In honor of Women’s History Month, I had the privilege of interviewing a Black woman founder making history with her stationery empire.
Be Rooted founder and CEO Jasmin Foster centers diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through her colorful journals, pencils and stationery featuring Black women. Hers is the first Black woman-owned stationery brand to make it on the shelves of retail giant Target, and here’s how her business is changing the stationery industry while keeping DEI at the forefront of its brand.
Give me the backstory on how you got to this place with your products being available in Target
I started my career in retail. I worked in various roles at Target, but one specific role was where I helped grow the multicultural beauty side of the business. At that time, Target was very centered on multicultural hair products. But I thought to myself, “How can we make Target a destination for all of multicultural beauty?” Like skincare, men’s grooming and cosmetics. That way, when women of color show up in retail spaces, they not only have products for their hair, but they can complete their entire look. I delved into that side of the business and had the opportunity to meet so many women of color founders who were changing the beauty landscape.
Since then, I left and went to work for a multicultural beauty brand. At the top of 2020 when the pandemic hit, I had the opportunity to take a pause. I’d been running 1,000 miles per hour growing other people’s brands, but I never had the chance to stop and ask, “What do I want for my future?” It became clear that whatever I do, I want to center Black women in my work. When I thought about my passions, I realized I was always the young girl who loved stationery. I always bought way too many journals and couldn’t wait to decorate my locker at school. I had planners for every new job. But I always felt disconnected from the industry. When I saw the products in the marketplace, there was never anyone on the cover who looked like me. And the language always felt like they weren’t speaking to me or my community. I wanted to change the face of the stationery industry. Stationery products sit with you in your office, purse and bedroom. It’s a piece of belonging that you carry everyday. I wanted to create a brand that made Black women and women of color feel that they belonged here while weaving in inspirational and uplifting messages.
Why do you choose to center your work around women of color?
As a brown-skinned girl growing up, it was hard not seeing myself represented or included. When you watch mainstream media or go into stores, you may ask yourself, “Why do I not see myself included here?” For my entire career, I’ve always centered my work on the stories of Black women and women of color. It only made sense to start my own brand centered around women of color because I am one. I’ve grown up seeing the disparities that we’ve experienced, and I wanted to do my part to elevate and center women of color. I want young girls to see themselves represented and not have to ask themselves the questions that make them feel that they don’t belong. I hope that my brand changes the landscape for brown girls growing up.
How do you keep DEI at the forefront of your work?
For the products we create, we’re always thinking about our consumer; who she is and how we speak to her. As I’m building out my team, I’m making sure that I’m hiring team members who look like the community that we serve. We make sure the majority of our team members are women of color or we partner with other women-owned businesses. When we think about our messaging, we’re constantly focused on our consumer and showing up the way that she would want us to. It’s not just about the product we’re selling, but making sure DEI is at the forefront of everything we do, which includes our messaging and hiring practices.
What’s the story behind the brand name, Be Rooted?
I wanted to make sure my customer felt that she belonged and was firmly planted in the brand. Our customers want to feel rooted in culture, reflection and who they are. I love our brand name because it allows our ideal customer to know we’re designed to reflect and speak to her.
You feature different women of color on the covers of your journals. How do you choose which type of woman to feature?
When we were drawing the first collection, we wanted to have a journal for every mood. We thought about the different mindsets we’re in throughout the day or week and how we can have a journal to reflect that mood. When you’re guarding your spirit, what does that woman look like? When you’re protecting your energy, what does that woman look like? As we thought about our messaging and the moods we wanted to embody, we were designing the subjects on the covers to embody each mood. We also wanted to weave in different skin tones, styles of clothing and hair types. Black women are so diverse, and I wanted to make sure that when a woman looks at our collection, she finds someone who’s reflective of her.
You also have pencils with positive affirmations written on them. Why do you think women of color need to see messages like, “I am powerful,” “I am deserving” and “I am brave”?
There’s so much attention on all of the things that we as Black women don’t have going for ourselves. We constantly hear about the stereotypes and disparities that Black women experience. I want my brand to cut through the noise and be the uplifting voice that reminds women of color that we are deserving, bold and strong. Be Rooted is here to remind women of color all that we are is already inside of us.
When you started this journey, did you know being a Black woman founder and entrepreneur would be a part of your future? Or did entrepreneurship find you?
I used to say I was the entrepreneur’s best friend. I was the person the entrepreneur could go to to ask questions, discuss their dream and execute on their plans. Having the opportunity to learn from so many great Black entrepreneurs in the beauty space, I was exposed to how people were taking their dreams and turning them into businesses. From that exposure, I say entrepreneurship found me. I stopped being okay with staying small and helping someone else build their dreams and gave myself the freedom to go after my own.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced as a Black woman founder?
Some people say the main issue with being a Black founder is the lack of capital, but I actually think the real issue is the lack of access to mentorship and knowledge gaps. There’s so much I don’t know and I had to learn to love being a student of the business. However, I don’t know anyone else in the paper industry. I don’t have access to people who’ve paved the way for me in the past that I can lean into. A lot of my challenges are learning as I go, making lots of mistakes and finding joy in being a student of the business.
What advice would you give to other women of color founder who want to start a business?
You’re never going to feel ready. You’re never going to feel that you have enough money or knowledge. You’re never going to feel that you have enough access. But do it anyway. If you follow your passion and purpose, you have what’s inside of you to figure it out, and that’s all that you need. Especially Black women, if we have nothing else, we’re determined when we want to be and we have all of the necessary gumption to achieve our dreams. Don’t let not being ready stop you.
This story first appeared on Entrepreneur Magazine.