Aley Arion is a writer and digital storyteller from the South, currently living in sunny Los Angeles. Her site, yagirlaley.com, serves as a digital diary to document personal essays, cultural commentary, and her insights into the Black Millennial experience. Follow her at @yagirlaley on all platforms!
Black Woman Owned is a limited series highlighting black woman business owners who are change-makers and risk-takers in their respective realms. As founders, these women dare to be bold, have courage in being the change they wish to see in the world, and are unapologetic when it comes to their vision. These black women aren't waiting for a seat, they are owning the table.Imagination, at its core, is the springboard of creativity. No matter the trade or discipline, the work of an artist is the physical manifestation of a once shapeless concept that, through time, is crafted into something real. Over the years, Shannon Maldonado, founder of the Philly-based concept store, YOWIE, has mastered this feat. And today, this small but mighty business owner displays how to "take your ideas off the page and explain why they should exist."
In order to understand what YOWIE is, you must note that this multi-hyphenate space is just as its motto implies: it's "a lot of things." The part-retail shop, part-design studio, and whole-adult playground was birthed out of what Shannon imagined her perfect workplace to be. What started out as a Pinterest mood board and side project, has since grown into something much greater with a community-centric purpose that ripples throughout its Philly home base.
Much like her brainchild, Shannon has never been the type to limit her creativity when it begs to expand. For more than a decade, Shannon worked within the corporate fashion sector for legacy brands like Tommy Hilfiger, American Eagle, and Ralph Lauren. Each work experience imparted valuable lessons that she would then apply to her own business, sharing that it's "really important before you start your own thing: to see how others do it." But like any great student of their craft understands, there's just as much to learn from others' mistakes as there is from their wins.
That's why Shannon was determined "to do the opposite" of what she saw in these spaces once she got her wings to launch YOWIE in 2016.
Courtesy of Shannon Maldonado
Photo by: Caro Ramirez
Shannon's pivot from the corporate world was marked by a need for more, a call that would push her into something greater, "I had social anxiety, financial anxiety [in New York]. There was just so much bubbling under the surface that once I hit that wall, it became way easier to leave. I was ready for a change." She was looking to pursue something that would challenge her both professionally and personally, and YOWIE did just that.
In the five years since YOWIE's inception, the shop has experienced a great deal of local support, but nothing would match that influx of visibility that would come in 2020. Wedged between the onslaught of small business support brought on by COVID-19, along with the hypervisibility of Black-owned businesses that followed the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter uprisings, Shannon's once intimate neighborhood corner store, began to grow in brand recognition.
"It made me feel more comfortable about speaking out on injustices. That's who I am. I want to be a good neighbor and a civically-minded human being, and that should be a part of our brand as well."
YOWIE is an extension of Shannon and the community that raised her. It's a noun, an adjective, and even a verb. Home-grown and community-centric. It speaks to her genius to never be boxed in by one product, space, or idea. But most of all, YOWIE is yours and belongs to the community of South Philadelphia.
YOWIE is the future.
What prompted the transition from your corporate job to taking the leap into entrepreneurship? Were there any challenges you had to face in this transition?
One of the challenges was how for the entire time I'd been in corporate, I've been an anonymous designer. So unless I told you that these were jeans that I designed, you would have no idea who made them. To stand in front of a group of people [when I launched YOWIE] and say these are all of the things that I love, these are artists that I think you should believe in, that was very scary. I felt very naked because YOWIE is such a personal brand and such an extension of me.
In the beginning, you're really just trying to find your voice and your audience. I think there's this misconception that the world is just waiting for you to finish your website and then they're all just going to run and buy everything, but that's not true; it's actually very anticlimactic. But every step of the way, I would get a small affirmation, whether it was a purchase, press, or someone saying, "This is really special." I would hold on to those things. It's never lost on me when someone compliments the brand or I see someone wearing our tote on the street. I'm very proud that people resonate with the brand, it definitely helps me out on the harder days when I'm like, 'What the hell am I doing?!'
You left New York and headed home to Philly to start what is now YOWIE. Sometimes there can be resistance or even pride in returning home, how were you able to adjust to this move?
For many reasons, I didn't want to do the brand in New York. It felt like it would just be one of many in New York, and it would be very financially challenging to do YOWIE there. I wanted it to be the opposite of what I was used to, I wanted YOWIE to be based on emotion, feelings, the love of design, and not worry about money. I felt like I should open it in a lower-cost city like Philly that I know, but it also is unfamiliar to me because I had been gone for so long.
I was looking for a challenge and space where I would make mistakes; a mistake in Philly is not the same cost as a mistake in New York, so it felt a lot more comfortable to me. After that much time [in New York], I didn't hate my job, but I wasn't learning anymore. I'm a life-long student, I love to learn, I like being uncomfortable. I wanted to do something that was going to challenge me professionally and personally and boy, did it!
"To stand in front of a group of people and say, these are all of the things that I love, these are artists that I think you should believe in, that was very scary. I felt very naked because YOWIE is such a personal brand and such an extension of me."
Courtesy of Shannon Maldonado
Photo by: Caro Ramirez
Have you seen the benefits of sticking to your gut in building YOWIE in your hometown of Philly?
I think the biggest thing with your gut is that it's like a muscle you have to work at and grow over time and get comfortable listening to. In the beginning, when you start a business, a lot of the people who you love and care about will come out of the woodwork to give you advice. They want to tell you, "One time my friend started a business and this is what they did wrong." All of a sudden, everyone's an expert in small business. So you're going to hear a lot of noise, and I was, in the first six months or so, susceptible to that noise. I've always been someone who trusts my gut and instincts, so I was like, "Wait, I can't get sucked into this now, this is not who I am."
Over time, I built up this group of friends who I call my "frientors sounding board" and those are the people who I take the things that I'm truly unsure about with YOWIE to. But it's not an open forum for every random person to come in and tell me what I should do with the brand.
That door closed a very long time ago because I think at the end of the day, people can look at your brand from the outside and dissect it and think they know what's what, but only you know your goals and intentions and you have to feel comfortable with that. I don't think that's something that comes overnight, but once I locked into what I wanted YOWIE to be, there's no person who can steer me from that direction.
YOWIE experienced a great deal of growth through the hypervisibility of last summer’s events with COVID and the BLM movement. How has life and business changed since then?
That whole time was interesting. It was affirming because I had been working on YOWIE for so long and had very humble goals for it. I wasn't chasing rapid growth, just slow and steady strategy, so I was like, "Wow, this is exciting that we're finally getting all this attention!" But then, it's wrapped in: we're getting all this attention because someone has died. Or because finally, people are deciding that they should support Black businesses after an obscene amount of time of us being here. It was really complicated. I didn't know what else to do but galvanize that attention into raising funds and sharing resources because it just didn't feel right to just take it all for ourselves.
I have a younger brother who's had run-ins with the police, and it struck a nerve with me to see how many times we heard these stories and something broke in me. For a long time as a Black founder, I was unsure if I could weave some of the experience that I've had about race into our brand and narrative. I wasn't sure how that would be received. But after that time in June , I didn't care anymore. This is something that's important to me and if this alienates some of our customers, then they weren't our people anyway.
It was very empowering in that way, but it was also very strange. In the aftermath, I feared that it would all be taken away, I thought this is all just fleeting, a moment, and it would fizzle out. I'm very proud to say that hasn't been the case for us. We've grown exponentially, but there was definitely this fear of they're only here for a moment.
"Once I locked into what I wanted YOWIE to be, there's no person who can steer me from that direction."
Courtesy of Shannon Maldonado
Photo by: Caro Ramirez
How have you been able to align yourself with opportunities that speak to you and your brand and not fall into the “once in a lifetime opportunities” myth?
It's been a lot of trial and error on my end. In June, we got a lot more inquiries about collaborations than we ever had in the five years that we've been in business. Some were so obviously copy-and-pasted, no recognition of who we are, it was just like they called an all-hands meeting and said, "Find a Black person! Find a Black business!" I was once such a people-pleaser, but that was the first time in my life where I started saying "no" to things. Professionally and politely.
Now, my first thing is: I need to feel something. When I get an email, it's like the same process as when I order products: I want to feel excited. I wanted to feel an immediate visceral reaction. For me now, nothing is an immediate "yes" anymore. I have to ask questions.
You have to do your due diligence now because so many people are trying to tokenize us and to look like they're not crazy or doing terrible things and I will not be that person. Money is not the only success of YOWIE, what we've built, the community we have is better than that.
In what ways have you learned to be gentle with yourself in the process of entrepreneurship?
That's something that's still a work-in-progress for me. One of the biggest things I've done in the last two years is not comparing myself and what I'm doing with YOWIE to what other entrepreneurs are doing with their brands. I think that was a big unlock for me because you can lose so much time feeling insecure or jealous about what someone else is doing that you could use creating or trying new things.
When you're starting out, it's hard to not do that, but once I got in the mindset of "I know where I want YOWIE to go," it cleared a lot of space for me to be creative again. I think a lot of that is because I'm a lot older than the people I interact with. I know who I am, I'm sure of myself, I'm not trying to find myself anymore as a person. Coming into my late 30s, I know where I want to be, and what kind of leader I want to become and what kind of brand that I want to create.
"I know who I am, I'm sure of myself, I'm not trying to find myself anymore as a person. Coming into my late 30s, I know where I want to be, and what kind of leader I want to become and what kind of brand that I want to create."
Courtesy of Shannon Maldonado
Photo by: Caro Ramirez
What does a “safe space” mean to you?
Safe space, in our regard, means a place where you can not only be yourself but a place where you feel a sense of ownership. There's something about feeling like something is yours or that it's a part of your community that makes it feel safe. One of the things that I love and gets me choked up is when people talk about YOWIE and how proud they are that it's in Philly and that it's their space. That makes me feel really proud that they feel like they own part of the space.
Having this pride and ownership over a space. Not in a way that's exclusive, but in a way that you really love it, and you want to bring all your friends into it and you can't wait to tell everyone about it.
To learn more about YOWIE and Shannon Maldonado's community-centric endeavors, follow her here.
Featured image courtesy by Caro Ramirez
Whether you like it or not, Joseline Hernandez is here to stay. For nearly a decade, the self-proclaimed Puerto Rican Princess has claimed her throne as reality TV royalty, captivating viewers with her on-screen antics and infectious off-screen persona. Since parting ways from her veteran-run on VH1's acclaimed show, Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta, Joseline has since transitioned into running a show of her own, launching season 2 of her highly anticipated production, Joseline's Cabaret on Zeus Network.
Since its premiere, the controversial, high-action series has garnered a groundswell of online attention from its instant-viral moments. Following the shocking "Double Homicide" comment, along with Joseline's recent appearance on the Wendy Williams Show where she self-advocated for more respect on her name, the show displays all the qualities of must-watch TV.
Courtesy of Joseline Hernandez
Joseline's latest endeavors mark a pivot in her long-standing career, highlighting her ability to turn her past hurdles as a teen-runaway turned stripper — to now mother, fiance, and showrunner — as a feat worth celebrating. Although her path has been unconventional, it's one that's been carved out by resilience and a whole lot of hustle; and she doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon.
For xoNecole, Joseline spoke candidly about what to expect from the new season of her hit show, Joseline's Cabaret, why she's making space for women in the sex work industry, and how she's taking her career back into her own hands.
xoNecole: You've been open about your childhood and being a runaway at just 14 years old. Looking back, how did being independent at such a young age help you become the woman you are today?
Joseline Hernandez: How I started out life was so dramatic, it made me want to figure out a way to cut that tail. You're like, "I don't want to be here, I have to figure out what I want to do with my life." When I was 21-22, I figured out that I wanted to do something like Joseline's Cabaret. I used to be a stripper, I always wanted to entertain. When I was 21, I realized, "I can entertain, I'm about to do this." I didn't have it easy like Beyoncé or Rihanna or any of the other girls who had help from their parents. I did it all by myself.
When you're 21, you're still a teenager. People think you're grown but you're not. Me not having help and having to struggle, I said to myself, "One day, you're gonna be somebody, you're gonna make it. Those dreams that you had as a child, you didn't forget them, and since you didn't forget them, you must fight to get them." And that's what I did.
That's why I think I was able to break the spell for me and my daughter. Moving forward in life and carrying that torch, I was able to do it for my last name and for my family's blood, Hernandez, and I was able to change the future. It came with a lot of pain and suffering, but I made it happen.
"I said to myself, 'One day, you're gonna be somebody, you're gonna make it. Those dreams that you had as a child, you didn't forget them, and since you didn't forget them, you must fight to get them.' And that's what I did."
Courtesy of Joseline Hernandez
Instead of being a victim of your circumstance you’ve been victorious in shifting your story. What was the shift in your mindset that you hope to pass down to the women in your Cabaret?
JH: It's always a decision that's going to make you a better person. I always make a decision to stop doing something that's not good for me, and I never go back. For the ladies at the Cabaret, they really have to make sure that what they do moving forward, is the best decision. And that's how you're going to become great: it's always that one decision that's going to take you to the next level.
Could you take us through the moment when you decided you wanted to make the pivot from 'Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta' to create and executive produce a show of your own?
JH: When you're working for another person for a few years, you realize that everything you were giving to that person, you can give it to yourself. I stayed with LAHHA for six years, but there came a point where I was like, "I'm a mother, it's time for me to do something for myself. What can do that's going to change everything in my life and my daughter's future?" And that was to finally create my passion which was Joseline's Cabaret. To finally put that together was all I ever wanted. I felt like I didn't need to keep doing LAHHA because I needed to do something for me.
Courtesy of Joseline Hernandez
You’ve gone from being the star talent on 'LAHHA' to being the producer of your own show. Is there anything that you gleaned during your time working with Mona Scott Young that you aim to do differently in your own productions?
JH: What makes me different is that the ladies know who I am and I know who they are. I don't have to do fake and phony stuff because I know what's real. I really didn't have to produce any of the ladies this season, because they know what they came to do. It's a competition, four ladies get to perform at the Cabaret and get $10,000, so there's no production there. Everyone has their own energy and their own attitude. And I think that's what makes me different, I don't have to lie to kick it.
Courtesy of Joseline Hernandez
There is a lot of discussion around positive representation for Black women and WOC on reality TV, what do you say to folks who may not fully see the vision behind ‘Joseline’s Cabaret’ in helping these ladies make a positive change in their lives?
JH: By the end of the season, they'll understand the whole purpose. I'm just putting the show together, I can't tell the ladies how to act. You can't produce 20 fights in one night, nobody's that lucky. This is real life, it's organic. I can be kumbaya all day, but they're gonna do what they're gonna do and I gotta let them rock. The first whole week, the ladies were going crazy, but I got them together. So it gets better.
You say that if you didn’t have your daughter, Bonnie Bella, that you wouldn’t be the woman you are today if it wasn’t for her. In what ways has motherhood changed you?
JH: When you have a baby, you want them to be strong, smart, and healthy. When you put your focus into that, it makes you a better person. Becoming a mother allowed me to become the best version of myself. When you bring somebody into the world you want to be the best version of yourself so you can teach them everything you didn't learn.
For new episodes of Joseline's Cabaret, tune in every Sunday on Zeus Network. Follow Joseline Hernandez @joseline.
Featured image courtesy of Joseline Hernandez
When we imagine arranged marriages in the traditional sense, our minds may trail off into stereotypes that reflect reluctant brides, invasive parents, with two coerced individuals, doomed to suffer in a loveless union. Not so romantic, right? But arranged marriages are not to be confused with forced marriages. See, the former centers the autonomy of choice: with two consenting adults, choosing to pursue one another for a lifetime - even after the allure of their parent's wise counsel fades. This was the case for content creators, Cam and Vicky Logan; who after 7 years of marriage illustrates what can happen when the potential for love is offered and accepted.
Courtesy of Vicky Logan
Cam and Vicky's parents were friends before the two of them ever met. Follow me: Vicky's father was celebrating his 40th birthday and invited Cam's father; it was there that Vicky met Cam's dad. Soon after the party, both sets of parents suggested that the two should meet, so Cam and Vicky started by adding each other on Facebook. Initially, there weren't any sparks that ignited their correspondence. In fact, Vicky shares that she never intended on dating someone who shared the same "Preacher's Kid" background that she grew up in, being that both her mother and grandmother were wives of preachers.
"I wanted a different experience and I knew how much work it would take," she shares. But what she didn't know was how God would use her expert-level background as preparation for the marriage awaiting her, "The joke was on me because since I knew how much it would take, it was just preparing me for doing the work with Cam."
Although reluctant at first, answering the call allowed her to step deeper into her purpose in becoming a helpmeet, which for Cam, was an answered prayer, "Growing up as a preacher's kid, various girlfriends didn't understand my necessity to be at church all the time, it's part of my life. As I got older and matured, I knew I needed someone that was going to understand this life in ministry and when I found out that she was a PK too, things started going off in my head like, 'Oh, this could work.'"
Courtesy of Vicky Logan
Their friendship grew even as the miles separating them widened, with Vicky finishing school in Texas, and Cam starting his post-grad life in Chicago. The distance between them allowed the space to be filled with what would fortify their relationship in the long run: deep and intentional communication. Still, the two had to get creative for things to work since, even in the early 2010s, technology still hasn't quite reached its peak, "We were recording videos on the back cameras of our iPhone 3s, we were on ooVoo and Skype. We communicated as much as we could to feel connected even though we were 1000 miles away," Cam says. Or as Vicky puts it, "We were definitely doing the most."
But you have to applaud the effort. Especially when you're young and dating at a distance, since, let's be honest, the innate reflex is to jump straight to the physical. Cultivating verbal and non-physical intimacy was fundamental for the two in their early days, "Since we weren't sexually attracted to each other at first, we were able to develop a natural, non-sexual friendship," Cam shares. "We genuinely talked about our interests and desires. It wasn't just, 'Aye girl, what you got on?'"
This approach laid a solid framework for their relationship because they were (and still are) truly friends, "At the end of the day, she's my homey, that's my best friend. Then you add the physical, sexual attraction and it just elevates how deeply we care about each other," Cam tells xoNecole.
"At the end of the day, she's my homey, that's my best friend. Then you add the physical, sexual attraction and it just elevates how deeply we care about each other."
One of the keys to making love work is building a relationship from a solid friendship. You never really know how important that can be until you're facing a difficult time with your partner, like a global pandemic, and realize there are some things that romance and sex just can't fix. As Vicky shares, you have to truly be in like with each other, "People like to ask me, how do we not get bored with one another? Well, we're friends! Do you get bored with your friends?" she shares laughingly.
The authenticity of their companionship not only beams over the phone but also through the camera. For over 10 years, YouTube has served as a digital archive for Vicky to document everything from ever-changing hairstyles, her colorful style hauls, and witty girl talk videos. So when the two got engaged in 2013, it was only natural for them to join forces to create their own vlog channel, Life With the Logans. As both platforms grew, there was one annual video that their community looked forward to the most: their Marriage Q&As.
Only in 2020, things were different. With COVID forcing everyone inside, Cam and Vicky decided to open their YouTube livestreams for their subscribers to ask them all things love and relationships advice. The response was so great, it springboarded their newest collaboration, the Everything is We podcast.
"We had a really good foundation because we spent a lot of time just being friends. Now, when we go through things as a married couple, we have our friendship to fall back on, it's not like our only connection was sexual or romantic. We had a true friendship where we enjoyed hanging out together, doing things together, marking each other laugh, no matter what we're doing, we're enjoying each other's company."
Courtesy of Vicky Logan/Instagram
On their faith-based, relationship-centered podcast, the two speak candidly about a range of topics from sex before marriage, toxic relationships, love languages, and even gender roles and submission. After 7 years of marriage, the two felt confident enough in their experiences to dish advice on their union from a place of transparency to host honest and open dialogue. "We know each other well enough to give people something of substance. This a 'we' thing, not just a 'me' thing," Vicky shares, explaining the origin of the show.
Creating as a "we" continues to add color and vibrancy to the Logans' relationship, with visual documentation being a vital part of how they keep record of their experiences together and connect with their audience. Vicky grew up with home videos and videotapes being essential in logging her childhood memories, so continuing that tradition was a natural progression for her and Cam's story. "I love documenting our relationship because I can always go back and see our memories happening on video. It keeps me grounded because I can see our progression as a couple," Vicky explains.
Courtesy of Vicky Logan
Documenting your life online for yourself and for the world to see comes with its own set of boundaries. For the Logans, that means staying true to their authentic selves and being present in the moments they share together. Cam expresses that who you are online should always match who you are in private. "I saw people that would vlog and become these public figures, and when they turn the cameras off, they're nothing like that. For me, in everything that I do, I want to be consistent."
Staying rooted as a content creator requires a deep level of self-awareness and routine check-ins with yourself. In fact, Vicky recalls a time early in her vlogging career where she found herself swept away in the process of creating a perfect memory, instead of participating in the moment. "When I was heavily into YouTube, I was vlogging so much, I felt like I have to go back and watch those videos to remember what happened because I wasn't present in the moment." She continues, "I was looking at my life through the lens instead of looking at it as my life. I never want to get back to that point. I try to prioritize being in the moment rather than creating content."
"When I was heavily into YouTube, I was vlogging so much, I felt like I have to go back and watch those videos to remember what happened because I wasn't present in the moment. I was looking at my life through the lens instead of looking at it as my life. I never want to get back to that point. I try to prioritize being in the moment rather than creating content."
When you've been with someone through your 20s and into your early 30s like the Logans have, evolution becomes the third wheel. Over the years, the two have seen each other grow and evolve as individuals with callings that stand alone and complement each other's purpose. Arriving at the place in a relationship where everything is truly about the we and not the me takes sacrifice, time, and the process of "dying to yourself" daily. That means pride and self-centeredness have no place. For the Logans, this required taking the time to learn how to truly love each other the way each person needs to be loved, not the way they assumed they needed to be loved. As Vicky puts it, "I think sometimes people come into relationships a little bit prideful and don't want to change."
But if the common goal is longevity, you have to forgo the "that's just the way I am" mentality. "We know that we're different people, but at the same time, we want to operate as a team," Vicky shares. "You have a partner for a reason: to help you."
Courtesy of Vicky Logan/Instagram
If you follow the #CamToria hashtag on Instagram, you'll find that the Logans are far more than your typical "relationship goals", they're the embodiment of steadfastness. A marriage that hasn't rushed through the years or the moments that they've shared together, but has instead made the daily decision to partake in the witnessing of one another's blooming growth. "My life has changed just by being friends with Cam," Vicky reflects, "He truly loves people and I try to be like that more and more every day."
For Cam, experiencing Vicky's growth has been the greatest honor to witness as a husband, "[Vicky's] ability to literally go after her dreams... I don't know if people realize how difficult that is in a society that trains you to do what people tell you to do." He adds, "She's a boss, but remains humble and loving at the end of the day. She's constantly growing and I'm just happy to be married to her."
The freedom in having an unconventional love story is in the license it gives to a couple to tell a story that's never been told before. Although arranged marriages aren't something that's typically highlighted in the Black community, the Logans exemplify what can happen when you follow the wise counsel of your parents, while fostering the "it takes a village" adage. "I think our community could benefit from the fact that our parents are connected with solid people with solid foundations, values, and morals," Cam says. When you're building towards a future legacy, sometimes the best way to know where you're headed to by trusting the wisdom and guidance of those who have been where you're headed. Even if that turns out to be your own parents.
"I know that when we have children, that's definitely something I plan on doing," Cam says.
Featured image courtesy of Cam and Vicky
Gummies, tinctures, edibles. Indica, Sativa, or hybrid. No matter how you consume this multifarious plant, cannabis's ability to shape-shift emphasizes the many ways it can be enjoyed as well as the plethora of business opportunities that can stem from it. For decades, stigmas surrounding cannabis and marijuana have prevented Black women from experiencing the joys of computation along with the health benefits that the plant provides. From decreasing stress and easing anxiety, to relieving joint pain, migraines, and menstrual cramps, this plant has a lot more to offer than the cultural taboos that ellipse it.
Today, the cannabis industry continues to climb as one of the largest growing markets in the country, projected to reach $30 Billion by 2025, through the Farm Bill of 2018 and the reclassification of cannabis in 2020. Although this comes with its restrictions, this shift in the regulation has opened the door for opportunities surrounding hemp-derived products to be explored by those who have been disproportionately left out of the industry. As a result, one woman is on the mission to not only destigmatize the language around cannabis while equipping Black folks with the tools (and kits) needed to launch their own CBD empire.
Like most ambition-driven women, Q. Nicole started her corporate career with a plan. "I'm Generation X, and we were taught college + good job = financial security." Upon graduating from college, Q. would soon become a six-figure earner with a rampant 12-year career trajectory that laid the foundation to eventually, "walk on water" and live out what she calls "a cushiony life." But even the most diligent readiness could not prepare her for the abrupt passing of her father in 2013.
At the time, she found herself drowning in the grief of the recent loss while attempting to balance the demand of her transition from corporate life into full-time entrepreneurship. The hectic nature of her work-life balance triggered a deep emotional response that was so unfamiliar, she knew it was time to seek professional help. Shortly after, her therapist diagnosed her with delayed PTSD, a response to her father's death. Her loss triggered an inability to cope.
Courtesy of Q. Nicole
During the heaviest points of Q.'s healing process, she was recommended by a psychiatrist to explore opioids to balance her mood. Yet, something about the drug didn't sit right with her, so she sought alternative options. Since medicinal marijuana was legal in her state, she was able to get approved for a license to explore plant-based options to deal with the anxiety and depression that were a result of her PTSD. "That was my introduction to the space as someone who genuinely was a patient." She continues, "I was broken, emotionally. I was in a very fragile place and cannabis saved my life."
This turning point allowed Q. to regain control of her life and reestablish her emotional and professional momentum. Now, Q. Nicole leads WH Farms, a five-acre, three-greenhouse farm located in Eastern North Carolina. She aims to equip Black folks with everything needed to build their own consumable products through the CBD Business Launch Kits and puff, puff, pass the baton into the booming hemp industry that awaits them.
xoNecole: Tell us more about the work you do with WH Farms.
Q. Nicole: Our farmers are African-American legacy farmers which is huge to our story. We're growing with farmers who have had this land for 100s of years, from their sharecropper ancestors who were first-generation slaves. So that's a part of the heritage that we're proud of when purchasing products. I'm a country girl and I've always felt like mobilization is a part of my purpose. WH Farms currently has 200 acres of land that we can pull from. The farmers wanted to protect themselves from large corporations that sought to extract from their land and not pay them their worth. So we wanted to partner with them and whatever our overflow was, we could source it from legacy farmers.
Were there any stigmas that you had to detach yourself from before exploring cannabis?
I had my preconceived notions. I came from corporate real estate development, so everything I did was about my career advancement. Playing with what was considered a drug was very "anti" my professional development path. But I was open to understanding the medicinal benefits because I saw so many high-profile professionals using it. I would be in conversations with physicians and surgeons and they would talk about how they would grow the plant at home. It made me realize that society had established a stigma that was "urban", but in reality, the plant wasn't just for "urban" use. I became a little bit more open-minded, but at that time of transitioning into full-time entrepreneurship, I did what I needed to do to not compromise my professional standing.
You have a background in real estate and corporate development. What was the transition like for you pivoting from the corporate world into entrepreneurship?
Being in real estate and understanding a number of things about the economy and marketing, I understood that the cannabis industry was exploding and I wanted to be a part of the solution. I wanted to be a part of bringing it to the market for the other corporate, straight-laced individuals, especially African-American women like myself who would otherwise suffer in Corporate America because of the stress that comes along with being an achiever. They place more on you, they expect more from you.
You have the responsibility on the shoulders as the woman and now she's in this corporate environment struggling. But here's this plant that she can drop in her coffee in the morning and have a completely different experience. It was so important for me as a corporate girl to come to the table and say, "Listen, [cannabis] is nothing to be afraid of. Stress is a silent killer and if we're not able to identify ways to relieve our stress in a very tangible way, on a daily basis, then we're going to find ourselves as a community losing to some of these silent killers."
"It was so important for me as a corporate girl to come to the table and say, 'Listen, [cannabis] is nothing to be afraid of. Stress is a silent killer and if we're not able to identify ways to relieve our stress in a very tangible way, on a daily basis, then we're going to find ourselves as a community losing to some of these silent killers.'"
Courtesy of Q.Nicole
How do you see the match between Black creativity and the hemp-derived product industry complementing one another?
I see nothing but Black wealth, Black advancement, and Black opportunity. This is why I'm so passionate about the Launch Kits and what our farm does. We know this plant, maybe not the technical-scientific data, but we know the way it makes people feel, we know the weight, we know how much it's worth. When you take that transferable skill and talk about the Black men who are a part of STEM programs looking for ways to add cannabis to technology, that skill is helpful.
Cannabis goes well in so many different forms, it has chemical qualities that help with hair growth and fight acne. There are ways that the industry needs to be supported by science, manufacturing, technology, and chemistry. So when you talk about a group of people who have certain soft skills and are already exposed to the plant, we're not starting from scratch, we're starting from a basic understanding of it.
How were you able to adapt to the shift in your purpose?
I don't think that I ever shifted purpose. I understood very early in my purpose walk that my purpose would always expand. Jullien Gordon [real estate entrepreneur] and I were professional buddies, and he shared that, 'if it's truly your purpose, it'll always just expand into a new version of itself.' WH Farms is just a continuation and expansion of the same purpose: I educate and empower. There's a lot of people who don't know about cannabis.
Since I grow it, I can educate them and empower them to have their own CBD product line and be positioned to take advantage of what this industry has to offer. As a business owner and CEO, I always want to build a business that helps people create more than they already have, learn more than they already know, and believe they can have more than they already have.
You’ve tapped into two industries (real estate and cannabis) that are known for their high return and opportunity for growth. How has navigating these growing markets shaped your views on generational wealth?
It's taught me that generational wealth is a goal and it should be an expectation, but it should never be confused with something that's easy. I think it is a necessary collective reset because it's a great buzzword, but what does it really take? To be a woman in the entrepreneur space, I've had to fight to not be backdoored on deals not only to get respect but to receive the compensation I deserve. Same for the cannabis industry.
It's still the Wild Wild West, it's still a developing industry and because of that, it takes courage, bravery, and the ability to manage risk. The guts that it takes to play in these spaces for generational wealth reminds me that it's something that isn't free, it comes with a price and it comes with perseverance. It's not always easy but it's always purpose, it's always valuable, and my ancestors also fought for it.
"The guts that it takes to play in these spaces for generational wealth reminds me that it's something that isn't free, it comes with a price and it comes with perseverance. It's not always easy but it's always purpose, it's always valuable, and my ancestors also fought for it."
Courtesy of Q.Nicole
I think sometimes there’s a push to encourage women to go after entrepreneurship, but we’re rarely told how to balance the weight of it. As a serial entrepreneur yourself, what are some tools that help you find balance in all that you put your hands to?
I find that there's never balance, it's only harmony and that's the first permission that I gave myself. I seek harmony and that gives me a different metric to measure by. Everyone knows I have my phone on 'Do Not Disturb' from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. That's because I have to hear myself. All calls are scheduled and I don't do a lot of distractions. I have to make sure that I am able to bring forth what I feel I'm supposed to be putting into this business and stay ahead of it.
I work in chunks, I'm big on grounding, I make sure I do meditation in the morning, and I love my CBD tinctures and smokable herbs in the morning -- it helps with mental focus and gathering my thoughts. I leave work at work and keep home at home; I am a person who attempts to separate the two. I think that the way to be present in these various relationships, especially my relationship as a wife and my role as a wife because that is certainly a priority for me before business. I don't let things bleed, I'm very compartmentalized.
"I think we have to give ourselves grace in the human experience and the permission to turn the poison of our mistakes, of the doubt, setbacks, and the hate into the medicine that fuels us and turn it into lessons and inspiration."
Courtesy of Q. Nicole
What advice would you share for those starting in entrepreneurship?
Learn how to comfortably turn poison into medicine. You're going to fail, you're going to fall, things aren't going to go right, it's going to be stressful. You may look at yourself and say, am I actually doing it right? All of these aspects of the journey are pretty uniform to everyone's journey because this is the journey. And I think we have to give ourselves grace in the human experience and the permission to turn the poison of our mistakes, of the doubt, setbacks, and the hate into the medicine that fuels us and turn it into lessons and inspiration.
Courtesy of Q. Nicole
Coming of age in an analog era where there were no monikers like, "influencer" or even "content creator," conceiving a life centered around this thing called "the internet" would challenge even the most imaginative of dreamers. Still, one thing that has always stood the test of time for Vic was her ever-evolving and innate personal style, "I've always loved fashion. I kept this notebook where my mom would take Polaroid pictures of what I would wear so that I wouldn't repeat the same outfit within a two to three week period." Call it a mini lookbook of #OOTDs before there ever was a name for it, if you will.
Although Vic's early days as an inventive teen and young adult pointed her in the direction of pursuing a life in fashion, her ar family upbringing encouraged structure and tradition as fundamental aspects for her post-grad endeavors. "My whole life I had expressed this interest in fashion, I was always creative, but my family never really took the time to hone that." Still, her smartness of style never fell from her gaze.
Courtesy of Vic Styles
During Vic's senior year of college, she made a drastic and intuitive pivot. "I had a 3.6 GPA, I was in all honors classes, but I just wasn't feeling it, so I dropped out. I had four more classes to graduate, but I walked out." Despite her parent's disappointment and dismay, she knew that her inner compass was guiding to something greater. "I felt something in my spirit that was like, 'This is not where I'm meant to be. My parents completely cut me off, basically they were like, 'If you're gonna be grown, you're gonna be grown for real.' So I learned what struggle was. I was broke, I had to live on people's couches. I had to make big sacrifices, but it was all worth it."
Vic's journey displays high risk, with significant return.
Now, the self-declared Freelance Life-Liver continues to carve out new worlds on the internet with her blooming love life, sustainability journey, and co-hosted podcast, Kontent Queens! Proving that your best life will always be the one you decide to choose for yourself.
xoNecole: When you were facing difficult times in LA, what kept you going in those moments?
Vic Styles: I think there was a lot of divine intervention on my behalf. When I first moved there, I had found these girls on Craigslist to live with; I had no friends, no money, and no family. I showed up at this apartment with these girls who I only knew from the internet, I mean, this could have been a scam, and thank God it wasn't. I got an internship there with a really famous celebrity stylist and became her assistant. Then I met my next boss and became her assistant. Then I stepped out on my own based on the connections that I had made as an assistant. But the timing of everything had to be divine because it wasn't within my power to have these things line up the way they did. Every time I felt like giving up, something good would happen, so I knew I couldn't give up because that was my sign.
Courtesy of Vic Styles
Now, you’re a self-proclaimed “Freelance Life-Liver”. Where did the inspiration behind this title come from and how were you able to take agency of this self-declaration? It sounds like freedom!
Yes, it is freedom! The title came when people would ask me, "What do you do?" while I was still in the midst of styling and being an influencer. I was honestly like, "I'm freelance and I get paid to live my life." And that's still how I look at it. I know the term influencer isn't what a lot of people want to be associated with because of its negative connotation: "Oh, you're superficial, you're inauthentic." Part of it was disassociating myself from that. I want people to feel that when you come to the space that I've carved out for myself on the internet, that you see these pieces of my life. Yes, sometimes brands pay me to talk about their products, but the things I talk about naturally integrate into my life already. When you see me on the internet, I hope that you see a woman living in joy and being herself.
As a content creator, you have a focus in wellness. What was the turning point in your life that led you on your wellness and sustainability journey?
When I think about wellness, I think about it from a holistic aspect. You can't be well if your mind, body, and spirit aren't well; everything has to be well. I was really depressed five years ago; I didn't want to eat, I considered suicide, I was in a place when I didn't love myself, I didn't even know myself. So I picked up a book by Alex Elle called Words from a Wanderer and everything she was talking about in this book from seeing yourself to forgiving yourself blew my mind. It started me on the journey of saying nice things to myself, but I couldn't just say it, now I had to do nice things and feed myself nice things. This carried into skincare and what I put on my hair and I started to treat myself how I wanted other people to be treated.
As far as sustainability, I was broke. I had to shop at thrift stores, I had to reuse things! Being sustainable started from a lack of money and resources and me having to be resourceful on my own
You speak a lot about originality on your podcast and how important it is for content creators to not try to be “the next so and so.” How were you able to stand out to brands and find your own authentic identity?
I don't think it comes from finding it, I think it comes from tuning in and tuning everything and everyone else out. I don't spend a lot of time on the internet on other people's pages, and I know that sounds strange, but that's when I feel myself swaying in another direction. I spend a lot of time in self-reflection: I read, I write, I go on trips, I spend a lot of time by myself getting to know the things that I naturally like. If no one else was out there, if no one else could impact my likes or dislikes, what would I naturally gravitate towards? And those are the questions I ask myself before when I put things on the internet, am I doing this because Victoria, at home, when no one is watching would really do this, or am I doing this because the world is watching?
"I spend a lot of time in self-reflection… getting to know the things that I naturally like. If no one else was out there, if no one else could impact my likes or dislikes, what would I naturally gravitate towards?"
Courtesy of Vic Styles
Your new podcast, Kontent Queens, is a space where content creators can glean insight into all things social media! What led you (and co-host, Kia Marie) to collaborate on this new endeavor in the audio space?
It was actually Kia's idea. She approached me in summer 2019 and I was down for the cause. She's someone that I really respect and look up to in this space and we just felt like this needed to be done. There are so many creative spaces, classes, workshops for women that don't look like us. And we needed to fill that space. I think I can speak for Kia saying that we didn't have help. There was no roadmap for us and it's still fairly new. So if we can help other Black women in some shape or form, that's our due diligence.
On Kontent Queens, you and Kia don’t hold back on the gems. How did you all decide to take an abundance approach in the information you share on the podcast; especially in an industry that can be so individualistic?
Purpose. I think Kia and I have a purpose to inspire and to motivate, specifically our people. When you operate out of abundance and give back to people, it comes back to you tenfold. There's room for all of us. This is a community effort, community means everything to us and it can't be a community if there's just two of us at the top. We need all y'all too! It's a party, pull up!
"This is a community effort, community means everything to us and it can't be a community if there's just two of us at the top. We need all yall too, it's a party, pull up!"
When you envision the community you are shaping with the podcast, what does a safe and inclusive space for Black women look like to you?
We would have more creative authority, we would be valued. We would be seen and heard more. We could be paid more, there would be no tokenism. It looks like equality across the board.
Even though the pandemic has been a challenging time to navigate, you actually found love just days before the nation shut down in a “shoot your shot” kind of way. Could you tell us more about that?
Yes! I was out to eat with my homegirl and went to the bathroom and I walked pass this guy who gave me the stare of life. I'm sitting behind him and he's turning around the whole brunch looking at me. So before I left, I wrote my number down on a napkin and said, "Text me if you want later." And he did! We've seen each other every day since March 11th.
They say relationships are like holding a mirror up to yourself. What have you personally learned about yourself through this relationship?
That I am worthy of love. Fair love. Good love. Unconditional love. I think before this relationship, it always felt like I was in these battles with men. It always felt like I was trying to get them to see me and appreciate me and it was never working out. I was always that girl that felt like once I get a man to see how great I am, then he'll reciprocate and it never happened. Because at the time, I don't even think I even realized my worth.
So I've had someone come in who shows and tells me just how worthy I am, even more than I imagined I was. He's my partner; anything I need he does, but he tells me no and tells me when I'm wrong. It's also special to be around someone and them not get on your nerves. I grew up [as] an only child, so I need a lot of space. I have to be alone a lot, so the fact that we can vibe and be together all day speaks volumes for me.
What was the healing process like for you to get to a place where you could receive the love that was for you?
I've been in therapy for over a year now, and girl, it has changed my life! More importantly than that, I'm 34 and I just got saved. I have never in my life identified as Christian until now and I think that has also helped change the relationship I have with myself and my partner.
"There's no way for me to mess up whatever is meant for me. Maybe I needed that lesson, maybe that bad thing needed to happen so it could mold and shape me into the woman I am today. I have to let go and let God."
Courtesy of Vic Styles
One of your life mantras is “You can’t mess up your destiny.” What were the experiences in your life that led you to this lesson?
I felt like I made a lot of mistakes when I was younger, or at least that's what I was told. They'd say, "You're so smart, why'd you drop out of college? You shouldn't have done this or that." And as life kept happening and blessings kept falling into my lap, I kept saying to myself that even if I make a bad decision, I'll learn from it and grow from it. There's no way for me to mess up whatever is meant for me. Maybe I needed that lesson, maybe that bad thing needed to happen so it could mold and shape me into the woman I am today. If something is a no, it's for a reason, and that may not be revealed to me until much, much later, but I have to let go and let God.
Featured image courtesy of Vic Styles
One of the purest expressions of resilience is displayed through one's ability to bounce back from life's greatest adversities; to be pulled by the tension of your personal and professional life, and not be broken. This embodiment of tenacity deserves double the applause when you're tasked with bearing the weight of it in front of millions of eyes and opinions on television and social media every day. As illustrated by daytime television trailblazer and talk radio veteran, Wendy Williams though, she was built for this.
Whether behind the scenes or in front of the lights and camera, Wendy has never shied away from owning her story and voice, no matter how controversial it may be. In Wendy Williams: The Movie, a Lifetime original film, the entertainment icon isn't holding back on any of the tea or testimonials that have shaped her into the woman we know today.
Courtesy of A+E Networks
With a career spanning over 35 years, Wendy has been deliberate about what areas of her personal life she shares with the world. Being in the public eye has its own set of undesirable effects, especially when you're the face of daytime tea while your life becomes a "Hot Topic" seemingly overnight. From battles with substance abuse, infidelity by her ex-husband, Kevin Hunter, and public dissension, Wendy has always chosen her truth over the voice of public opinion, "Every day I feel like I get smarter and stronger and I have to because I have to take care of me, my son, and my career."
"Every day I feel like I get smarter and stronger... because I have to take care of me, my son, and my career."
Traditionally, powerhouse women with successful careers and fierce ambition are often told that they must choose between a thriving profession, motherhood, and a nurturing relationship. Even in the face of those societal standards, the mogul and mother redefines that myth with the aim to pour into the areas of her life that bring the most value and purpose, "I'm in love with being on TV, I'm in love with my career. I fell in love with the microphone over 35 years ago as a paying disk jockey," Wendy shares with xoNecole.
Wendy's upcoming biopic depicts a vulnerable and transparent look into the defining moments that make up her long-standing career, high profile marriage, and its less-than-glamorous ending. Despite having to relive some of the toughest moments of her life, retrospectively, Wendy looks back on her story with admiration of her own strength and fortitude, "And ya know, I had a lot of fun doing this movie because it almost didn't feel like I was talking about me. I look back and say, 'I can't believe I survived that.'"
"I never woke up and said, 'Oh, I'm getting a divorce.' Or 'Oh, I'm going to be on TV.' It didn't happen like that. The only thing that happened like that was 'Oh, I'm going to be on the radio."'
According to the 56-year-old media personality, translating this strength through her onscreen doppelganger, Ciera Payton, was executed by keeping things light, even it the darkest moments, "I'd call Ciera (Payton) and say, 'when you do this scene, make sure you giggle at the end. And make sure that the fighting you do with my ex-husband ends with giggles and strength because it took me years to plot my new life, not a moment."
Wendy Williams: The Movie premieres Saturday, January 30, at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.
Featured image by lev radin / Shutterstock.com