Brown Girl Gifts redefines fashion

From left, Dage Newkirk, Drake Newkirk, Amari Lee and Melissa Lee wearing t-shirts from the Brown Girl Gifts product line. — SUBMITTED BY BROWN GIRL GIFTS

The owners of Brown Girl Gifts are striving to redefine the concept of beauty for young women of color.

The idea to launch a business was sparked after Melissa Lee was in the process of redecorating her daughter’s room, when she realized there was a dearth of bedding products that featured images of African-American girls.

“I was really frustrated with the lack of options available in major retail stores, so then I had this idea — why don’t I create my own product line,” says Lee, who has a professional background in marketing.

After she decided to start her own product line, Lee turned to her cousin, Drake Newkirk, a graphic artist and creative designer, for assistance. What began as a discussion about possible designs evolved into plans for a line that ranged from cosmetic bags and pillows, to apparel, laptop cases that featured the company’s first logo, a silhouette of a brown African American girl with puffy-tails.

When Newkirk was creating icons for the brand on the computer, his six-year old daughter Dage immediately identified with the imagery. At the time, he had two different hues of brown girls on his computer monitors.

“My daughter looked at the chocolate girl and said, ‘She looks like me,’ but then she looked at the other monitor and saw the other girl and said, ‘But I’m her color,’” Newkirk said.

The product line has since expanded to offer images of girls in different hues of brown and three different hairstyles. The line combines imagery with positive affirmations such as “I Love Me” and “100 Percent Me.”

“We wanted to become more than just an iconic brand. We also wanted to set the tone - that we wanted to redefine beauty from the lenses of a young woman of color,” said Lee.

Brown Girl Gifts had two soft product launches last year – one at the National Stationary Show in New York and the other at Philadelphia’s Odunde Festival.

A month after their initial launch, the products were picked up by a Wegman’s at the Woodmore Towne Centre at Glenarden in Md.

Last year, the business partners spent a significant amount of time attending trade shows and major festivals. The product line was well received when they were vendors during the Tom Joyner Family Reunion in Orlando.

Lee and Newkirk found that the product line appeals to girls and women of varying ages and races.

When they first launched the business, Newkirk said they thought the line would mostly appeal to pre-teens and children. However, it quickly became apparent that older women wanted some of the products, such as the t-shirts, for themselves.

“It really has a large appeal,” said Lee. “People were literally thanking us for creating this product line. It’s very nostalgic for women of my age – mid-40s and older - because everybody was saying, ‘I wish I had this when I was young girl.’ The response has just been phenomenal.”

Newkirk says the company’s grassroots marketing efforts have paid off. The company has received a significant number of online orders via www.browngirlgifts.com.

After spending the bulk of last year generating buzz around Brown Girl Gifts via grassroots efforts, the business partners are now focusing on getting the products placed in major retailers and boutiques in the tri-state area. In addition to marketing the line to major retailers, plans are in the works to launch new bedding products.

Last May, Newkirk and Lee turned to Entrepreneur Works, a Philadelphia-based microenterprise development organization, for a start-up business loan to help them with their marketing and inventory needs.

“They’ve been one of our biggest cheerleaders,” Newkirk said in regard to the organization.

“They’ve been phenomenal. They are not just an organization that gives out loans. They really supported us in a number of different ways, and they are really an incredible organization that we are happy to be a part of,” said Lee.

 

Contact Staff Writer Ayana Jones at (215) 893-5747 or ajones@phillytrib.com.

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