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This SHEeo Created An Eclectic Accessory Brand That Pays Homage To Black Women

Meet Cheryl Marie Williams of 86 & Norman.

Meet The SHEeo

With the rise of more and more black women breaking away from traditional 9-5s to become their own bosses, the CEO is getting a revamp as the SHEeo. In the Meet The SHEeo series, we talk to melanated mavens leveling up and glowing up, all while redefining what it means to be a boss.

After recognizing that many stores lacked handbags that were unique and functional, Cheryl Williams used her gift for sewing and began designing one-of-a-kind handbags that reflected her personal style, and that held everything from credit cards to lip gloss without feeling weighed down. She launched 86 & Norman (then Double Clutched) in 2015 for eclectic women who want to carry what they need without sacrificing style. She currently works full-time as a Lead Business Analyst while juggling her growing business.

In this week's feature, meet Cheryl Marie Williams of 86 & Norman.

Courtesy of Cheryl Williams

Title:CEO of 86 & Norman

Year Founded: 2015 (as Double Clutched, rebranded to 86 & Norman in 2019)

Location: Columbus, Ohio

# of Employees: 1

30-Second Pitch: 86 & Norman accessories helps eclectic stylish women who want to carry what they need while looking super cute with handbags, clutches, and wallets.

What inspired you to start your brand? 

I launched Double Clutched (my former brand name) in June of 2015 because I quickly felt that handbags can be created to be so bold yet also functional. Everyone doesn't necessarily want the same styled tote or crossbody bag. They may want something only a few people can get and something that complements what they already wear and feel comfortable in.

I only pick designs based on [it] making sense and being functional. Fabrics have to be unique, likeable, and something that looks nice on a variety of designs. Those two together is what inspires me to create my bags. No two bags are alike. There's so much variation and that keeps it motivating and exciting.

In February 2019, I rebranded Double Clutched to 86 & Norman. 86 is the year I was born and Norman is the street of my Aunt's house when I was growing up that was like a second home to me.

What was your a-ha moment that brought your idea into reality? 

Creating my first wallet was my a-ha moment that showed me that other people could too benefit from my products. My first wallet had multiple card slots, a space for your phone, keys, and your favorite lip gloss. But it was perfectly slim and had a wristlet strap so you could be hands free, [without being] weighed down with a huge bag, and have everything you need.

Who is your ideal customer?

An ideal 86 & Norman customer is a creative thinker with a heart for uplifting people. She values her family and mental health. She is someone who always has great creative ideas and gives great food, fashion, and product recommendations. She loves Black-ish, black-owned businesses, Marvel movies, and tacos. She craves the culture that comes with diverse cities and is a foodie at heart. Girls' night outs and date nights are her favorite. Her idol is the one and only Michelle Obama. Stories about people doing good for other people warms her heart.

What makes your business different? 

The combination of both my style of print with my style of product makes 86 & Norman different. You won't find my unique fabric combinations with the form of bags, clutches, and wallets that I have anywhere else. And because each print/product combination is limited, each customer truly gets a limited-edition product.

To make 86 & Norman even more personal, I decided to name each bag after prominent African American women or TV characters. I think it's fun and it pays homage to those who I've learned about, read about, or watched growing up. My clutches just aren't a clutch. But it's the Jemison (Mae Jemison) Fold Over Clutch. I always called my products "she" and now all my she's have names.

What obstacles did you have to overcome while launching and growing your brand? How were you able to overcome them? 

Through starting my business and rebranding my business, my main sacrifices and obstacles were time and money. Working full-time and then coming home to do all the business things myself, was and still is hard. And at times, my personal funds have had to fund my business.

To overcome those obstacles, I had to implement money management practices (like using accounting software to keep track of what's going out and for what reasons) and I had to learn how to move my time management skills from my day time job to my business. Making to-do lists, giving myself deadlines, and sectioning out my free time on the weekends for fun vs business are what helps keep the back-end of my business going.

What was the defining moment in your entrepreneurial journey?  

I took a branding class last fall with the intention on fine-tuning what I had already created. Instead, I ended up doing a total overhaul. While Double Clutched will always be where I started, it wasn't really a brand. Just a business. With 86 & Norman, I have a target person, not just an audience but a specific target person, brand colors, a brand manifesto, mission and values, and a brand personality. I have all that locked down and now I know what will work for my brand and what doesn't fit. I know what events my people will be at and where they won't. I know what will speak to my customers when it comes to products and fabrics and what I shouldn't use the time to consider.

"With 86 & Norman, I have a target person, not just an audience but a specific target person, brand colors, a brand manifesto, mission and values, and a brand personality. I have all that locked down and now I know what will work for my brand and what doesn't fit."

Where do you see your company in 5-10 years? (The ultimate goal?)

I've love to open a brick and mortar store that features black women handcrafted makers and artists that also doubles as an event space with DIY workshops, a teaching space, and area where people can host small intimate gatherings.

Where have you seen the biggest return on investment? (i.e. marketing, ads, vending, social media)

My best investment has been taking the time and effort in rebranding everything. Name, website, print materials, social media, legal documents, look, feel, everything.

Do you have a mentor? If so, who? 

I have a few SHEeos I look up to. Melissa Butler from The Lip Bar, Jasmine Lawrence of Eden BodyWorks, Ade Hassan of Nubian Skin. I learned everything I know about branding from Lela Barker of Lucky Break Consulting.

Biggest lesson you’ve learned in business? 

Having a product isn't enough. You need a brand, a brand story, and very defined person you want to be of service to and a need you are fulfilling.

Anything else you would like for people to know, or take away from your entrepreneurial story? 

Keep being consistent. Keep posting. Keep sharing your "thing". Don't get discouraged because your journey isn't going as fast as someone else's. People are always watching and cheering you on.

For more of Cheryl and 86 & Norman, follow her on social: Instagram and Facebook.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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