Black Beauty, Health, and Wellness Entrepreneurs in Philadelphia
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These company owners in Philadelphia are doing more than the average to succeed where only 2.5% of establishments are owned by people of color. Then the pandemic hit, clearly separating the necessary from the optional.
The “Meet the 2.5 Percent” series airs biweekly and tells the stories of Philadelphia company owners that suffered losses due to COVID-19 and the city’s social turmoil. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a Black company owner and would want to share your experience.
In the eyes of many, beauty, wellness, and health services are fundamental. When the coronavirus pandemic hit Philadelphia in the middle of March, however, city and state officials compiled their own comprehensive lists, distinguishing between businesses they deemed essential and those they deemed non-essential and ordering them to close. As a result, services ranging from skin care and makeup application to annual eye exams were put on hold indefinitely, hurting Black-owned businesses more than their competitors. According to a recent study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, whereas just 17% of white-owned firms have closed their doors as a result of the epidemic, 41% of Black-owned enterprises have.
These Philadelphia-based establishments serving the beauty, health, and wellness industries have persevered despite substantial obstacles. They are part of the tiny minority of Black-owned establishments in the city of Philadelphia (2.5%). Every other week, we’ll feature a business owned by a member of Philadelphia’s Black community.
The Address Is: 3212 W. Cheltenham
Omega Optical co-owner and optician Tracy Davis serving a customer. / Photo:
Steve Davis, now 47 years old, grew up frequenting the Cheltenham Mall and dreamed of opening a shop there one day. He began college with the intention of becoming a dentist, then switched to optometry school, and finally settled on starting his own business.
Steve Davis has said, “I realized I could help more people on the business side of optometry,” adding that he was motivated to make this change because there were so few healthcare firms owned and controlled by Black people in Philadelphia at the time.
Davis and his wife Tracy founded Omega Optical in Cheltenham Mall in June of 2000, offering a full range of vision care services, including eye exams, contact lenses, prescription eyeglasses, and more. To further reach their Black clientele, the Davises hired exclusively from the neighborhood, and they began holding educational programs at community events and churches.
The people of our town “tend to put things off until they become an emergency room issue,” as Steve Davis put it. Therefore, we are committed to promoting preventative healthcare as a whole, not only selling glasses and conducting exams. The eyes are the gateway to one’s inner self and overall health. Since we spend so much time with our patients, we also screen them for general health issues like high blood pressure, glaucoma, and cataracts when we see them for eye care.
To further serve their South Philadelphia and Center City clientele, the Davises launched a second shop in the Comcast Center in June 2009. Omega Optical was successful despite being the only Black-owned company in the Comcast Center for some time.
The Omega Optical store in the Comcast Center building was closed indefinitely after the pandemic struck. The Davis’s outpost in Cheltenham was similarly shut down since it was not considered necessary to the community’s survival. In order to comply with COVID-19 safety rules for social distancing, the Cheltenham facility has reopened for restricted business by appointment. To make matters worse, the Davises had to spend money on plastic shields and dividers for their business, as well as PPE for their personnel. Donations to Omega Optical can be made through this link.
It’s been a struggle. Because so many of our suppliers went out of business, we had to let customers know that we would still be operational but that they should expect longer delivery times. Sometimes, we’d just have an hour to make it into the Comcast office to retrieve messages or other necessities. According to Steve Davis, “it was a major turn for us; we had to improvise, adapt, and overcome.” There are around half as many customers as usual, if not less. We took a big financial hit on that, but we’re still dedicated. We’re making do as best we can.
Feng Shui Naturals is run by Abenaa Timazee. / With thanks to:
Abenaa Johnson Timazee, 40, is a natural hair specialist and licensed cosmetologist who has made it her life’s work to educate her clients about the substances in the products they use on their hair and bodies. She also observed that for customers with severe dermatitis, a condition that causes the skin to become itchy, dry, or inflamed, there were very few products available that gave relief.
“Haircare, not hair styling, has always been my top priority. She explained, “I was bound and determined to assist my clients.”
Timazee established Feng Shui Naturals in 2007 as a health and beauty firm focused on using natural ingredients.
“While many business owners are able to secure loans or other forms of financing, I was unable to do so. I put up my own first $1,000 to launch my business. She proudly proclaimed, “I’ve bootstrapped from the beginning.” Despite the difficulties, I’ve been able to expand my business with the help of my funds, hard effort, and good grace.
All of Timazee’s goods are made in Philadelphia from scratch using only organic, plant-based materials. Whole Foods and Kimberton Markets carry her goods regionally.
Timazee’s company has been hampered by the COVID-19 epidemic even though her items are offered in businesses that were considered vital and stayed open throughout the crisis. Many of her regular customers were prevented from purchasing her products for weeks due to mandatory quarantines, and others were forced to cut back on their spending due to high unemployment rates (you can help support Feng Shui Naturals by purchasing products online here).
In August, Timazee unveiled a long-awaited project: a zero-emission, battery-operated, eco-friendly truck that she will use to travel throughout the city and continue spreading awareness of the benefits of her natural products after experiencing an unexpected drop in sales over the past few months.
Two years ago, I had the idea for the vehicle, but I put it on hold until the lockdown and only decided to launch it this summer. I wanted to increase awareness of Feng Shui Naturals and the availability of my products, so I had to come up with a plan to do both. She affirmed that the truck would serve both purposes. “We’re also in a time where people are socially isolating themselves yet still wanting to go shopping. Customers will have a convenient way to purchase at a local, health-oriented business, and the truck will boost sales for all parties.
It’s at 2301 N. 9th Street.
Fit Girl Army, situated at 2301 N. 9th St., is owned by Latoya Izzard. / Kindness
Latoya Izzard, a resident of North Philadelphia, started her company because she saw a need in the market. She had tried every diet and exercise plan available for years in an effort to shed pounds and improve her health, but to no avail. Izzard, who was then over 200 pounds and only five feet tall, made the decision to take matters into her own hands.
In 2012, she established an online group through which she would discuss her own fitness issues and issue weight-loss challenges to other members. Using a workout plan she created on her own, Izzard shed over 50 pounds. She eventually wrote an e-book about her weight loss and maintenance strategies.
Because “at the time” none of Izzard’s pals shared his enthusiasm for fitness, “it was just a way to document my fitness journey and find other people who had a love for fitness,” he explained.
Her online group eventually held in-person gatherings and instruction. Izzard founded the private gym and weight-loss resource Fit Girl Army studio in north Philadelphia in 2015.
Her income as an analyst at a corporate defense organization, combined with the sales of her e-books, allowed her to pay a year’s worth of rent in advance for her studio space.
She reflected, “I didn’t know if anyone would come work out with me.” When asked about his business, the author said, “For a few months, I only had two clients, and one of them was my mom.”
She persevered through a loss-making first year to establish a steady stream of new female members at the gym. The Fit Girl Army studio, along with many other gyms, was closed by the city in March along with other non-essential companies.
It was a struggle. “I cried a lot the first month,” she admitted.
Many years ago, I asked to God to show me my life’s purpose, and He revealed to me that my calling was to assist other women find their own path to happiness. When I stopped seeing the women I coach on a daily basis, I felt like my life had no point.The understanding that no money was being made probably hit about the second month.That brought on a whole new set of feelings for me to process.
Izzard claims that memberships have started coming in slowly as of August, but that “the business itself is still stuck in March; our lease and our bills did not stop during those months.” Buying a membership or making a donation through this link will help support Fit Girl Army.
Izzard is steadfast in her commitment to her mission of using her gym to empower women to live their best lives.
This is my goal. That’s exactly what I hoped for.This is more than a fitness center; it’s a “army” of women who are committed to improving themselves and their fitness communities.
The proprietor of Embellish Beauty is Marcia Williams. / Courtesy
For many years, 44-year-old Marcia Williams worked as a make-up artist for famous people including Jill Martin (of the Today Show), Peta Murgatroyd (of Dancing with the Stars), and others who appeared on QVC. Her success as a freelance beauty consultant meant she had more work than she could handle and less time to spend with her loved ones.
She explained that she was motivated to work from home because she wanted to have a more personal connection with her children. “But I also wanted to continue providing my services to women, and to be able to bring those services to them wherever they might be.”
Williams decided to create her Embellish Beauty cosmetics line in 2010 and used her own savings to do so. In the years that followed, she became known for her bridal and television makeup services. She had been selling her cosmetics online for a while, but last year she decided to take the plunge into traditional retail.
Williams had the break of a lifetime a few months ago when one of the most well-known retail chain stores offered to sell her products at its flagship New York City location as well as other sites around the country. That agreement, along with her make-up services for wedding bookings and QVC, was placed on hold indefinitely when stores were closed temporarily in March due to the pandemic.
Williams took a serious hit.
I was really excited about the possibility of a retail partnership, but I knew that, given the current economic climate, introducing new brands for in-store purchase was out of the question. “I had to adjust my tactics and figure out how to get the word out about my wares to the public.”
Williams moved her attention to her online store, where she updated her product line with new shades of makeup and package designs. To help Embellish Beauty, you may make a donation or purchase merchandise on this page.
My husband and I both work for ourselves, but we aren’t making nearly as much as we used to. The situation has been trying for us. Trying to seem optimistic, she explained.
Williams hopes that her items might spread some positivity during the pandemic.
These days, buying a mask is a lot like purchasing expensive underwear that you hide under your clothes. “Underneath it all, you still want to feel and look beautiful,” she remarked.
In my opinion, aesthetics are still crucial to good mental wellness. Maintaining a connection with oneself and making time for self-care are both quite important, in my opinion.
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