As the holiday shopping season starts next month, Nikki Porcher wants people to do one thing: buy from a black woman.
It’s more than a personal mission and motto — Buy From a Black Woman is also the name of her Atlanta-based nonprofit organization. She launched it in 2016 as a blog that detailed her purchases from Black women entrepreneurs. Today, it’s a multi-pronged effort that lifts up Black women business owners and promotes their firms.
“I couldn’t find it, so I created it,” she says of starting up.
In addition to the blog, Porcher now oversees a business directory containing about 450 ventures (and climbing). She also plans events and offers educational YouTube videos with tips from marketing and law experts. Plus, along with a board of directors and two contractors, she hosts grant and scholarship competitions that dole out thousands of dollars to Black women entrepreneurs each year. (Note: Scholarship applications for this year are due by end-of-day October 15 — those interested in applying for grants have until the end of October.)
The organization’s Idella Scholarship, offered in partnership with personal hygiene products seller Poise, typifies what Buy from a Black Woman is all about. For starters, it’s named in honor of Porcher’s grandmother, “the first Black woman business owner I ever knew” who still sells quilts to this day (and is even donating some to scholarship recipients). But Porcher wants to do more than just celebrate Black women — she wants to tangibly help them by promoting their work, connecting them to one another and giving them money.
Despite the lack of resources Black women have access to, she says, they are starting up at higher rates than any other demographic group. “Imagine what we could do if we had” more support, she adds.
Rallying a Community
Porcher’s right on both accounts. Research shows that Black women entrepreneurs are an unmatched group when it comes to starting up. But they also face unmatched struggles while trying to launch and scale — especially when it comes to accessing funding.
It’s been that way for years — certainly before she founded the organization. Back then, she was working in nonprofit administration, and found herself as the only Black woman in attendance at a work function. She wasn’t the only woman in general — there was at least one female vendor, she recalls, who was selling $20 chapsticks, and enough of them that she was running out.
“I thought it was ridiculous — first, that they were $20, and second, that they were selling out,” she says. It made her think of the Black women in her personal and professional networks at the time who ran beauty businesses. “Black women should be selling out of whatever they have — how can I help them do that?”
In its earliest days, her answer to that question took form as a blog with a simple premise — Porcher would buy something from a Black woman’s business, then write about her purchase. She used social media to get the word out, and it spread quickly. Soon, some Black women entrepreneurs were reaching out for spots on her site, while others were offering to donate so that Porcher could write about a greater number of Black woman-owned firms.
That’s when she realized she had something larger on her hands. “Spreading awareness and getting people to send money are two main components of a nonprofit,” she thought at the time — so by the end of 2016, her blog was a nonprofit organization.
Adjusting to the Times
While much of Porcher’s work is carried out online, she had developed several in-person initiatives before the pandemic.
For example, she would visit different cities and bring people together en masse to support a local Black woman’s business, on what she called Inspire Tours. At the end of that day, she would give the selected entrepreneur photos and notes of encouragement collected throughout the visit — so they felt support from “a community that wants to see you win.” She also coordinated meet-ups where Black women could expand their professional networks.
Of course, that work is presently happening online as well, as the coronavirus crisis carries on for Americans — largely in the form of virtual co-working spaces that “remind people we’re here, and they’re not alone.”
She’s heartened by the uptick in support that she now sees for Black-owned businesses, sparked by ongoing protests of systemic racism — a push that additionally chips away at the sense of isolation. But, she notes, “supporting Black women business owners is not a trend — it’s something you should’ve been doing last month, last year, 10 years ago.”
It’s never too late though, Porcher adds. “Black women are gonna be here in 2021, 2022 … we’re not disappearing.”
[Related: The Enduring Power of Buying Black]