Welcome to our woman-run business spotlight. Here at Grass-fields, we believe in the power of ethical, empowered entrepreneurs. Our founders Christelle and Michele Nganhou have created a strong foundation and we want to celebrate other women business owners around the world who are doing amazing work.
Africa Jackson: How long did it take to create the first issue?
Nay Marie: Ha! Maybe a week. On November 1st of 2014, I decided I was going to create a magazine and, on December 7th of 2014, I was having the launch event. [I had] zero industry experience, zero market research. I just knew my community needed a publication that exuded our true essence and provided a platform for positive narratives and imagery. This was a few months after the Mike Brown execution and everything involving the Black community felt hopeless. On August 19th, I created a Facebook group, 'Black Owned Business Collective', for Black businesses to promote themselves because I was tired of the 'I would support Black businesses if I knew of any' narrative. Through that group, I discovered so many amazing businesses and extraordinary people that I knew I had to share all of the community love I was experiencing. BOOM. A magazine.
AJ: Were there moments when you wanted to stop pushing? If so, what/who helped you survive that doubt?
NM: Chile. Yesterday. Every day! Whenever I feel like throwing in the towel, I remind myself of why I started Taji. I think of the people who've told me they didn't appreciate being Black until they read through our magazine or stalked our Instagram page. I think of the two little Black girls who almost bumped into their mother's behind because they were staring so hard at our models, who were giving them Black Excellence live and in-person. If that's not enough, I go hug my partner, Will Focus, and he'll give me some super uplifting version of "You got this".
AJ: What is the worst business advice you ever received when creating Taji Magazine?
NM: "You can't build a business just focused on Black people." Tuh. Watch me.
AJ: In addition to the magazine, your Black business directory (Our Black Web), and a successful photography career, you support emerging Black entrepreneurs. What made you decide to go even further and offer the Black Business Grant?
NM: I applied for a grant and didn't win, but imagined how I would have felt if I did win. I constantly see posts of people speaking about the struggles of entrepreneurship and the difference it would make if they just had a little help. By offering a cash award, a branding award, and an advertising award, we're creating a springboard for the winners. I've learned that a lot of Black businesses don't have all of the tools they need to be seen. The grant helps with that, but it's just a start. We have to put in the work to receive the attention of our target markets.
AJ: Why do you continue to put out quality stories about Black folks? You already have close to 40,000 followers. Is there a temptation to just be like everyone else out there?
NM: That number looks crazy when it's fully typed out. Thank you for that reminder. This is multi-layered.
1) Taji refutes all of the negative doubts and stereotypes we've been taught to feel about our people.
2) When we see people who look like us doing it (whatever it is), we believe we can do it or even do better. How many children learned about the beauty of Africa through the Black Panther? How many young girls became interested in STEM after seeing Hidden Figures? How many doors has Serena Williams and Simone Biles kicked down for the next generation? How many people are now dedicated to there never being another #ExoneratedFive after Ava snatched the water from our tear ducts? We tend to think of the hurtful side of media (nightly news, reality tv, etc.), but the media has the power to shift mindsets and plant seeds.
3) I don't have the luxury of being like everyone else...Taji has a communal core that keeps us grounded. We'll feature big names, but they have never been our focus. Don't get me wrong, it feels amazing every time our star contributor, Felipe Patterson, tells me he's going to be on some red carpet or at some screening repping Taji Mag, but that's mostly because I feel he's being a necessary presence and paving the way for Black writers. I'm happiest when Taji is helping the community it was created to serve. When a feature or an advertiser tells us they received an influx of orders or followers, that's when my chest puffs out.
4) I re-watched Living Single recently and was hella inspired. I would love for Taji Mag to be the breathing version of Flavor magazine; employing a full office staff and helping them to create generational wealth (without the debt and owing the printer of course).
By Africa Jackson