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In this digital age, there are 2.1 million online retailers in the United States alone. So, it’s important that Black-owned businesses avoid being drowned out in the marketplace. That’s why one Atlanta creator decided to leverage a 2018 vision with the 2020 uprising to increase visibility for these companies and the circulation of the Black dollar.
Rae Strode, the founder of Blacklanta, reflects on how her father’s at-home antiques business inspired her to go into business not only for herself, but for her entire race. As a child, Strode remembers earning her first paychecks in visual merchandising by helping her father setup displays that led to sales. She then set out to launch her first business, a simple T-shirt line called Ardor Brio, which roughly translates to “Full of Ambition” from her Clark Atlanta University dorm room. While this business eventually went under, it taught Strode valuable lessons, such as the importance of protecting one’s intellectual property, that she would apply to her next venture, Blacklanta in 2019.
This new T-shirt line became an online business directory in 2020 to help Atlanta’s more than 25,000 Black-owned businesses increase their visibility. Blacklanta is quickly becoming a battle cry for all Black residents of the ATL, and companies owned and operated by us.
As Strode works towards the 2022 launch of its first-of-a-kind all Black convenience store selling products and services, the serial entrepreneur sat down with REVOLT to discuss her inspirations as a queer Black woman in business, her vision for Black creatives, and how her experience as a REVOLT Summit ATL ambassador helped to set her up for success. Read below!
Tell us about your mission statement and the plan to help increase the circulation of the Black dollar. What exactly does that really mean?
It’s just supporting other Black businesses and putting that money back into their pockets, and keeping our community afloat. There’s this [social media] post that I just read that was saying by the year 2035, the median for Black wealth will be at zero. So, it’s really important for us right now to get out there and start businesses and start creating that generational wealth for our families. And supporting Black businesses as a whole. Creating more brick and mortar locations for our products to go and live in. I mean, of course we have our Targets and Walmarts who are trying now to push the Black agenda, but we should already be creating that for ourselves, and starting our own Target and Walmart and the grocery stores, which is important for me to finally get my first convenience store started, so that I can bring those products into the store and try to get that Black dollar circulating back into our community.
Let’s talk about the Blacklanta merchandise and getting people to wear your brand. Was that intentional?
It’s crazy because I was just sitting here one day and the idea just came to me. I just feel like it was God-given. It’s not something that I literally planned out to create, but it just came to me like, “Black— Blacklanta.” That’s why I started off with my online directory that features Black businesses in Atlanta, and just creating a community around Black people in Atlanta. When people see the brand, they can automatically identify with it. Especially if you’re Black in Atlanta, you already know that this is something that you can be a part of.
What are some of the businesses that are listed in your directory?
Our online directory features different restaurants in Atlanta, gyms, fitness trainers, food and beverage, liquor companies, candle companies; anything that you can name. More specifically, brands that are on our website are brands like Slutty Vegan and Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks, who are both making a huge impact in Atlanta and for the culture. There’s a lot in the directory. It features over 250 businesses right now and it’s still growing. We have people who come [to our website] and submit their businesses every day, so we’re continuously growing every day.
How do you think your website differentiates itself from any other websites or apps that promise to be a similar resource?
I think that ours is different, one, because we have created that community around it. I think that’s the thing that some directories are missing. We are actually out here in the streets meeting these entrepreneurs and business owners. I think with a lot of other directories, they are not specific in the location so it’s hard for you to reach out to every business. It’s great that they do have it, but we’re just specific to Atlanta so it’s easier for us to actually create a community around what we’re doing and the people that we’re impacting.
Talk about the Black Creators Convenience Store. You want to sell 100% Black-owned products exclusively?
Yes. Basically, the convenience store idea is to bring the directory to life. So, we have all of these businesses online, and it’s not easy to get on crowded store shelves like Target and then you have to explain who your target audience is and all these things, and you’ll probably get a lot of nos before you get a lot of yeses. In our location, we want to welcome those brands who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to get on store shelves. I think it’s important to bring businesses online, and to brick and mortar locations. I think, as Black people, we need more brick and mortar locations, and we need more locations to bring our products into without having the hassle of being overlooked in the store. If you go into Target, they’re trying to be more, I guess, diverse. But, there are no Black-owned sections. They have the Oriental and Asian sections, but they don’t have specifically Black-owned so we get mixed off in these products and people don’t know exactly what they’re supporting. But, when you come to the Black Creator’s Convenience Store, you will know that everything in here is Black-owned.
In addition to having other products and even services at your store, you made it a priority to work with local farmers to provide produce?
Yes. Working with local farmers, I think, is very important. I go to this farmer’s market up the street almost every weekend just to buy fresh produce and it’s very important to have healthier options in the community, especially in communities like College Park. I mean, it’s predominantly Black and there are more fast food restaurants. Aside from that, there are a lot of other Black-owned businesses there but nothing that just provides a healthier option for Black people. I think that bringing that to the community will be a game changer and it will inspire other people to start eating healthier. You know, we’ve got to live longer. I mean, high blood pressure in the Black community is prominent; diabetes and things of that nature. So, we can be the change. It can start here at the convenience store. Hopefully, we can expand to other communities and help out, as well.
Would you say that lack of education is the main barrier when it comes to supporting Black-owned businesses?
I think it’s the lack of education and I think it’s just the lack of resources, and trying to figure out, “Where are these Black businesses?” and “How can you find them?” and that’s what we started with our directory. So, we wanted to just create a free resource for people to at least find these Black-owned businesses and also give entrepreneurs the opportunity to be listed on our website for free. So, I think that those are the main reasons.
What are your thoughts on the mindset that Black-owned equals less than?
I hate that it’s like that, but it’s up to us to change that narrative of ourselves. Even Black people will go into a Black-owned restaurant and then if the service is bad one time, here we are on Instagram complaining, but if we go to Chick-Fil-A, we’re going to continue to go back there and won’t even say anything about it. So, I think it’s us. I think it starts with us changing the narrative about ourselves so that people can grow to respect us even more.
So, are you from Atlanta? Is this your home?
No. I’m from Tuscaloosa, Alabama originally and I moved to Atlanta for college. I graduated from Clark Atlanta University. That whole HBCU experience, coming from a predominantly white town, was really a game changer for me to connect and be around so many diverse Black people. So that was a really impactful moment in my life.
That’s even better! What is it about Atlanta that made you want to not only stay, but like make an impact like this.
The culture here is different. I would say Atlanta has truly changed my life. So, I feel like starting Blacklanta, it was me paying homage back to everything that Atlanta has given me from the internships or the connections that I’ve made within the industry. I started off wanting to do radio, so I was interning at Streetz 94.5 here in Atlanta and Hot 107.9. The fact that Black people here want to help you and they really want to see you succeed, you can’t really find that [in] a lot of places, especially from what I’ve heard… It’s not like a crab in a barrel mentality here. It’s like, “Let’s get it!” So, I think that was my inspiration behind it.
REVOLT Summit ascended on Atlanta in 2019 to motivate the next generation’s leaders, and you were selected to participate?
What was the vibe like? Paint the scene for us.
Okay, let me paint the scene. I was an ambassador. I was chosen; I bought a ticket and I think I entered into this contest and I won, so I was so excited. What happened was Lynzie, the VP of Insights [at REVOLT], basically they followed me around the whole summit, came to my house and did an interview. We were just chopping it up, man. It was a great time. It was just amazing. I can’t even put it into words how I felt there. I learned a lot. The people who are out there, you could just tell that they were trying to get it. It was networking; endless networking. It was very personable. You can just connect with anybody like the people at LVRN, the people on the panels…
That’s incredible! How did the REVOLT Summit help you build out the directory and get you closer to this convenience store?
It was just the inspiration to see something like that come to life, I guess. It’s just the fact that the REVOLT team and Diddy just put that together for the community. It felt like community and it just felt like they were really there to talk to you. All the panelists and everybody was there to talk to you to help you get to that next step in your life and to give you that inspiration by just hearing their stories. It was like, wow, I can really connect with what you’re saying on this level. Even with Jeezy and people like that, just hearing their stories in person and hearing them talk about their come up stories, it makes you feel like, “I can really do this.” You just see them on a stage and you just picture yourself up there, like one day, that can really be me, it’s really possible. I guess it just gives you that sense of inspiration that you need to just keep going and not stopping.
Last month was Pride month. How, if at all, has your sexuality either helped or hurt you in business?
I would say it really has helped me, honestly. I never knew there were so many resources and people who actually wanted to give back to the LGBTQ community. I just actually received a grant from IFundWomen and Janell Stephens, who is the owner of Camille Rose Naturals, just for being on their LGBTQ side of their platform. So, it has really helped me. From the outside, you can clearly see that I’m gay but for it to come out of your mouth and say it, sometimes it’s kind of scary because you don’t know how people are going to perceive you or perceive your business, and just based on people’s beliefs, sometimes they won’t support you. But, you can’t even worry about that. I just have to live my authentic self and whoever supports that, those are the only people I should be focused on supporting me. So, I really don’t even think about the negatives or anybody that’s not supporting. I’m only focused on those who will give me positive energy and support.
Learn more about Blacklanta here!