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.
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Entrepreneur and community curator Chanise Robinson moved from her hometown of Seattle, Washington, to Los Angeles in 2015 for the life she’d always envisioned for herself.
From a young age, she knew her dreams were too big for the Emerald City so after a quick trip to southern California it was only a matter of time before she called it home. “I’ve always wanted to leave Seattle. There wasn’t enough culture for me, and having grown up there, I knew every Black person, whether it was from school or church,” says Robinson. Immediately after obtaining her Bachelor's degree from the University of Washington, it was then she decided it was time to make her move. “I exhausted all the options, opportunities, and resources I thought I could get from living there and knew I had to leave eventually.”
After graduating from her Alma Mater as a first-generation college student, she chose to continue her education, completing her master's degree at USC. After entering the corporate world, she noticed a lack of information sharing within the Black community, which led to a strong desire to gather community peers, leaders, and experts through sit-down panel discussions. “In corporate spaces, white people are talking and sharing ideas with each other behind closed doors, and I felt Black people didn't have that same network, so I created that space where I saw the gap.”
“In corporate spaces, white people are talking and sharing ideas with each other behind closed doors, and I felt Black people didn't have that same network, so I created that space where I saw the gap.”
Receiving a little motivation from a friend, Conversations with Chanise was created in 2018 with the goal of hosting professional events people could resonate with. “A lot of the time, industry panels can feel dry and disconnected from our culture and community, so I wanted to build that network myself, using it as a platform for others to find knowledge, information, and resources needed to navigate corporate spaces, tools that I didn’t have.”
Continuing to climb in her career, in 2020, Chanise landed a role as a recruiter for one of the fastest-growing tech companies in the world, Snapchat Inc. During her time at the company, she held multiple roles from Recruiter, Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion manager, to eventually landing on the Venture Capital Team, a position that was given because of her impressive community efforts outside of work.
During this time, Conversations with Chanise evolved into Out Of Office due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “In 2020, I changed the name because we were working remotely. Working from home for two years, if you weren't fortunate enough to work for your company prior to the pandemic, then you didn't know your co-workers, especially other Black co-workers.” With the pandemic creating an even bigger challenge to the lack of networking amongst diverse employees, what began as events became a community for Black and Latinx employees from across a number of tech companies to come together and meet fellow peers from across the industry.
It wasn't until 2022 that OOO hosted its first brunch for Black History Month. The invite-only event hosted sixty-five people tech employees, complete with a five-course meal. “Eight people from Amazon attended the event, and that was the first time they had ever met each other, they were all Black.”
Earlier this year, there was an inclination of a soon-to-come recession, which hit the tech world head-on, causing many Americans to be affected. In May of 2022, Chanise was laid off from Snapchat after three and a half years. “I didn’t take the layoff personally. You would think that after being at a company for three years, you would be sad, but since my entire team got laid off, including the people that brought me on, it was just business.”
With a few inside connections, her unemployment was short-lived after receiving two job offers within the following weeks of her being let go. “A former manager on the recruiting team is now the Director of Talent and Acquisition at DoorDash. She reached out about the Senior Program Manager role and encouraged me to apply. All you need is a referral.” She describes this carefree moment of her life as funemployment. “I had another offer from a VC firm, I was on funemployment. I blew my severance check going to Miami buying tables at popular nightclubs, I was having a great time.”
"I didn’t take the layoff personally. You would think that after being at a company for three years, you would be sad, but since my entire team got laid off, including the people that brought me on, it was just business."
With two offers on the table, she went with DoorDash in late September of 2023 as a Senior Program Manager. She was indeed feeling like that girl. Less than 30 days into her new role, she woke up to an unexpected text that sent waves of uncertainty and doubt. Three weeks and two days after starting her new role, Chanise was included in a company-wide layoff.
“A former co-worker from Snapchat was also working at DoorDash at the time and called me at 6:00 a.m. informing me she was included in a company-wide layoff. At that moment, I just knew I couldn’t have been laid off, I just got here,” Chanise recounts. Quickly opening her emails, she saw the dreaded subject line 'Your Employment at DoorDash.' “This time, I was pissed. I was upset and in shock.”
“The first day I was still in positive spirits, it wasn't until the next day I woke up and realized this was real, and I was scared.” With the economic uncertainty looming, there was a mix of emotions. “A lot of times we talk about recessions, and we know what happened in 2008, but I was a kid in high school. Now I’m an adult, and I’ve been laid off twice. I know it’s not the skillset, and I know it's not my work ethic, so now I’m scared.” The most obvious question she had on her mind was, “What am I going to do?”
Being in such a vulnerable space of fear and uncertainty can bring back traumas buried within our deepest childhood memories. “Not only am I only a first-generation college graduate, but I grew up in a single-parent household,” Chanise details. “My mom's ex-husband had a drug problem, and by the time I was nine years old, my mom filed for bankruptcy, leading to my family and I living in a homeless shelter for a year.”
After being laid off, the possibility of being homeless was a looming fear, but it was only because of past trauma. “My work ethic and drive comes from never wanting to put myself in a position that I was in as a child. When you’re a kid, you don't have control over what happens to you, but I made a pact with God that I would always do whatever it took moving forward, and I would never be disqualified on paper.”
"My work ethic and drive comes from never wanting to put myself in a position that I was in as a child... I made a pact with God that I would always do whatever it took moving forward, and I would never be disqualified on paper."
With what seemed to be back-to-back failures, there were many conversations with God that led her to realize life happens fast and it’s up to us how we deal with it. “I’m in a situation where I can't blame anyone for what I’m going through, I can't say it's anyone else's fault, it just happens to be life.” As scary as it was to be without a job once again, this was a wake-up call for the steadfast entrepreneur. “It’s taught me a lot about the recession. It's understanding that it has nothing to do with me personally. It gave me fuel to never work for just one company at a time. You should always have multiple streams of income, and most of those streams should be things you can control at all times.”
Chanise began to realize that maybe this was the time to take her dreams for Out Of Office to the next level. “OOO was always something that I wanted to do full time, but I don’t think I would have pushed myself to be as full-time as quickly. The summit would have never been something I envisioned for myself to happen this year if I wasn’t laid off.”
Not one to back down from an opportunity, Chanise began to use what she had curated so well within her time in Los Angeles, her community. “I was listening to Kirk Franklin on The Breakfast Club podcast, and his message was to win wounded. When you're trying to cross the finish line in a race, sometimes people get hurt and want to give up, but even if you’re limping, you still need to cross the finish line.”
Wounded, she was still on a mission to fulfill the desires of her heart regardless of her situation. “Before I was laid off from DoorDash, there was a woman on the Diversity and Inclusion team who reached out, informing me they would like me to run their Black employee resource group because of my experience and what I was doing with my Out Of Office events.” She continues, “We had a meeting set for Friday and I was laid off Wednesday, two days before the meeting. Reaching out via LinkedIn, [I] informed her that my role had been eliminated; however, I would like to schedule a call to talk about OOO and what we can do.”
“During the meeting, I spoke with her about my vision to do a cross-company employee resource group summit, and it just so happened the company had plans for one the following year for internal employees. They loved that my vision was much bigger, so they decided to give me the money and let me run it instead.” And just like that, a full circle moment. The company that laid her off after three weeks of employment was giving her $45,000 to become the first official sponsor of her biggest corporate summit to date.
This was the momentum she needed to propel her into her destiny. “Even though I was sad, faith without work is dead,” says Chanise. “A lot of times, people let life stop them from pursuing their dreams, and they just give up, and you never know what it could have been.”
"Faith without work is dead. A lot of times, people let life stop them from pursuing their dreams, and they just give up, and you never know what it could have been."
Once the idea of the Employee Research Summit was to become a reality, there was a lot more work to be done. While planning for the ERG Summit, OOO was to host an upcoming event, and while excited about what was in the works, Chanise states, “I remember telling God I really don’t want to do this. This was the first time I charged people to come to a happy hour, and that’s not normally something I would do. I didn’t know if it was worth it and wanted to cancel, but I didn't.”
After the event, she was approached by someone from Amazon’s Cross-Functional Strategic Marketing Team, who had consistently attended a number of OOO events. After a brief conversation, Chanise was informed of a sponsorship for professional development opportunities leading Amazon to become the second official sponsor, providing funds and a space to host her upcoming ERG summit. “At that moment, I knew God was telling me to 'keep going and I will provide all the resources.'”
"At that moment, I knew God was telling me to 'keep going and I will provide all the resources.'"
Fortunate to have really great friends, “I was in search of a keynote speaker, I reached out to Trell Thomas, founder of Black Excellence Brunch, who has a great relationship with Ms. Tina Knowles, among many other celebrity influencers. After discussing ideas and budget, he asked me who I’d like to speak at the event, and thinking it was a reach, I requested Ms. Tina.”
To Chanise’s surprise, Ms. Tina confirmed within a week. “She poured so much life into the audience with her message of not giving up or quitting no matter your age. Speaking to her felt like Sunday dinner, my spirit was full.” After a day full of corporate connections and panel discussions, as an added bonus, the summit wrapped up with an after-party performance by Eric Bellinger.
The Out Of Office ERG Summit was not just a moment to bridge the gap between culture and corporations but it was a culmination of hard work, faith, and determination. No matter what door closes, never be afraid of chasing your dreams. “Throughout this journey, I continued to pray. Lord, please send the resources and opportunities. Give me favor with people and help me do the work in which you have given me,” says Chanise. In the end, official sponsors for the summit included Amazon, Doordash, Snapchat, Google, YouTube, Jack Daniels, FIJI Water, and Bumble for Friends.
As far as going back to work full-time, Chanise shares, “I’ll pray and apply for jobs, but I'll keep working as an entrepreneur. My level of faith has been elevated. What started out as doubt turned into crazy faith.”
On words of encouragement, Chanise advises, “Just keep going, even when you're sad or don’t believe in yourself. Find one person to talk to that you know is going to push and elevate you, an accountability partner. Even if you don’t believe in God, find a faith partner. Find someone who believes and has the faith that you don't, to speak it over you, carrying the faith for you when you can’t.”
This year, Chanise learned that what God has for her is for her, and she’s the only person who can stand in her way. “I’m in my own way sometimes. There's also a difference between providing and sustaining. God will provide you with just enough, and He’ll give you the wisdom and the resources to stretch it long enough for it to last. That's different from asking God to provide.
"We underestimate our creativity. God never gives you a finished project but He gives you the creativity, ideas, and resources to be able to build, sustain, and provide for you. It’s being able to tap into that.”
For more of Chanise, follow her on Instagram @conversationswithchanise.
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