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How Artist Melissa Mitchell Manifested A Groundbreaking Deal With Spanx

"A queen bee defies nature with extreme productivity."

BOSS UP

Multihyphenate Melissa Mitchell is clearly defying the odds and showing no signs of slowing down as a self-taught artist, entrepreneur, and the Chief Artistic Designer of her company, Abeille Creations.


From canvases and murals, to wearable art, such as headwraps, turbans, kimono's, and more -- Melissa's work has been featured and highlighted across numerous national publications, events, media outlets, and brand partnerships including: VOGUE, ESSENCE, Forbes, Huffington Post, Nike, Sheen Magazine, Art Basel, Ford, and The Sister Circle, just to name a few. Oh, and did we mention that Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o is also a fan of her work?

As if that wasn't enough, Melissa is now embarking on one of the most exciting and major collaborations of her career with the billion-dollar brand, Spanx. The new exclusive Melissa Mitchell & Spanx® Illuminate-Her™ collection is now available nationwide and in Canada! The collection will also benefit Black Girls Code. Talk about being productive while making an impact. Her spirit and her work ethic truly embodies that of a natural queen bee.

Melissa recently spoke with xoNecole about her artistic journey, how she was able to secure the bag and a Spanx deal, what it means to own your moment and own the room, and why it's important to trust God's timing and the gifts that He has given you.

xoNecole: How have you found purpose through your paintbrush? 

Melissa Mitchell: Both of my parents were pastors and quite naturally they wanted me to follow in their footsteps. But I had to find God for myself. So, I traded the pulpit for the paintbrush, and my paintings became my prayers on canvas.

Now, I use my art to share my purpose. Art has become my platform, and it's allowed me to have a voice to my purpose and empower people. Because I'm so vocal about my story and what God is doing, people want part of that testimony [her art] in their house every day.

Instagram/Spanx

"I had to find God for myself. So, I traded the pulpit for the paintbrush, and my paintings became my prayers on canvas."

Your art is comprised of “vibrant colors, unique shapes, and bold dark lines.” Where does that inspiration come from? 

Besides my Bahamian heritage, I always found a way to bring color into the picture as a way to express myself, as well as to heal because colors have healing power. Art was like my medicine. Around 2014, when I started painting, I wasn't feeling bright and bubbly and full of life. My father had passed away only a few years prior to when I started painting.

Not to mention, I was dealing with normal life frustrations and the societal pressures that many women face in their early thirties because I didn't have, nor was I doing, what I thought I was supposed to have by a certain age (e.g., success, marriage, kids, etc.). Nonetheless, my art helped heal my mindset. I pressed my way through all of that – the grief, the frustration, the worry – and I told myself, "I'm good."

What’s the story behind your headwraps and why are they so important to you, especially as a Black woman? 

I started wearing headwraps in college because I enjoyed wearing something that allowed me to hold my head up high with a lot of confidence. Initially, I would use random shirts and random fabrics as my wraps, but I figured if I'm going to wrap my hair, then I might as well wrap it up in some art that represents my brand with the intent of possibly making money.

Four years ago, I specifically wrote that "one day, I will sit in boardrooms with headwraps on." When I walked in the Spanx conference room wearing my headwrap, I owned the room. Everyone said, "You look like a queen," and I said, "Oh, that was deliberate."

And so they called me "Queen" because when you come into the room with confidence and knowing who you are, people will begin to call you that without you even having to introduce yourself.

"When you come into the room with confidence and knowing who you are, people will begin to call you that without you even having to introduce yourself."

Tell us how this partnership came about, and how a last-minute decision led to this moment. 

In 2018, I heard about the Illuminate-Her contest with Spanx. My mentor at the time, Kevin Williams, was looking for some people to sit in for a portrait that was being created. When asked what I was working on, I mentioned that I was waiting on my next big, global deal. When he asked me what I planned to do about it, I told him about the Illuminate-Her contest, and how people kept encouraging me to apply. However, I figured my work was too bright and I didn't think I'd be ideal for it, but he told me, "Well, you never know until you apply."

So, I went home that night -- the last day the applications were due. I stood in my kitchen and I prayed. I had one painting in my kitchen, one in my living room, and one in my bedroom. I took pictures of each of them, and those were the ones I submitted. The painting from my kitchen was the one that ended up being selected as the winner, which is what you now see on the new collection. And now, here we are.

What did this opportunity teach you as it relates to timing?  

It's interesting because the winning design that was chosen was actually a painting I did back in 2015. I tried to sell it at four different shows, but when it didn't sell, I just kept bringing it home, and eventually I made it a part of my home décor. Clearly, God did not allow that painting to sell because it was going to be sold around the world; not just here in the Atlanta market.

It was a teachable moment for me because so often we ask, "When is it going to be my time," or "When is God going to call my name?" But it only took one opportunity to catapult my career to unimaginable heights. It reminded me that God's timing is ideal, and He can make up for all the time you thought you lost.

Nevertheless, it definitely wasn't an overnight success. What you see now is the success that I had been praying for…things that have been on my vision board for the past 15 years. In order to manifest things in your life, you have to have a whole lot of faith and a whole lot of patience. As my spirituality grew, my work grew, and as my work grew, it got the right attention of the right people.

The debut of the Melissa Mitchell and Spanx Illuminate-Her collection.

Melissa Mitchell/Instagram

"What you see now is the success that I had been praying for…things that have been on my vision board for the past 15 years. In order to manifest things in your life, you have to have a whole lot of faith and a whole lot of patience."

So, tell us about your new exclusive collection. 

The Melissa Mitchell and Spanx Illuminate-Her collection includes the Bra-llelujah!® Illuminate-Her™ Bralette (also known as "Colorful Harmony")…but it's not your traditional bra. It's more like a comfortable sports bra that you want to wear every day. I've been wearing it for the past two weeks, and it makes you feel like a woman, yet young and vibrant, all at the same time. It's great for the younger lady who's training, as well as the seasoned woman who's trying to get her groove back. The collection also includes a matching Under Statements® Thong lluminate-Her™ Thong.

What was it like for you sitting in the Spanx boardrooms discussing your designs? 

Honestly, it felt like home. It felt like I belonged there. It was a moment I had been preparing for. I felt like it was where I was supposed to be, and what God had called me to do. Similar to the feeling you have when you find the perfect dress or the love of your life…it's a feeling you can't describe. You just know.

For an artist who may be considering a lucrative deal or partnership, what is important for them to consider (aside from the money)?  

As an artist, you have to be keenly aware of who you sell your art to. You have to control your narrative and your story. You have to think about the brands and the value they can bring to you.

When it comes to business, what is something you wish someone had told you?  

Be okay with delegating. As business owners, everything is our baby and we want to touch everything and do everything. However, I had to learn how to let go of some of the small tasks and let people help me be great. The power of a team is much more powerful than you burning yourself out trying to do it all alone. There's no award for running yourself ragged, so let people help you.

What would you say has been your biggest lesson so far? 

We think we're supposed to win everything we try, but anything I missed wasn't for me. That's why I'm not afraid to say or hear the word "no." Some "no's" are protective barriers, and sometimes, your "no" season is your preparation time. You have to be just as grateful for the closed doors as you are for the opened doors.

"We think we're supposed to win everything we try, but anything I missed wasn't for me. That's why I'm not afraid to say or hear the word 'no.' Some 'no's' are protective barriers, and sometimes, your 'no' season is your preparation time."

For other fellow artists and businesswomen, what would you say to encourage and empower them along their journey? 

A lot of people don't trust their gifts, and instead, they worry about who's doing what to the left and right of them. Be confident in your art and expression, and trust the language God has given you. Trust your gifts, and trust what God gave you.

Don't get discouraged about what seems like an oversaturated market. There's still space for you to do your thing, but you may have to add your own special twist to it. Even though there may be a million artists out there, now there's a million plus one because I'm here!

You can check out the new Melissa Mitchell & Spanx Illuminate-Her™ collection. Keep up with Melissa's Abeille Creations on Instagram by clicking here.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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