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. CEOs are forging their own paths, blazing their own trails, and turning their passion into a profit. Curious to know how she does it? 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.
Growing up as a Liberian immigrant, Charlene Dunbar struggled to find clothing that celebrated her African identity and culture. Inspired by the stylish garments of her mom and Liberian church ladies, Dunbar decided to put a contemporary spin on traditional pieces, and in 2010 launched her brand, suakoko betty to give women a way to express themselves through unique African designs, prints and color combinations. suakoko betty was selected as a 2014 Belk Southern Designer Showcase winner and was sold in select Belk stores, and has since been featured in ESSENCE and made available at boutiques online and in cities across the Southeastern region.
In this week's feature, meet Charlene Dunbar of suakoko betty.
Courtesy of Charlene Dunbar
Title: Founder/CEO of suakoko betty
Location: Atlanta, GA
Year started: 2010
# of employee(s): 2
30-Second Pitch: "Hate dressing like everyone else? Express your style and creativity with modern, African-inspired print dresses and separates by suakoko betty."
What inspired you to start your brand?
I was inspired by my experience as a young immigrant and really struggling to celebrate my identity and culture as an African at a time where being African wasn't cool. I started suakoko betty as a way to celebrate African design and color and give women a way to express themselves.
What was your a-ha moment that brought your idea into reality?
My husband was taking his music artist to perform at an African Arts festival in Memphis and I feel like God spoke and let me know it was time to start working on this vision for the "modern, everyday African-inspired clothing" I'd had in my heart for a long time.
Courtesy of Charlene Dunbar/suakoko betty
Who is your ideal customer?
My ideal customer is minimalist meets artistic rebel. She wears bold colored or printed pieces and needs style that moves easily between work and play. She is always seeking new experiences and creative inspiration.
What makes your business different?
We're fantastic about customer service and like to help our customers with styling and lifestyle inspiration.
What obstacles did you have to overcome while launching and growing your brand? How were you able to overcome them?
One key obstacle was me understanding the importance of marketing my brand. I spent a lot of time on design, which is a strength for us, but wasn't always intentional about marketing and reaching new customers. I've overcome that by learning as much as I can, seeking out the expertise of others and making investments in marketing.
What was the defining moment in your entrepreneurial journey?
A defining moment for us was being selected as a Belk Southern Designer Showcase winner. There was a grueling interview process and we were selected out of 300 applicants. When we won, we had to figure out how to make 10 times more volume than we were accustomed to and it really validated the need for our brand and what we were capable of.
Where do you see your company in 5-10 years?
I see suakoko betty as a household name known for stunning African-inspired design and for showcasing African artists.
Where have you seen the biggest return on investment?
I've seen the biggest return on my marketing investment, as it relates to content and optimizing our website.
Do you have a mentor? If so, who?
I have a few informal mentors; including trusted customers and store owners.
Biggest lesson you’ve learned in business?
The biggest lesson learned is the importance of staying focused and not dividing myself across too many initiatives. I worked full-time while growing my business and had to learn to pick battles and be strategic in how I spent my limited time.
For more suakoko betty, follow them on social media @suakoko betty.
This was first evident more than a decade ago when she quit her job as the corporate executive of a Fortune 500 company during a Periscope livestream. “I’m not sure if there’s an alignment of [our] future trajectory. I’m going to work for myself. I'm promoting myself to work for myself,” she said at the time before flashing a smile at the viewing audience. As she resigned on camera, a constant stream of encouraging messages floated upwards on the screen.
By 2021, she’d fashioned her work as a corporate consultant and her personal life with her husband and three adopted daughters into a reality show, She’s The Boss, for USA Network. This year, she released the New York Times bestselling memoir Nothing Is Missing, written as she was in the process of getting a divorce and dealing with her eldest daughter’s struggles with substance use.
Convinced that there’s no way the 39-year-old has achieved all of this without intentional strategic planning, I asked her about it when we spoke less than a week before Christmas. I’d seen videos on social media of her working on 2024 planning for other brands, and I wanted to know what that looked like following her own year of success.
She listed a number of goals, including ensuring that the projects she takes on in the new year align with her identity “as a Black woman, as an African woman, as a mother, as someone who has lived a [rebuilding] season and is now trying to live boldly and entirely as themselves.” But, I was shocked by how much of her business planning also prioritized rest.
Despite the bestselling book, a self-titled podcast, and working with numerous corporations, Walters said she’s been taking Fridays off. This year, she doesn’t want to work on Mondays, either.
“A lot of us think we work hard until retirement hits. I want to progress towards retirement,” she said, noting that she’ll check in with herself around March to see how successful this plan has been. The goal, Walters said, is to only be working on Tuesdays and Thursdays by sometime in 2025. “It is intentionally building out what I know I would like to have happen and not waiting for exhaustion to be the trigger of change.”
"A lot of us think we work hard until retirement hits. I want to progress towards retirement... It is intentionally building out what I know I would like to happen and not waiting for exhaustion to be the trigger of change."
Walters said the decision to progressively work less was partially in response to her previously held notions about her career, especially as an entrepreneur. “When I first started, I thought burnout was a part of it,” she said. “What I didn’t realize is that even if you’re able to bounce out of burnout or get back to it, there’s a cumulative impact on your body. If you think of your body as a tree and every time you go through burnout, you are taking a hack out of your trunk, yes, that trunk will heal over, and the tree will continue to grow, but it doesn't mean that you don’t have a weakened stem.”
But, the desire for increased rest was also in response to the major shifts that occurred three years ago when she was experiencing major changes in her family and realized her metaphorical tree was “bending all the way over.”
“One of the things we have to recognize, especially as Black women, is that there is this engrained, societal, systemic notion that our worth is built around our productivity,” she added. “That is some language that I think is just now starting to really get unpacked.” In recent years, there’s been an increased awareness of achieving balance in life, with Tricia Hersey’s “The Nap Ministry” gaining attention based on the idea that rest, especially for Black women, is a form of resistance. Even online phrases such as “soft life” and “quiet quitting” have hinted at a cultural shift in prioritizing leisure over professional ambition.
"One of the things we have to recognize, especially as Black women, is that there is this engrained, societal, systemic notion that our worth is built around our productivity."
If companies are lining up to consult with Walters about their brands and products, then women have been looking to her for guidance on starting over since she invited them to livestream her resignation 12 years ago. As viewers continue to demand more from content creators in the form of intimate, personal details, Walters has navigated her personal brand with a sense of transparency without oversharing the vulnerable details about her life, especially when it comes to her family.
The entrepreneur said she’d been approached to write a book for several years and was initially convinced she was finally ready to write one about business. “I started to do that, and then I went through my divorce. When that happened, I said, why would I write a book telling people to get the life that I have when I’m not sure about the life that I have,” she said.
Instead, she decided to write Nothing Is Missing and provide a closer look at her life, starting with being born to immigrant Ghanaian parents (“You need to know my childhood to know why I’m passionate about entrepreneurship.”) through the adoption of her three daughters and eventual divorce. Despite her desire to share, however, she said she felt protective of the privacy of her family, including her ex-husband.
When discussing this with me, Walters said she was reminded of a lesson she learned from actress Kerry Washington, who released her own memoir, Thicker Than Water, just a week before Walters’ book release. Washington’s memoir grapples with family secrets, too, specifically the fact that she was conceived using a sperm donor and didn’t learn about it until she was already a successful TV star. While Washington reflects on how the decision and subsequent deception impacted her, she’s also careful to hold space for her parents’ experiences, too. “A lot of things she said was that she had to recognize where she was the supporting character and where she was the main character,” Walter said.
This is something Walter worked to do in Nothing Is Missing when discussing her daughter’s struggles with addiction. “I was very intentional about making sure that I did not reveal more than what was required,” she said. “If I say something about someone’s addiction, I don’t need to go into the list of the substances they used, how they used them, what I found. [I don’t need to] walk into a room and paint a picture of what it looked like for people to understand.”
Walters said some of the most vulnerable moments in the book barely made a ripple once it was released. She was extremely nervous to write about getting an abortion, she said. But no one has asked her about this in the months since the book was released. Instead, people have been more interested in quirkier revelations, such as the fact that she once appeared on Wheel of Fortune.
“I have bared my soul about this thing I went through in my youth that has changed me for people, and people are like, ‘So how heavy was the wheel when you spun it?’” she said, chuckling. “It just goes to show that people never worry about the thing that you worry about.”
With the success of Nothing Is Missing, Walters said she still isn’t planning to release a business book at the moment. But, as she navigates parenting a teenager and two adult children while also navigating a relationship with her new fiancé, Walters said she believes she has at least one or two more books to write about her personal journey. “There is sort of an arc of where my life has gone that I know I’ve got something more to say about this that I think is important, relevant and necessary,” she said.
In just three years, Walters’ life has undergone a major transformation. There’s no telling what the next three years will have in store for her, but it seems likely she’ll retain an inspired audience wherever life takes her.
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In the vibrant heart of Atlanta, the dating scene received a stylish upgrade courtesy of the dynamic Dr. Stacii Jae Johnson. I recently witnessed her matchmaker extraordinaire skills live in action at a speed dating soirée with a Mr. & Mrs. Smith twist. This event wasn't just an opportunity for singles to mingle; it also set the stage for Amazon Prime Video's buzzworthy new series coming in Feb 2024, adding a cinematic flair to the evening's potential connections.
Stepping into the world of speed dating for the first time, I couldn't shake the mix of nerves and excitement fueling my anticipation. The idea of meeting new faces in a fast-paced setting felt like the dating version of a rollercoaster ride—thrilling yet slightly nerve-wracking. Little did I know this night would spark a newfound eagerness to dive back into the dating pool.
Navigating the curated world of speed dating under Dr. Stacii's guidance, I found myself captivated by the creative ambiance and Mr. & Mrs. Smith theme. With Amazon Prime Video's collaboration, the evening not only held the promise of potential romance but also stirred anticipation for the upcoming series, creating a unique conversation starter among attendees.
As a 28-year-old navigating the dating landscape, this experience marked a turning point. The allure of speed dating not only melted away my initial reservations but also ignited a sense of hope and curiosity about what the future might hold. The event acted as a stylish nudge, prompting me to embrace the dating adventure with fresh enthusiasm, regardless of my past lack of serious relationship experience.
In an exclusive interview with Dr. Stacii, we delved into the world of dating advice for single Black women navigating the modern dating landscape. Dr. Stacii's wisdom, honed from years of experience, promises to be a beacon for those seeking genuine connections in a world saturated with swipes and fleeting encounters.
“The small talk is amazing. It's a great starter. But what I liked about this speed dating event hosted by myself in partnership with Prime Video for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, it allowed for real conversations to happen and real connections to be made,” emphasized Dr. Stacii.
“One of the things that I even stated was to keep your mind open. That's why we pushed so much with questions that were intriguing and questions that then can open the door to a level of thought that would not probably have been in the conversation with a normal speed dating event.”
Keeping an open mind is key in today’s dating scene. Dr. Stacii and I were able to chat about the struggles of being on dating apps and how social media is starting to alter people's perception of dating, where we should and shouldn’t go on a first date, and what's acceptable and what's not. She also gave some great advice for singles looking to still make meaningful connections, how to approach dating with steps to find out what we really want, and how to articulate that when we're looking to date.
“I think online dating is a great starting place for men and women and, of course, speed dating events like the ones that I host that come with loaded questions that can add to real connection,” Dr. Stacii responded. “Online dating for men and women is an opportunity to connect to more people than we would on a daily because we're all working, some of us taking care of children, and all of us have bills. It’s an opportunity for you to meet people quicker than you would normally.”
For some women who are still working through past traumas from previous relationships or even situationships, Dr. Stacii touched on how they can navigate dating while still healing from these experiences. “All of us were given the blueprints that our parents, caregivers, community, social media, or even trauma gave us. But none of us were really given a blueprint of what works for another individual and what doesn't. Online dating and dating in general is not something where you work through severe trauma, depression, or anxiety that you have over dating. You do that in therapy.”
In the modern dating scene, a lot of women have become comfortable shooting their shot at men they are interested in. I’ve personally slid in a few DMs myself and sometimes try to come up with clever, catchy sayings to really get their attention. Dr. Stacii and I discussed how women can operate in their feminine energy and gave tips on giving signals to men while in public.
Dr. Stacii Jae Johnson
“It's totally OK for a woman to shoot her shot. After you give a man a clear point of entry, you're letting him know that you're interested without a shadow of a doubt. After that, you allow him to receive you and then take the lead. I don't think there's anything wrong with initially sliding in someone's DMs, but women need to make sure to do their research and look thoroughly at the guy to make sure they don't see them involved in any relationship. Also, look at the character of the individual so it’s not just being led by a handsome picture of the guy or a car. These are all things that mean nothing to building healthy, romantic relationships.”
Rejection plays a huge part in the process of dating, and sometimes you have to learn how to “charge it to the game.” Dr. Stacii noted that men often take rejection harder than women. “Sometimes men want to approach but more times than not, they don't because some men are way more sensitive than women to rejection. Sometimes rejection from a woman to a man may be a little bit more harsh.”
It is a common aspect of dating and women who shoot their shot definitely experience it as well as men. Dr. Stacii gave some great tips on how to navigate rejection gracefully and maintain a positive outlook for the next time you want to take a swing at it. “Use dating as an experiment. Even how you shoot your shot. Asking, ‘What did I say that time that maybe didn't get a response or the response that I would have wanted?’ Use each encounter as a way to learn. A lot of times with women, they don't remember that there is a marketability in dating. If you are not acting as the woman who is in the market for the man that you want, then what can you do to get that marketability aspect that may be attractive to him? Make sure your marketability is in alignment with what that type of man would want.”
As I reflect on the whirlwind experiences—the dynamic "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" speed dating event and the insightful conversation with Dr. Stacii—I can't help but feel equipped with valuable insights for the dating landscape in 2024. Dr. Stacii's advice for single Black women navigating modern romance has been both enlightening and empowering, providing a roadmap for personal growth and connection.
Armed with this newfound wisdom and a renewed sense of enthusiasm, I'm looking forward to applying these lessons to my dating journey. Dr. Stacii's book, "Date Girl! 143 Reasons Why I Believe Women Should Date Multiple Men," is now on my must-read list, promising a deeper understanding of the complexities of dating.
As the countdown to February 2nd begins, I'm eagerly anticipating the premiere of the Amazon Prime Video series "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." With its promise of romance and espionage, both on-screen and in real life, I'm ready to embrace the twists and turns that the year holds for me. Here's to a year of growth, connection, and the exciting journey that awaits in the realm of modern romance.
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