BY SERGIE WILLOUGHBY and ASHLEY OLIVER
Successful enclaves in urban areas in America have seen a reverse migration of black residents within the past six years. After nearly a century of migrating out of the South to forage a better source of income, black Americans are beginning an exodus back to their hometowns. According to 2010 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, 44% of former Southern residents who moved to the east and west coats said they wanted to escape the increasing poverty the South was facing during ?The Great Migration.”
In stark contrast to the Great Migration, which refers to the exodus of blacks in the South during 1910-1970, poverty in the south has decreased by 78.9%, according to 2011 statistics from Pew Research.
While it is evident that some blacks are returning to the south largely due to rising housing costs in the eastern and northern states, some are returning to their roots for a more affordable retirement. However, South Carolina native, twenty-eight-year-old Michiel Perry, recently returned to her hometown to pursue her own business after quitting a career in tech, which included Google, to pursue an entrepreneurial passion that?unites African American women. Here, we caught up with Perry to talk about her business, Black Southern Belle, and to find out what?s so southern about it.
TNJ.com: Tell me a bit about your company.
Michiel Perry: Black Southern Belle is the leading digital lifestyle brand for “all things Southern” and has attracted a diverse network of top black-owned vendors in the South. We?re targeting African-American women, tastemakers, and entrepreneurs with a Southern connection. We focus on all things lifestyle and Southern, including home decoration, travel, fashion, weddings and food.
Since 2015, Black Southern Belle has garnered a social media following of 50,000+ lifestyle Southern-based businesses and African-American women entrepreneurs. This year (2016), Black Southern Belle has expanded its online presence and developed the Black Southern Belle Collective, a curated membership group for Southern tastemakers to network.
During November 16-17, 2016, Black Southern Belle will host its first Collective conference, featuring 100+ vendors, top lifestyle and business experts, vendor showcases, and more. So far, Black Southern Belle has already hosted two Southern Tastemaker Summits in Charlotte and Atlanta.
Black Southern Belle has been featured on numerous outlets, including Black Enterprise, Brides, Today.com, Levo League, Draper James, Apartment Therapy, and more.
TNJ.com: What inspired you to launch your own business?
M.P.: I was inspired to start Black Southern Belle because I was planning my wedding in Charleston while simultaneously decorating my first home in Maryland and I was looking for lifestyle inspiration that was both black and southern at the same time. After not being able to find what I was looking for and being in disbelief it didn?t exist, I decide to start Black Southern Belle.
Through the planning stages of my wedding and frequent visits back home to Charleston, I rediscovered my affinity for home decoration, weddings, food, fashion, and everything Southern. I was inspired to launch a brand that focused on lifestyle, business, and everything Southern.
In one year, I transitioned from corporate life–working for a popular e-commerce site as Director of Marketing–got married, moved back to my hometown of Charleston, S.C., purchased a historic home, and launched Black Southern Belle. That time in my life was very fast-paced but I knew there was a purpose.
Through Southern small business highlights, wedding engagement multimedia pieces, op-eds, and conferences connecting top event vendors in the South, I started a company to strategically connect minority-owned vendors in the South. So far Black Southern Belle has a an online store, a job database for those looking for careers in the South, and profiles of African-American women and business owners who embrace slow living, Southern culture, and want to share it with the world. The online network Black Southern Belle has created now expands to Black Southern Belle Collective, a membership and showcase for top Southern vendors. It?s fulfilling to know out of frustration, Black Southern Belle was created and it can be called ?home? by many, including those who just want to learn more about Southern culture.
TNJ.com: What, if any, challenges did you encounter along the way?
M.P.: Despite being heavily involved in social media now, I had to learn how to do it for Black Southern Belle. From Facebook Ads to Instagram, I had such a huge learning curve of doing the day-to-day strategy. I had previously managed marketing for a company but did not focus as heavily on the social media as we worked with consultants on that strategy. So going from managing to doing was a big shift. It was important to grow from my following and more importantly engage with them.
TNJ.com: How did you tackle funding?
M.P.: Thankfully, I was able to have jobs out of college that put me in a financial position to self finance my business. For events, the Black Southern Belle team seeks and secures some sponsorships. I was able to rent out the basement of my home to add in extra cash flow as well as prioritize my expenses the first year. Additionally by moving down South and renting out my home in Maryland, I was able to significantly decrease my personal expenses.
TNJ.com: What do you most love about what you do?
M.P.: I love that I get to showcase and support a demographic of women who have not been displayed in mainstream media in a positive way. We showcase the diversity of all Black Southern women. We go beyond who they are professionally and dig deeper to their passions, style, hobbies, and faith. Black Southern Belle has become a resource and forum for like-minded women seeking connections to help them grow professionally and personally. That?s the most rewarding part of running this business.
This year, Black Southern Belle was recognized and given an award by the Spectrum Circle, an organization that recognizes leaders in Media, Technology and Business for advancing opportunities for women. I was shocked, humbled, and grateful that Black Southern Belle is truly shaping the narrative for women of color.
TNJ.com: Tell me about the Black Southern Belle Collective.
M.P.: The Black Southern Belle Collective is an exclusive, curated network of diverse Southern-based vendors who are interested in investing and supporting each other?s business success and providing unique opportunities for the Black Southern Belle consumer. Through an online database of other tastemakers and events, opportunities for networking, members get a chance to connect with the top professionals in their field. Most of our members are interior designers, event planners, entrepreneurs, tastemakers, media professionals, business professionals, consultants, and startups. In November, Black Southern Belle will host the first Collective? conference, featuring 100+ vendors in the South. The conference features panel discussions, styling workshops, one-on-one brand development opportunities, Grand Finale Ball, Welcome to Charleston Party with the beautiful backdrop of Charleston, S.C. in the city?s finest historic buildings: Historic Rice Mill, The Cedar Room, and the Gadsden House. Southern-inspired dishes are provided by one of Charleston?s top caterers, Hamby Catering.
TNJ.com: Do you have any short to long-term goals?
M.P.: Short term, we?re focused on continuous growth. Each month, we?re adding 5,000 new followers to our website and social media presence, through strategic social media advertising and curated content.? We?re planning to expand our Black Southern Belle digital footprint through more editorial style content and promote our Black Southern Belle Collective network.
Long term, we are planning to expand our online store, develop our hbcubelle. com and launch the blacksouthernbeau. com online platform for our Southern men.
TNJ.com: What advice do you have for other millennials looking to start their own business?
M.P.: Don?t compare yourself to others. Start off with what works for your personality. I have never been one of the proponents of just quitting your job and running with it. It worked for me but this path isn?t the best for every budding entrepreneur. So if you want to keep working and start your business, don?t feel bad for doing that. If you want to go full steam, do that. Do what?s best for your lifestyle. Only you know your financial situation and how much financial stress you can handle. The worst way to start a business is with stress and doubt, so do what works best to alleviate stress and doubt.