African American women-owned businesses skyrocket

By Laurie Lucas
The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.

Brittney Washington moved to Riverside with hopes of bringing chic, affordable fashion to college co-eds.
Ironically, high rents at shopping plazas close to the UCR campus prevented her from setting up shop near her targeted audience.

So in late August, Washington settled into a tiny nook, Suite 4, at 3772 Arlington Ave. in a building shared with three hair salons and a day spa. Washington, 24, has filled all 1,000 square feet of her boutique, Definition, with inexpensive junior, missy and plus-sized clothing, shoes, jewelry and other accessories. Her sign will be up before her open house on Fri. Dec. 6. Already, Washington is dreaming bigger. “I see this as my flagship,” she said.

She wants to expand throughout the Inland area and orchestrate shopping events at the Riverside Convention and Visitors Center, which is scheduled to reopen in February after a $40-plus million remodel. “This is the beginning of my brand,” she declared in her pink-and-black themed store.

As a black female entrepreneur, Washington is part of a trend that has exploded over the past few decades. Since 1997, the number of African American women-owned businesses has skyrocketed by more than 250 percent. Today there are more than 1.1 million black female proprietors, providing $45 billion in revenues for 2013, according to a report commissioned by American Express that analyzed U.S. Census data.

The report said that while firms owned by women of color are smaller in terms of employment and revenues, their growth in number and economic clout is far outpacing that of all women-owned firms. Most of these businesses are solo-women productions.

Almost 97 percent of black female-owned firms have no employees, according to the National Women’s Business Council. The other three percent provided 272,000 jobs this year.

Washington has worked hard to get this far. “I’ve been through a lot,” she said. Raised by her mother and late grandmother in San Diego — with her father incarcerated — Washington sought a career in public relations or marketing. A church-going, focused student, she expressed her creativity in a love of beautiful things.

After she graduated in 2009 from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, she returned to San Diego and worked for a public relations firm setting up town hall meetings for political candidates.

Washington, who much preferred the garment industry to government, established her own firm, P.R. Barbie & Associates and landed a job in LA as a buyer for department stores. She was laid off, but had more success with the online footwear store she launched,

Using more than $5,000 in savings from website sales, Washington decided to debut Definition in Riverside, where her mother’s family has roots. Definition is next to Ebony Crest Beauty Salon, which is owned by her aunt, Crystal Washington.

Definition carries trendy, discounted items that top out at $40. Because she can’t buy in bulk, Washington said she “negotiates” with sellers at the San Pedro and LA marts to keep most of her prices below $20. “This whole outfit is only $45,” she said, grouping together a shirt, skirt and suede jacket. Her jewelry runs from $5 to $15.

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