Updated: May 21, 2020
It is no secret that Black businesses are underfunded, especially in the beauty industry. If you had the opportunity to watch the Netflix series Self Made, you saw how this obstacle has been overcome by Black women throughout our history. The first Black woman millionaire, Madame C.J. Walker, had a vision for her business. Not only did she aim to supply beauty products that work for Black women, she worked to provide jobs-- a daunting task with no funding. Oftentimes, Black women in the beauty industry spend their own money or an investment from family and friends to get things started. Without large amounts of capital they are often confined to being the sole employee in their business. As a result, their businesses are huge financial risks. At the sight of a seasonal decline or an unexpected expense, they can experience poverty and homelessness. This week, I interviewed a resilient beauty founder that has had more than her fair share of obstacles. Yet like the patchouli in her soaps, she continues to blossom throughout her community.
Betsy Ann Banks is the founder of Simply Betsy Company located here in Cleveland, Ohio. Through her company, she is a soap manufacturer and esthetician. She picked up soap making as a hobby to pass the time after her father passed. Soon soap began piling up in her closet. So, she started giving it to friends around the holidays. Ronald Hubbard was one of those friends, and he gave his soap to his mother. His mother loved it so much that Ronald decided to invest in Betsy. This gave her the financial capital to start her business. She began selling soap out of the trunk of her car. From there, she got her product into the Glenville Fair after pitching to the Glenville Development Center. She continued pitching and got her product into farmer’s markets as well.
Her business was growing yet her financial situation was still on the decline. Shortly, after receiving the first investment for her business, she filed for bankruptcy. She is the mother of 5 with an education, working as a mortgage broker when she lost her home. At that time, expenses from things like daycare, food, and student loans were taking all of the households income. So, the house had to go. Though her family had no physical home, she was determined to keep everyone together. They slept on church pews and with friends. Overtime, they saved money to open a corporate office on Euclid. Her family lived upstairs and Betsy sold soap downstairs. Despite being one step away from homelessness, Betsy found ways to be resourceful. She took furniture from businesses that were closing to furnish her office. Case Western Reserve helped paint walls and gave mulch for a greenhouse. She leaned on friends and local djs to help plant flowers in the green house. All these relationships were built through networking and being engaged in her community.
“People in the city invested in me. I took it and invested in the product. That is how I grew. “
When you make a product, you take the funds from that product to re-invest in the product. She worked to sell her product while making every piece of it on her own. If someone walks by her table at a farmer’s market and looks for more than 15 seconds, she will pitch them. Betsey is educated, a hustler, and has a community that supports her. Yet she has been financially vulnerable throughout the life of her business. If you're like me, you want to know why. Well, Betsy wanted the “American Dream” for her and her children. So, when she saw a house for $123K she went for it. She was in her late 30s and like many of her peers at that time, she was entering a relationship with a predatory loan. The expense of her home was too high when all $5K of the household’s income was being used for other expenses. This loan was targeted at Betsy personally, but predatory loans come for businesses too. Founders Get Funds is an alternative for bootstrapped businesses that want access to more capital. Instead of reaching out to a financial institution, we empower individuals to support themselves by building networks of trust and reliability.