then either makes breakfast or “treats” herself to a breakfast from a restaurant nearby. “Whenever I eat out for breakfast I usually take my computer so I can work on a few things while I’m out,” she continued. “The area I live in is peaceful and not very crowded so it’s usually just me getting things done while enjoying pancakes, eggs, bacon, and whatever else I decide to have that day.”

Around 9 a.m. she prepares to Zoom with her clients

After finishing breakfast, she prepares for her meetings with clients, which have been happening over Zoom since the pandemic struck.

Normally, she said, she would meet them at their restaurant to work on rebranding various parts of it, such as the menu, or develop new general marketing strategies. “We work on the strategy together and then I re-assign to my employees who took over most of the tactical things for me,” she said.

This part usually takes up most of her day. Meanwhile, Chen also makes ads for her own business, which she then runs on platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook to help attract new clients.

Aside from running her own company, Chen also spends her day working as marketing and sales lead for a business coaching company called The Unstoppable Entrepreneur owned by Kelly Roach. Chen has worked there for nearly two years and makes six figures there, as well. For that company, she helps manage the marketing team, ads, and helps coach Roach’s clients on the various aspects of marketing.

Chen always finds time to take a ‘breather’ during the day

Like most, her workload depends on what day she is having. “It’s not the same every day,” she said. “Some days are super chill and others are hectic. All holidays are really busy, and the start of each season – spring, summer, fall, and winter.”

Once Chen finishes the bulk of her workload, typically after lunch or in the early evening, she goes to get some fresh air. Her favorite place to go is the beach because it’s close to where she lives. “Taking a walk along the beach really helps to clear my head and gives me the boost of energy I need after being on the screen for so long,” she said.

Sherane Chen

Often during the day, Chen hops on the phone with her mentor Bruno DiFabio, a pizza chef who’s been helping her “learn the ropes” of the restaurant business for the past two years. Together they chat about ways to help grow her business.

And he isn’t the only mentor Chen has had these past few years – at 19, she met local business owner Nate Mayo, who does social media marketing and photography for various Jacksonville-based restaurants, and has a viral Instagram account that highlights popular food places in the area. Chen snagged an internship with Mayo around 2016 and began working for him, which inspired her to launch her own company.

Chen also counts Roach as a mentor as well. “Kelly has taught me how to be resilient and how to be the best what you do,” she said. “She taught me how to work for the things I want and never give up.”

After her ‘breather’ she goes straight back to work

She typically holds more meetings with restaurant owners throughout the evening, especially since the “lunch rush” is finished, which is usually around 2 p.m. She also continues assignments for Roach’s company.

Chen says to manage the workload of having two jobs she makes sure to always take some time off. She books vacations and takes breathers such as the walk above. Chen also sometimes gets up an hour early to clear her head and prepare herself to stay focused for the day ahead.

After her breather, she usually goes back to work but likes to make a “quick snack.” She likes to recreate YouTube recipes, such as the snack she made pictured below. “I found this on Youtube years ago and have been eating it ever since,” she said. “Brown rice cakes, almond butter, and chia seeds are really filling and hit the spot when you are not a big lunch person.”

Sherane Chen
A snack

Around 6 p.m. she takes photographs outside

Chen’s favorite time of the day is “golden hour” – around 6 p.m. when the sky is a golden-tinted yellow. Chen takes advantage of the good quality light to take photographs of food she is seeking to help advertise.

Sometimes she has to hire someone to help her do it, as work can get busy. “I don’t really get a chance to do food photography anymore,” she said. “When I do have time to go, I love it.”

She eats dinner around 7:30, this day choosing to grab Mediterranean food. Afterward, she spends time studying – reading new books to help her gain knowledge in different areas outside of marketing. She’s currently reading “Zig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale” by Zig Ziglar and “Spin Selling” by Neil Rackham.

Sherane Chen

She goes to bed around 11 p.m.

Chen says she doesn’t really “finish” work until around 11 pm. “People always need me all day,” she said, of her marketing exec job. “It’s a management role so I always get my team texting me at all hours.”

But when the calls finally stop and the text messages slow down, Chen has time to think about her next business idea – a podcast agency that helps brands and entrepreneurs achieve success in podcasting. She’s already started running ads for the venture.

“I’m working toward seven streams of income to be a millionaire by 2025,” she said, adding that she has a dream board of other projects she would like to helm. Asked about possible burnout, Chen let her ambition answer for her. “Just keep your focus on what you’re working hard for,” she said. “If you want it bad enough, you’ll make it happen.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

The creator of a $150 purse beloved by AOC and Oprah is revolutionizing “it bags” by making them accessible to everyone. Against all odds, it’s working.

Telfar

Tianni Graham, 27, remembers the “before times” – that is, the harrowing months before Telfar introduced its Bag Security Program.

It was early last summer and she, along with thousands of others, was stuck testing their luck each day trying to buy the wildly popular Telfar handbag whose celeb fans include Oprah, Selena Gomez, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Solange. But they often sold out before anyone could click ‘check out.’

It turns out, robots and resellers were buying products in bulk, making it harder for real customers to purchase them. So, last summer, Telfar introduced its Bag Security Program, in hopes of giving customers better access to its bags by allowing patrons 24 hours to pre-order any bag on the site, with no limits on how many can be purchased. The bag is then made to order, and shipped directly to the customer.

Its first drop, which happened last August, brought in about $20 million – about 10x what Telfar made in all of 2019.

Suddenly, Graham, who is also a fashion archivist and consultant, had her green Telfar bag. It arrived right before Christmas and was a “present to myself,’ she told Insider, adding that other brands could benefit from implementing a similar program. “It would make things so much easier and make the customer feel like you care.”

The program’s success shows how a luxury brand can create accessibility without losing the allure of exclusivity. The old-school model for luxury brands states the product should be scarce and elite, but the next generation of high-end consumers and entrepreneurs are taking a different route.

Teflar is rewriting the rules of luxury, and this time, it’s not too hard for other brands to follow suit.

Telfar ‘white glove treatment’ is what next-gen luxury shoppers crave

Young consumers look less at price tags and more at brand values when determining where to spend their money; these next-gen consumers want sustainability, inclusivity, and a sense of community. The new “white glove treatment” when it comes to luxury shopping is a speedy online checkout from a brand that cares.

For Telfar’s latest drop this week, customers had the option to use the payment installment plan Klarna, making it even easier for those looking to obtain a bag. While customers will have to wait a few months before receiving the bag, people often spend years on a Birkin bag “waiting list” and most will probably never get one.

Shortly before Telfar’s program ended this week, a spokesperson for the brand told Insider it was, already, “going very well.”

Telfar started with an aim of inclusive luxury

Telfar was founded in 2005 by its eponymous founder Telfar Clemens and has dedicated the past two decades to building an inclusive business model.

In 2014, it released its now-iconic vegan leather handbag, which takes inspiration from a Bloomingdale’s shopping bag. The bags became widely available around 2018 after Telfar won $400,000 from the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, allowing the company to expand production.

Clemens described his brand to The Cut as being “genderless, democratic, and transformative,” purposely seeking to challenge the notion that high fashion is only for a certain group of people, with the brand motto being “Not For You – For Everyone.”

Telfar

Now, Telfar bags come in three sizes, with prices ranging from $150 to $257. (For comparison, Birkin bags go for at least $12,000 while Black-owned luxury brands such as Brother Veilles go for at least $1,295.)

As reported by FT, handbag sales in the US declined 18% between 2016 and 2019. Yet, Telfar stood out – in 2016, the brand earned $102,000, growing to earn $2 million in 2019. Last year, New York Magazine deemed its bag the “Bushwick Birkin” and the brand was on pace to earn eight figures, even as the fashion industry was expected to take a 90% loss in profits due to the pandemic.

Boston Consulting Group’s Head of Luxury Sarah Willersdorf told Insider that Telfar has checked all the boxes on what it takes to connect with next-gen luxury shoppers. She said the brand has a narrative that “evokes emotion” and properly intertwines timelessness, creative partnerships, and culturally relevant authorities. GQ pointed out Telfar’s customer base was built, not through influencers, but through “customer aspiration alone.”

Telfar
Telfar Clemens.

Raising the bar for next-gen luxury

Brands like Telfar are important in proving accessible business models can be just as lucrative. Willersdorf expects other brands to follow similar strategies in a post-pandemic world, as shopping continues to pivot online.

In the old days – a pre-millennial world, perhaps – having too much of a product is thought to dilute its value. The Bag Security program defies that. But even the most tech-savvy luxury brand is often behind the curve, as Insider has previously reported.

“Luxury brands are always nervous,” Joseph Yakuel, CEO and founder of consulting firm Within, told Insider last year. “There’s so much risk to them tarnishing their brand reputation because luxury brand price points are only supported by their perception, and if their brand perception goes down market, their price point gets eroded very quickly.”

Clemens and his artistic director, Babak Radboy, said they aren’t worried about oversaturation. It’s about community, now. The new “white glove treatment” is making sure everybody gets a pair that fits perfectly.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The new CEO of Diddy’s Revolt TV wants to make it the world’s largest Black-owned media empire

Detavio Samuels
Detavio Samuels.

  • Detavio Samuels, 40, is the new CEO of Diddy’s Revolt.
  • He wants to help expand the network’s coverage of social justice.
  • To Insider, he discusses the state of Black media, and the future he wants to help build.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

There’s an African proverb that Detavio Samuels keeps in the back of his mind: Until the lion learns to tell his own story, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

“It’s a proverb about how, as long as you don’t control your own narrative, someone is always going to set themselves up to be the victor,” Samuels told Insider.

He thinks about the proverb often, because “that’s what we’ve had for centuries,” he said. “There are Black stories not being told because the power isn’t with the people who are authentic and inside the culture.”

On March 3, Samuels, 40, was announced the newest CEO of Revolt TV, the cable network owned by hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, which specializes in creating music-themed content for Black audiences.

Founded in 2013, it is one of the few Black-owned cable networks and was previously helmed by Roma Khanna until she resigned as CEO in July. Revolt is broadcasted in over 60 million households and is known for its popular show “State of the Culture,” in which Joe Budden, Remy Ma, and Eboni K. Williams discuss pop culture and politics.

In addition to the robust schedule of entertainment programming, as CEO, Samuels wants to bolster content addressing important topics in the Black community, such as socioeconomic discrimination, intersectional feminism, and wellness.

In April the network launched Revolt Black News, and Samuels wants to expand its coverage to highlight activists, center Black women, and focus on investigative and breaking news. Later this year Revolt TV will be offered on more television and mobile platforms, such as Apple TV, Roku, Android, and iOS. Currently, about 75 to 100 people work at the company, and Samuels is planning to expand that, too.

There are plans for a possible podcast, too. “The dream is that we will be the largest Black-owned media company in the world,” he said. “So we’re doing it.”

On the same day of Samuels’ appointment, Revolt also announced Colin McIntosh as COO and CFO, and Deon Graham as chief brand officer of Combs Enterprise.

Revolt’s social justice

Too often Black people become the antagonists of their own stories. In 2017, Color of Change found that major news outlets regularly, and disproportionately, depict Black families as dysfunctional, while white families are often shown as stable.

REVOLT TV
Poster for the new REVOLT show “Crew League” in which hip hop stars and their friends compete against each other.

The same study also found that media outlets are more likely to portray Black men as absentee fathers, despite research arguing the opposite, and that although Black family members make up 26% of those arrested on criminal charges, they represent 37% of criminals in the news. White people are portrayed as criminals only 28% of the time even though they constitute 77% of crime suspects, according to Color of Change.

“Much what of we’ve seen of how Black people are depicted is through the white gaze – it’s how non-Black people see us,” Sofiya Abena Ballin, an award-winning journalist, and creator of Black History Untold, told Insider.

“Black people are seen as a threat, as a stereotype, or as a caricature,” she continued. “Black media has been trying to consistently undo that work. That’s why it’s important to have us there.”

The past century has seen the creation of outlets such as Black newspapers, radio stations, and networks seeking to communicate information and tell the stories of the Black community. In the era of social media, there are more opportunities for people to become the narrators of their own truths.

Ballin said that gatekeeping and diversity are only part of the story. Black people need to support each other as well, she said, giving the example of many Black celebrities who may decide to pass over Black media in lieu of a large, mainstream outlet.

“When you complain about how you’re depicted, it’s because you go to the ‘popular mainstream’ news outlets that you deem to be more valuable and are not owned and run by Black people,” Ballin said. “But they don’t have a true understanding of who you are as a person.”

‘This is the moment’

Samuels has come a long way from the rocky mountains. He was born in Boulder, grew up in Denver, and graduated from Duke University in 2002 with a B.A. in political science.

In 2006, Samuels earned an MBA and a Master’s degree from Stanford University. From 2005 to 2007 he worked in marketing roles at Johnson & Johnson and GlobalHue before pivoting to advertising and digital media at RadioOne as president of its subsidiary, iOne.

But in late 2019, Samuels wasn’t sure he wanted to work at Revolt because he wasn’t too interested in giving up his presidential control at iOne.

The turning point of Samuels’ career came when Samuels’ father died last year. His father was a professor of African American literature at the University of Utah and instilled in his son the importance of Black liberation.

Walking out of his father’s funeral, Samuels decided it was time to dedicate his career to a cause. He went back to the Revolt team as chief operating officer and began his rise through the network’s ranks. His first day was the same day George Floyd was killed.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The return of Ebony magazine: After a $14 million buyout, its new millennial owner talks a historic relaunch

Eden Bridgeman
Eden Bridgeman.

In the early 1990s, Eden Bridgeman sat underneath a hairdryer in a Louisville beauty shop. She was just a child then and wanted to look pristine for Easter Sunday.

Next to the hairdryer stood a rack of magazines. Among them, a beautiful Black woman graced a glossy cover. She picked it up and flipped through its pages. This was one of her first encounters with Ebony magazine. 

As a pastime, Bridgeman studied Ebony, as so many Black girls did in hair salons, in their grandmother’s living room, and on their auntie’s kitchen counter.  

With glamorous celebrities and public figures like Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, and Michelle Obama on the covers, Ebony portrayed Black women at their finest. “These were our superstars,” Bridgeman, 34, said. “The people driving the culture.”

Now, after a tumultuous 75-year history, which has seen a decline in the appetite for print products and the bankruptcy of Ebony Media Corporation, Bridgeman is the magazine’s latest owner, as well as the mastermind behind its rebranding.

On March 1st, Ebony relaunched. 

Ebony was founded in 1945 by publisher John Johnson and during the 1960s, the publication earned acclaim for its coverage of the civil rights movement. Ebony’s diminutive, sister magazine, Jet, was founded in 1951 by Johnson. For nearly six decades, the two publications defined Black culture with their in-depth profiles of such figures as civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael, Diana Ross, and its insightful coverage of the AIDS epidemic. In the 1980s, their circulation topped an impressive 1 million.

Ebony Magazine
Martin Luther King Jr. on the cover of Ebony Magazine in 1968.

Then came the 21st century, and financial woes struck the lorded publications. Both magazines suffered years of declining subscriptions and ad revenue. In 2016, Ebony and Jet were sold to private equity firm CV Media, and in 2019, both publications stopped printing physical copies. In July, Willard Jackson, the magazine’s CEO, was removed after an internal investigation of unauthorized use of company funds. 

Shortly after Jackson’s leave, Bridgeman’s father presented the family with an idea: he wanted to buy Ebony and Jet. Bridgeman was interested immediately.

To start planning, Bridgeman was introduced to former CNN and BET executive Michele Ghee through mutual friends. They spoke about what the future of Ebony and Jet could look like. A few days later, Ebony Media Operations filed for bankruptcy. 

In December, the Bridgeman family won the bid to buy Ebony and Jet for $14 million. Soon after the deal was closed, Ghee was officially appointed CEO and planned a relaunch for March. This gave them a month to organize Ebony’s rebirth. 

Jet is scheduled to relaunch in June. 

‘We’re a 75-year-old startup’

The new Ebony, Bridgeman said, has three core values: to be bold, brilliant, and beloved.

The magazine has at least a dozen people on staff. Both Ebony and Jet will be entirely digital endeavors, and there are no plans for either to return to print. Bridgeman’s day-to-day is ever-changing. She’s on calls, meeting with advertisers, and assisting in finding partners and contributors for the magazine. 

Ebony cover
The new Ebony cover, released March 1, featuring artwork by Jon Moody.

She tells Insider that throughout her years as a business professional, she’s come to appreciate the idea of servant leadership – the notion that she, as the leader, is not bigger than any entity. A title is just a title. 

“You have to understand every aspect within the business,” she said. “You [have to] show up in a way that people feel they can approach you. They [must] feel that they can work with you, not only just for you.” 

Purchasing the assets out of bankruptcy meant Bridgeman had an obligation to make sure her business strategies could sustain themselves, she said. And she’s been emphasizing the power of the Black dollar to advertisers, which was valued at over $1 trillion in 2019

“You are going to want to tap into that power,” she said. 

Rather than go back to print, Ebony will funnel money into the magazine’s technological expansion. “We’re a 75-year-old startup,” Bridgeman joked.”There’s plenty of room across the media space for all of us to live. We want to lift each other up.” 

Ebony’s first digital cover features a painting by artist Jon Moody, which portrays a woman with her locs flowing in the air. Tanisha Ford, historian and author of “Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion” is excited for the relaunch. 

Growing up, it seemed every Black family in Ford’s life had a subscription to Ebony and Jet. Often spread out on coffee tables, the magazines became a collector’s item – a generational touchstone. 

That was then, however, and Ford is curious to see how the magazine will establish brand loyalty in the modern age.

Jet Magazine
Eartha Kitt on the cover of Jet Magazine in 1955.

“I think about folks who are finishing high school and on the verge of college,” Ford told Insider. “It doesn’t mean the same thing for them – they don’t have the same kind of nostalgia of having an aunt pass down old Ebony magazines in the same ways that I do.”

The next 75 years

Bridgeman was born in Los Angeles and raised in Louisville. Since 2009, she’s been working for her family’s company, Manna Inc., which owns hundreds of restaurants throughout the United States, including 130 Wendy’s locations. In 2013, she completed her MBA at Loyola University Chicago-Quinlan School of Business. She was named chief marketing officer of Manna Inc. in 2017, a position she will retain as she oversees the relaunch of Ebony and Jet.

Bridgeman wants Jet to produce fast-paced news targeted toward millennials, and there are plans to bring back its beloved Beauty of the Week section, which highlights beautiful, successful Black women. 

That section was an early memory for entrepreneur Maori Karmael Holmes, founder and artistic director of BlackStar Film Festival, who also recalls seeing Ebony and Jet magazines scattered throughout the homes of both her grandmothers. Last year, Holmes launched her own print journal, Seen, which focuses on filmmaking.

She is also hopeful for the relaunch, pointing out that Ebony was essential to opening the doors of Black writers, and gave Black entrepreneurs a chance to advertise their businesses. “I hope for the next seventy-five years, it can be a relevant chronicler of Black culture,” Holmes said.

There’s a chance for that – Ebony already has a million followers on Instagram. “We want to make sure this is successful,” Bridgeman said. “We’re sitting on 75 years of history. If we aren’t able to maintain the business, then what good are we going to be for our community?”

Read the original article on Business Insider

WATCH: Next-Gen founders talk racial equity in tech, and share insight on navigating the industry

Racial equity in tech has become a major talking point this past year, but has that talk been paired with action? 

In the United States, still only about 1% of Black entrepreneurs receive funding for their businesses. In 2018, TechCrunch reported over 80% of VC firms don’t have one Black investor, and though about 13% of the US population is Black, only about 4% of the VC industry identifies as African American, Bloomberg reported.

After calls for racial justice swept the nation last summer, Insider wanted to know if anything has changed for Black founders looking to find their footing in the tech industry. 

So, we spoke to them. 

On Thursday, February 25, Insider’s reporter Dominic-Madori Davis chatted with  Realtime CEO and cofounder Vernon Coleman, Yac cofounder Jordan Walker, and Cashmere cofounder Urenna Okonkwo about their journeys in tech and the future they wish to see in the industry. Okonkwo, who is based in the United Kingdom, also gave her perspective as to what it’s like raising money as a Black entrepreneur across the pond. 

Together, the trio shared advice for aspiring founders on how to navigate the industry, as well as lessons they wish they knew when they began their entrepreneurial journeys.  

You can watch the full digital event above. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

SIGN UP HERE FOR OUR LIVE EVENT ON THURSDAY: Next-Gen founders on racial equity and inclusion in tech

insider events racial equity in tech 2x1
(L-R) Urenna Okonkwo, Jordan Walker, Vernon Coleman

The Black Lives Matter protests last summer helped fuel a new drive for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. But how far have we come since then? And how much farther do we have to go? 

Every industry in Corporate America has its own issues to grapple with. Insider is taking a deep dive into tech to talk to Next-Gen founders about racial equity and inclusion in this industry. 

On Thursday, February 25th at 12 PM ET, Insider’s entrepreneur reporter Dominic-Madori Davis will moderate a panel featuring Vernon Coleman, CEO and cofounder of the video networking app Realtime, Jordan Walker cofounder of the audio messaging app Yac, and Urenna Okonkwo, founder of the finance app Cashmere.

They’ll talk about their journeys in Silicon Valley and tech, the importance of mentorship, access to capital, and opportunities for Black founders looking to launch businesses.

They will also take questions from the audience. 

You can sign up here to watch. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

SIGN UP HERE FOR OUR LIVE EVENT ON FEB. 25: Next-Gen founders on racial equity and inclusion in tech

insider events racial equity in tech 2x1
(L-R) Urenna Okonkwo, Jordan Walker, Vernon Coleman

The Black Lives Matter protests last summer helped fuel a new drive for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. But how far have we come since then? And how much farther do we have to go? 

Every industry in Corporate America has its own issues to grapple with. Insider is taking a deep dive into tech to talk to Next-Gen founders about racial equity and inclusion in this industry. 

On Thursday, February 25th at 12 PM ET, Insider’s entrepreneur reporter Dominic-Madori Davis will moderate a panel featuring Vernon Coleman, CEO and cofounder of the video networking app Realtime, Jordan Walker cofounder of the audio messaging app Yac, and Urenna Okonkwo, founder of the finance app Cashmere.

They’ll talk about their journeys in Silicon Valley and tech, the importance of mentorship, access to capital, and opportunities for Black founders looking to launch businesses.

They will also take questions from the audience. 

You can sign up here to watch. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

Michelle Obama’s stylist and 12 Black professionals on the former First Lady’s fashion legacy and the art of power dressing

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama

  • Throughout the years, Michelle Obama has become a style icon. 
  • Her stylist, Meredith Koop, has helped Obama become the noted fashion icon she is today. 
  • Koop and Black professionals weighed in on the lasting impact of Obama’s style and what it says about power dressing. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Daniella Carter said if she’s learned one thing from Michelle Obama’s style, it’s what an unapologetic Black successful woman looks like “even when there are people in the world spewing hate.” 

Carter is a Black trans activist and founder of the eponymous “Guest Book” which highlights creators of color. 

She grew up in foster care but said seeing Obama “suited-and-booted” made her always remember that though she may not have had a mother who looked like her, she would learn to carry herself so that she and her future daughter could both grow up to be unapologetic Black, successful women. 

She’s not the only one who feels this way. 

Meredith Koop
Meredith Koop

After Obama’s 2021 inauguration look that left the internet in a daze, Insider reached out to her stylist, Meredith Koop, as well as ten Black professionals to talk about how Obama’s style has influenced them.  Koop helped craft the image of how a Black woman looks co-hosting a state dinner, visiting the Queen of England, going on a book tour, and, most recently, at President Biden’s inauguration.

 “She’s incredible at what she says, what she does, how much she cares. We all know this, and most of us agree,” Koop told Insider about Obama. “The legacy is her. The clothing is that extra element that is transcendent in nonverbal communication.” 

What a powerful Black woman looks like

“When I saw Mrs. Obama show up to the inauguration for President Biden, I was in awe – her hair was laid and her dress slayed – even in a mask,” DeShuna Spencer, founder and CEO of the Black media streaming service KweliTV, told Insider. 

Spencer said Obama has come to exemplify what a “powerful Black woman looks like.”

Sandrine Charles, a consultant, and cofounder of the Black in Fashion Council, told Insider the inauguration look was also one of her all-time favorites. “She always has had a presence of royalty,” Charles said of Mrs. Obama. 

Eric Darnell Pritchard, fashion historian and Brown Chair in English literacy at the University of Arkansas, told Insider that Obama’s style is inextricably linked with her accomplishments, and “many Black people appreciate that self-authorship.”

“The ‘Forever First Lady‘ designation people bestow upon her is more than a term of endearment,” Pritchard continued. “It is a testament to how valuable her representation has been to the Black community.” 

Michelle Obama
Pritchard said authenticity is probably for which Mrs. Obama will be remembered.

Koop styled Obama with tactical precision 

There was no blueprint for how a Black First Lady should look. There had never been one before. 

Styling the former First Lady was – and still is – a tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon. A delicate balance between looking good, but not too good. Obama’s outfit can never overpower her voice, Koop said. 

Even with Obama long out of the White House, Koop still anticipates what people will say – how a dress was too loose-fitting, or how a color scheme didn’t match. Koop figures she probably wouldn’t have to incorporate such styling precision if Obama was white. 

“It’s just obvious,” Koop said. “The way that the press in particular, and the media and different individuals construed her appearance into something negative – that was happening right from the beginning.” 

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama wearing a Tracy Reese dress

Fashion designer Tracy Reese, who has worked with Koop and dressed Obama on numerous occasions, told Insider she noticed there was always a very clear vision for how Obama would look.

“In the public consciousness the First Lady is always either in a suit or something very conservative,” Reese said. “Mrs. Obama really broke the mold in terms of how she chose to dress.” 

She wasn’t afraid to show her feminine side and wear beautiful dresses, Reese continued. There was softness, optimism, and color. “We hadn’t seen that in the White House, probably ever,” she said.  

Koop’s precise execution of Obama’s style paid off. The model Shavone Charles, known as SHAVONE. and also director of communications and creative partnerships at image-sharing app VSCO, called Koop and Obama the last decade’s “most dynamic duo.” 

“For me and many other Black women, we look at Mrs. Obama and we see ourselves,” she said and pointed to the white Tom Ford gown Mrs. Obama wore to the state banquet at Buckingham palace in 2011 as one of her favorites.

Michelle Obama
L-R) Queen Elizabeth II, US President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive for a state banquet at Buckingham Palace on May 24, 2011 in London, England. (

That inauguration look exuded power 

Nearly everyone Insider spoke with had a favorite outfit. Koop loves the rose-colored Atelier Versace gown Obama wore to her last state dinner as First Lady in 2016, while Pritchard is a fan of the black Vera Wang mermaid gown she wore to the 2015 China state dinner. 

Then, of course, there’s that inauguration look, designed by Sergio Hudson, a Black designer from New York. Haitian American photographer Geraldine Jeannot called the look a moment of style and grace. 

Black people are always “placed in a box” and judged heavily on their appearances, Jeannot said. “That day, Mrs. Obama was power walking into the room.” 

michelle obama inauguration
Former US President Barack Obama and Former US First Lady Michelle Obama arrive for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th US President on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

Koop broke down for Insider the wineberry plum outfit, which came from one of Hudson’s latest runway collections. Hudson did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.  

Koop wanted dark colors, jewel tones. A monochrome look.  She requested some changes to the original ensemble: pants instead of a skirt and a less-shiny coat lining. A matte lining deflected camera flashes and made the belt stand out. The sweater turned into a bodysuit with a zipper in the back, so Obama didn’t have to pull it over her head, the boots were Stuart Weitzman, the matching gloves and mask were by tailor Christy Rilling

Producer and former stock trader Lauren Simmons knows what it’s like to occupy historically white spaces. 

She was the second African American woman to become a full-time trader at the New York Stock Exchange and said the way Obama uses style to exude power inspires her and is something she seeks to emulate.

“There have been many women throughout history who have had impeccable style,” she said. “But to see a Black woman do it fearlessly, and graciously is power in itself.” 

High-profile women using clothing to start conversations

Simmons and SHAVONE. said that Obama’s style helped usher in the era of powerful women wearing clothes to be both seen and heard. Simmons agreed with this sentiment and pointed to Meghan Markle as an example of a high-profile woman using clothing to start conversations

Pritchard added that the latest generation of politicians has also adopted this. Women, now more than ever, are bracing authenticity. 

Even during the White House years, Koop would work closely with designers to craft what a modern First Lady looks like. Some would already come with ideas in mind, but many of those ideas had to do with Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

“She was a white woman from a certain background, and Michelle is a Black woman from a different background,” Koop said. “I felt like the best thing would be to reflect the authenticity of Michelle in her own right.” 

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama wearing head-to-toe Balenciaga.

That meant Jason Wu gowns, lots of J. Crew, and, after the White House, custom Balenciaga glitter boots. In politics, there was a heavy blueprint in how women, especially, were supposed to look. 

“Mrs. Obama certainly inspires how I dress,” Illinois Congresswoman Lauren Underwood told Insider. At the age of 34, she is currently the youngest Black woman serving in Congress. 

“Her influence is most pronounced as I prepare for the rare formal events that I’ve attended as a member of Congress. It’s so difficult to be modest and still stylish and Mrs. Obama always nailed it.” 

Christopher Lacy, assistant professor of fashion management at Parsons, said Koop styled Obama in a way that celebrated the “female aesthetic” and felt she never sought to hide her height or athleticism, and instead, selected clothes that accentuated those attributes. 

“What Meredith and Michelle have done together is show the world what millions of Black women and men have known for years,” Lacy continued. “That the Black silhouette is not confined to the borders of Eurocentric misconceptions”

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama. Spencer, who has been wearing her hair naturally for over a decade, said it makes her feel product when Mrs. Obama wears her naturally curly hair in such public spaces.

Carter and Pritchard expressed similar sentiments. Carter added that before, the only Black bodies deemed to be powerful were those of entertainers, and that “it felt revolutionary to see someone not playing a character, sending a message to our communities and culture that Black chic, sexy, smart, and beautiful women are not just Hollywood roles.”

Underwood says Obama’s fashion legacy will manifest in a generation of powerful women freely expressing themselves using any colors, patterns, textures, designers, and hairstyles they want.

“No matter whether the clothing came off the clearance rack or if it’s a one-of-a-kind custom design,” she continued. “She shows us how to bring our full selves to the world stage, one incredibly accessible ensemble at a time.” 

Read the original article on Business Insider

Meet ‘Bling Empire’s’ haute couture collector, who’s bringing wealthy Asian American Angelenos to Netflix

Christine Chiu
Christine Chiu.

  • Christine Chiu is a producer, philanthropist, collector of haute couture, and cofounder of Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery, with her husband, Dr. Gabriel Chiu.
  • Chiu typically attends at least 30 fashion shows a year, and tries to buy something from each (haute couture can cost over $100,000).
  • Her lifestyle will be on display in her Netflix show, “Bling Empire,” which chronicles the lives of wealthy Asian Americans in LA.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

One day, Christine Chiu was speaking to a friend, telling her how much she loved an outfit she’d seen during a fashion show. It was a piece of haute couture, of course. Each one of those is unique, one-of-a-kind, and therefore can only be sold once. It’s also usually quite expensive. Chiu had to get her hands on it.

“I discovered later that [my friend] had changed her appointment time with the fashion house ahead of mine so that she could purchase it first,” Chiu told Insider. “I learned quickly that all is fair in love and couture.”

Not every company can say it makes haute couture. In France, it’s regulated by the Ministry of Industry, which chooses which brands are true emblems of the craft. 

Read more: Inside wealthy kids’ weird, pricey pandemic purchases, from $1,000 Patagonia fleeces to a $31.8 million T. rex

Chiu attended her first haute couture show at the age of 26 and remembers it clearly. She was bright-eyed and filled with excitement. “I was immediately transported to an era of ultimate luxury and refinement,” she said, “and fell in love with these museum-worthy pieces of wearable art.”

During the pandemic, Chiu said her methods for shopping haven’t changed, but her perception of what it means to responsibly consume luxury has. She said she found herself with a great incentive to spend money on brands that took a moral stance. 

For example, Chiu paid close attention when Burberry used its trench coat factories to make hospital gowns, and when Valentino and Balmain donated millions to the COVID-19 relief effort. She also watched to see how companies responded to the Black Lives Matter protests. 

There are rules to this haute couture game

A typical, non-pandemic year sees Chiu attending about 30 shows a year – or about 15 shows per fashion season. She usually buys something from each show and has amassed a collection that includes gowns, capes, accessories, and even shoes. 

Christine Chiu
Christine Chiu attends the ‘Stephane Rolland’ Paris Shows-Fall/Winter 2017-2018 show as part of Haute Couture Paris Fashion Week.

Pieces of couture can easily cost over $100,000 and Chiu said, without naming a price, that her most expensive pieces cost “more than the median cost of a home in the US.” That was more than $300,000 as of the summer of 2020. They cost “less than a Jeff Koons piece of work,” she clarified – the most recent of those just publicly sold for $91 million

A glimpse of her jet-set lifestyle can be seen on her new Netflix show “Bling Empire” which premiered on January 15. The show chronicles the lives of successful Asians and Asian Americans, from various cultural and professional backgrounds, living in Los Angeles. It will feature DJ Kim Lee, investor Kane Lim, and Jaime Xie, daughter of billionaire Fortinet founder Ken Xie.

Chiu is a producer on the show and told Insider that she wanted to show the journey of herself and her husband – with whom she founded Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery in 2006 – in balancing western expectations with eastern values and traditions. 

Chiu’s journey began in Taiwan, where she was born. (She moved to the United States when she was 5 years old.) Her husband, on the other hand, is from Hong Kong, and he came to the US at the age of 2.

“Bling Empire” will show the Chiu family as philanthropists, raising awareness for their favorite charities and organizations; as world voyagers living a jet-set life, and of course, in lots of couture. “It was an incredible experience full of laughter and tears for me,” Lee told Insider about her experience working on the show, adding that Chiu “definitely knows how to throw the best parties.”

Knowing how to throw a good party is a staple skill on the jet-set circuit. In fact, Chiu said one of the main reasons she buys haute couture is for events – weddings, red carpets, film festivals. That’s all changed with the pandemic, however. But let’s pretend, just for a moment, that it’s the year 2019. 

This would see Chiu in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Those are just the big named fashion cities, not including the trips that come in between. Each city has its own fashion houses, and each house – whether it’s Chanel, Givenchy, Armani, or Christian Dior – has its respective traditions, and desired protocols.

Christine Chiu
Christine Chiu attends the Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2019 2020 show as part of Paris Fashion Week.

Generally, Chiu said, the experience of buying haute couture starts like this: each house gives a presentation, commonly known as a fashion show. From there, the game begins.

Clients of haute couture have to be invited, as reported by The Wall Street Journal’s Christina Binkley, and they are usually introduced by someone who knows someone super well-connected to an haute couture house.

During fashion weeks, these invite-only individuals are allowed to book private appointments to get a second look at what was shown at the presentations. 

“Some houses would hire a model [to] ‘re-model’ the client’s selected pieces,” Chiu said. “While in other circumstances, the designer walk meets with clients to discuss [their] inspiration and make personal recommendations.”  

Once the potential buyer selects their favorite look, they can suggest further customizations to the outfit.

After a deposit is put down, the person waits six to 12 months for the piece to be produced.

During this time, there are at least two to three fittings to make sure the look is all coming together as desired, Chiu said. 

Read more: MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, gave away more than $4 billion over the last 4 months to help those affected economically by the pandemic

There are a few rules to the game, however. For one, it’s a faux pas to ask about price – or discounts, for that matter. And sometimes fashion houses will only sell one look per country. Chiu told Harper’s Bazaar that when she can’t get an outfit as an American, then she’ll try to buy a Taiwanese citizen, promising to only wear the outfit in that country.

Trying to buy haute couture with morals 

Before the pandemic, Chiu said she always tried to find a way to use fashion to highlight social justice causes. Even before the pandemic, she said she would request fashion houses to donate a percentage of her purchase to an organization they both support, which, she said, has led to contributions to further AIDS research, education, and increased access to medicine for impoverished communities.

Her Netflix show is also being used as a vehicle to highlight some of her favorite charities and organizations, she said. The show went into development in early 2018 and upon its premiere, became one of the few shows to have an all-Asian ensemble. Participants hail from various cultural backgrounds, including Vietnamese, Singaporean, and Korean.

Christine Chiu
Christine Chiu alongside her husband and her son.

Chiu said the original premise of the show had nothing to do with showcasing wealth; rather, it was primarily about revealing the cultural pressures, morals, values, and expectations Asians living in the United States are often confronted with. That doesn’t mean wealth won’t be on display, however, even if the scenes on-screen are much different than the reality Chiu finds herself living. 

Snuggled up in Los Angeles, there isn’t sweatpant couture, yet. Chiu said she’s buying sunglasses, bathing suits, sneakers, and exercise attire. She’ll be, probably on the couch, watching her show like the rest of us, sporting high-quality, sustainably sourced, comfort clothing.

“After all,” she said. “The thought of running through Erewhon [Market] in platform Louboutins, lugging a Himalayan Birkin is very much a thing of 2019.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

YIMBY with a conscience: Meet the 26-year-old real-estate heir who wants to make affordable housing a reality in the Biden era

Donahue Peebles III
Donahue Peebles III.

  • Donahue Peebles III has worked for his father’s real-estate firm, Peebles Corporation, since high school.
  • He’s passionate about gentrification, telling Insider that lack of affordable housing is “a failure of American society.”
  • Peebles talked to Insider about affordable housing, gentrification, and what he expects under a Biden presidency.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In real estate, there are NIMBYs and YIMBYs, and Donahue Peebles III knows where he stands.

For decades, “NIMBY,” which stands for “not in my backyard,” referred to homeowners who oppose nearby development. The “YIMBY,” naturally, says yes to the same proposition. To hear Donahue Peebles III tell it, more development won’t just be good for his family’s company – he’s a real-estate development heir – but also a key to civil-rights progress in the Biden era.

“As developers, we have such an outsized effect on the world in which everyday folks live, far more than an options trader would or your Wall Street executive,” Peebles told Insider. “Everybody, every day, interfaces with real estate, multiple times a day.”

Peebles works at Peebles Corporation, which was founded by his father, Donald Peebles II, in 1983 and has grown into of the nation’s largest real-estate investing and developing firms, with a portfolio topping $8 billion. The company made his father one of the richest Black real estate developers in the US, with a net worth estimated at over $700 million.

The Peebles Corporation utilizes public-private partnerships to develop properties with civic interests in mind, focused primarily on the New York, Washington DC, Miami, and Los Angeles markets. It specializes in residential, hospitality, retail, and mixed-use commercial properties. 

Peebles is his father’s chief of staff, a position he has held since early last year. He said he has no interest in separating himself from his father’s legacy, saying there is “so much value” in being allowed to help build on that. 

In an interview with Insider, Peebles spoke about the affordable housing crisis, how his company is trying to help curb the effects of gentrification, and what he’s expecting under a Biden presidency. 

Donahue Peebles III
Donahue Peebles III (L) alongside his father (R).

Peebles calls the affordable housing crisis ‘a failure of American society’

Peebles has been working for his father’s firm since his senior summer in high school. Born in Washington, DC, Peebles spent his childhood in South Florida and attended high school in New York before matriculating to Columbia University to study economics.  

“My real-estate education happened simultaneously with my regular education,” he said. “As a little kid, you always want to go to McDonald’s and get a McFlurry or go to your friends’ house early on a Saturday before basketball practice. My father would say, ‘Sure, but I need you to learn the value of this building first.'” 

To Peebles, housing affordability is one of the most pressing issues facing the US right now. “There’s no reason that somebody gainfully employed should have to be housing insecure, or struggle with finding an apartment they can comfortably afford on their full-time salary,” he said. “That’s a failure of American society.”

Read more: How full Democratic control of Washington DC could transform real estate

Part of the problem, he said, is that developers are being restricted in terms of when and where they can build new housing. He cited historic preservation in the West Village, for example, which prevents developers from knocking down existing brownstones to create more housing. 

These restrictions exist “even though they were constructed to satisfy the housing needs of a New York that’s about one stitch the size of New York City is today,” he said. “Instead of treating the symptoms, we need to begin to treat the underlying cause of the disease, which in my mind is a consequence of artificial supply constraints.” 

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, told Insider that, for the most part, the organization was all for more affordable units in landmarked areas.”That can be achieved through adaptive reuse and new construction,” Berman told Insider.

But there is often a catch: “What is often proposed however is large new entirely or predominantly luxury developments which do little or nothing to address affordability issues and actually often make the situation worse, not better,” he continued. 

Meanwhile, Simeon Bankoff, executive director of NYC’s Historic Districts Council, an organization that advocates for the city’s historic and cultural neighborhoods, noted that as a developer, Peebles has a vested interest in more laxity on development. “If people who are in the business of doing real estate development didn’t have to deal with regulations, they wouldn’t.” 

Bankoff said the number of landmark properties in New York City overall is very small, the city has one of the most complex building ecosystems and construction ecosystems in America, and finally, it has a “limited amount of land. If someone wants to come in and build a high-density, residential development in a low-density zone, it’s difficult.” Doing that has nothing to do with landmark designation, Bankoff added.

Peebles Corporation is raising money for a fund to help minority entrepreneurs

Peebles, along with the corporation, has also been working to assist minority and women entrepreneurs as it seeks to help close the racial wealth gap and curb gentrification. 

He called the racial wealth gap a social failure of capitalism. Talent, he said, is thought to be distributed equally, but without opportunities, underrepresented and underutilized business owners, entrepreneurs, and firms will still struggle to grow. 

Read more: Meet one of the youngest Black entrepreneurs in tech, who just raised a seed round topping $4 million that included Alexis Ohanian

“It seems as though people who have a fair amount of economic privilege already are those who have been encouraged to become entrepreneurs and become owners,” Peebles said, adding that consumers and society will benefit more if more people with talent are provided with opportunities.

A development project isn’t like an options trade, he said, and there are so many different economic tributaries that flow from it – from the developer making money to the bank getting the land and the equity partner getting deployed capital.

The goal is to find a way to democratize access to capital and involve local businesses and long-term residents of particular neighborhoods in that neighborhood’s economic growth, he said, rather than a third party coming in from outside, attracting all the capital and renovation work. Right now, he said, the Peebles Corporation is raising an emerging developers fund that will help provide capital to women and other developers of color who seek to develop in the communities in which they live. 

And this, Peebles said, will hopefully guard, in some ways, against more gentrification. 

 “I like to say the struggle of the 19th century was emancipation,” Peebles said. “The struggle of the 20th century was enfranchisement. And the struggle with the 21st is without a doubt, economics. If we can help bridge the racial wealth gap by whatever means, I think we’re doing our society a service.”

Corporations need to give employees better safety nets, Peebles says

Peebles expressed optimism about the future of affordable housing with Joe Biden in the White House and congress under unified Democratic control.

He praised the section of the $900 billion in COVID-19 relief and $1.4 trillion stimulus package passed in December that assisted renters and made 4% the permanent minimum rate for low-income housing tax credit bonds. Peebles predicts this will help create a boom in affordable housing.

democrats win house
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Read more: How Democratic control of Washington could threaten real-estate investing

He’s also expecting a revision of a few tax policies that could have large-scale economic consequences, such as the 1031 exchange. He also hopes to see a revision in the structure of opportunity zones – designated geographic areas that have been identified as low-income subdivisions. 

Opportunity zones, he said, are like “government-funded gentrification” and they need to be structured so they can help create jobs and economic opportunities within the communities they target, rather than creating economic hubs that are pushing out existing communities. “You want a rising tide that lifts all boats,” he said. “Not a new dock.” 

The situation might be different for individual citizens, however, and Peebles said the pandemic has the potential to spark conversations around entrepreneurship as a whole. Many people realized that the job security and safety nets they had are not as secure as they once thought. 

If corporations, he said, could find ways to provide a more robust social safety net for people, it could boost innovation as it would give more people freedom to fail, which “would encourage more entrepreneurial risk-taking, which in turn would hopefully help bridge the racial wealth gap.”

He called real estate “such a challenging, creative industry,” but said he wouldn’t rather be doing anything else. “The problems we solve are at times both very immediate and practical, but also indelibly complex. It’s one of the best intellectual and social challenges.” 

Read the original article on Business Insider