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Secrets to One Black Entrepreneur’s Success

Stephanie Hasham, Founder of No/R, sits on a couch wearing sunglasses.

If you’re going to understand anything about No/R, you need to understand this: Stephanie Hasham is no shrinking violet.

When Stephanie was 14 years old, she knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. "I told my Dad I wanted to have a fashion boutique," she remembers. "I didn’t know the first thing about being a business owner, but I knew I wanted to do it." From her home on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, she dreamed of creative ways to bring her Afro-Caribbean heritage to the world at large. "I wanted to create something useful… and gorgeous," she adds with a smile.  

Her best friend, Vivica Spong, doubled as her partner in crime. Friends since age five, Stephanie and Vivica were like sisters. They always dreamed of doing something creative together, but never really made concrete plans. Stephanie and Vivica sketched out ideas, but the momentum of daily life kept pushing their dreams to the back burner. They didn’t realize their time was limited.

In 2012, Vivica, who was 8 months pregnant at the time, was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in her home. Her partner was charged and acquitted of her murder.   

Stephanie was devastated.

"She was my best friend. To have her taken away, so suddenly, so violently, left a huge hole in my heart. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to keep her alive in my soul. I needed to create something to honor her memory. So I started No/R, which stands for No Rehearsal, because I realized there is no rehearsal for life. You get one chance – that’s it."

Getting Started: (Expensive) Trial and Error

Stephanie knew she was going to take that chance. "Taking a big, bold gamble on yourself is scary… but if you’re going to do it, you have to trust yourself."

Stephanie launched her website in 2016 selling a variety of small items, like key chains and wallets, from her apartment in Atlanta. "I didn’t know how to work with leather, but I really liked it because it can be sculpted. Unfortunately, it’s very expensive, and once you put a hole in it, it’s over – you can’t undo that. It was a very expensive learning curve," she chuckles.

The first step was getting a sewing machine, so Stephanie launched a crowd funding campaign to raise money. Crowd funding can be a great way for startups to raise money and awareness about their new business idea. "It was amazing. Once I became an entrepreneur, I met other people with that same energy. It was so inspiring."

Finding a Mentor is Tough

As any entrepreneur will tell you, though, there’s a lot more to running a successful business than a good idea. Many startups lean heavily on their personal network to get their business off the ground. For Stephanie, though, this wasn’t an option. "I didn’t have a lot of fashion people in my network. It was really hard to find a mentor. It feels like there is a big curtain in front of you, and you’re just trying to thread yourself through."

"In the United States, Black women are rarely in the upper echelon of the design world. It’s unusual to have generational wealth and a knowledge network to tap into. What I’m talking about is not a grant; it’s institutional information. There are some organizations that understand this issue and are working to connect mentors with entrepreneurs. But I’ll be honest – it was hard. I found a few mentors over the years, and they have been invaluable."

Selling the ‘Go’ Bag Internationally

With close friends in the Netherlands, Japan, and scattered around Europe, Stephanie needed to figure out international e-commerce and shipping – fast.

"It wasn’t easy," she says, "but I was very lucky. I found some good people. I had a unique vision. I connected with UPS early on, and they helped me get set up." She built her e-commerce site with the help of Shopify, and she schedules pickups directly from her doorstep when she needs them. "My UPS account representative was really friendly. I felt like, ‘I just made the thing – now how do I get it to my customers?’ and he was there with the answers. He was especially helpful when I was shipping internationally. There’s a lot of complicated import and export rules and he walked me through it."

Looking Into the Future

"Now, I’m in a position where I want to pay it forward. I want to contribute to the future. I want to move from the "Black woman with a small creative business" to the "creative business that will inspire, hire, and train the next generation."

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