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.
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 were 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, 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, 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
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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!
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
The first big leap was moving to a new city and getting settled into my new home. The next big leap? Was finding community and belonging. Moving to a new city excited me! I looked forward to having my own apartment, decorating it, and exploring what the city had to offer. I also found excitement in the thought of meeting new people and expanding my connections. When it actually came down to it, I felt nervous. I heard that making new friends as an adult can be hard because we all have different responsibilities and schedules that may not align. I knew in order for me to really feel at home in my new city, I had to create community.
Having a community of people who I can share memories with, lean on in times of need, and inspire each other is something I always valued. I took a moment to truly center in on what I desired from the new friends I would make. Then I realized it all would have to start with me. I had to be centered and confident in who I was to attract who I desired to be aligned with. As someone who moved to a new city and established quality friendships, I gathered these six tips that helped me feel grounded and create community in hopes that it will help you, too.
6 tips to start building community and making new friends in a new city:
Sean Anthony Eddy/ Getty Images
Be true to yourself
Do you know who you are? If someone asked you to describe yourself in three words, what words would you use? In order to develop deep friendships, you must be a friend to yourself first. Know what refuels you and what zaps your energy. Self-study your habits and why you do the things you do. All this will be important to keep in mind when looking to create bonds with others. Every day there’s all kinds of people telling you who you should be, how you should act, or what you should wear. At the end of the day, the only opinion about yourself that truly matters is your own. Spend some alone time with yourself indoors or out at an event you like to truly discover who you are in this season of your life.
Pray about it
Before you step out into the world and cross paths with all kinds of people, it’s important to pray about building your community. God outlines what true friendship looks like in numerous Bible verses such as "Iron sharpens iron." - Proverbs 27:17 and “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.” - Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. If you desire friendships that last, pray about what you seek in friendship. I remember praying for mentally stable, happy, and whole women who moved through life with abundance mindsets. Take a moment to journal about the community you want to build and then pray on it.
Go to fun events to meet people who share your interests
Most metropolitan cities like Washington, D.C., New York City, and Atlanta are known to have strong young professional communities and events where you can connect with others. I highly encourage you to attend events in or near your community to see what the city is like and meet people. It’s likely that the people at the event have the same interests as you, which is a great way to start a conversation. You can start by searching for events on Eventbrite or following Instagram pages that highlight events happening in your city.
Carlos Barquero/ Getty Images
Accept that you won’t be compatible with everyone you meet
While living in your new city, it’s likely you’ll meet a variety of people. Please know that everyone you meet will not bud into lasting friendships, and that’s okay! You are uniquely created and not made for everyone. Then you’ll meet people who are good for only surface-level connections, and then you’ll have your girls who you can get deep with. I think sometimes people can look down on surface-level friendships, but not everyone needs to fully know you. That’s a privilege to have and to accept within yourself. Continue to check in with yourself and be real about who you crave to spend more time with and who is nice to see for a monthly or quarterly catch-up.
Join Facebook groups & GroupMe chats
If you haven’t used Facebook in a couple of years, it’s time to dust your profile off. Facebook Groups is a great place to join online communities for people who just moved to a new city like you. Typically, you have to agree to the group’s guidelines, and then you can join. For example, you can search for groups in the Facebook app by using keywords like women, Black girl, or [the name of your city] foodies. With the GroupMe app, you’ll have to be invited to join an already existing group. While you’re out and about networking, don’t hesitate to ask if they’re in any online groups/communities they recommend you join too.
Be friendly to folks in your neighborhood
When I first moved to my new apartment, I spent the first week walking around the complex and working in the community spaces to get a better feel of it. I was able to meet people in my neighborhood, enjoy small talk, and learn more about what the community has to offer. Step outside of your comfort zone and work in your apartment’s community space or a local coffee shop to connect with others.
Overall, you may feel alone in your new city, but I guarantee you’re not. There are other people experiencing living in a new city too, and all you need to do is find each other. I hope these tips help ease the nervous feelings you have about building a new community and inspire you to make a new friend today!
Feature image by Nappy/ Pexels