Colorism & Consumerism: How It Affects Black Owned Business

 I started Coco’Pie Clothing when my oldest daughter was just about 3 years old. 

We visited a store where she noticed a little brown girl on a t-shirt. She beamed at what she believed to be herself on this little white princess cut tee. The little girl atop a seesaw, with rosy red cheeks, a little high bun, and chestnut brown skin. “That’s Mikayla mommy, that’s me”. 

My baby wore this shirt until it was all worn out . After returning and discovering the design was seasonal, we left, equally disappointed. 

I thought long and I thought hard- I would start a t-shirt line myself. And that’s exactly what I did . My design would literally be in my daughters’ likeness. Her hair, her skin tone, her style of dress . I knew that my main objective would be to create diverse apparel; to fill a void not simply for myself but others. 

I often wondered if the design’s deep Ebony hue would cause hesitation for some consumers- in purchasing that is. You might think to yourself, ‘what a preposterous thought.’ Why would that matter? 

Because sadly color, and more specifically skin tone matters . Colorism is very real. I myself a much darker , melanin blessed woman as I would like to say, knew why it mattered . I’d grown up not feeling pretty. People called me black, darkie and gave me the all too familiar supposed compliment “you’re pretty for a dark skinned girl”. The “compliment” that followed me well into adulthood. I never seemed to see dark skin women and girls as the leading lady in anything- on tv, in print, or as a love interest. 

I’m rambling, and that all seems personal so surely the mothers, yes the mothers would see the beauty in my designs. She and her beautiful dark skin would be enough right….right? To my disappointment I would be wrong, even heartbroken on one occasion. I would receive many  inquiries about lighter skinned, “MUCH lighter” skinned versions of my shirts. Yet one memory keeps replaying in my head.  

I was vending at an expo. A beautiful little girl , of a sun kissed hue, big curious eyes, and an two, even bigger coiled filled ponytails. She looked up at my t-shirt from her pink stroller and smiled a smile that would light up any room, and surely make any mama flutter. She reached up and touched the Afro puff on the t-shirt. Then pulled her hand back fast with a giggle. I met her smile and began to talk to Babygirl. Yet not before Mom asked if I carried any lighter skin versions of the shirt. 

I answered “No, I do not“. She asked why and if I would be in the future. At this point she and her facial expression, clearly proved she wasn’t interested in purchasing. Solely based on my design skin tone. I explained “the designs are actually created in my daughters images. So it’s an authentic design that is near and dear to me, they’re also named after my girls.” She replied “oh ok, thanks anyway“. It wasn’t long before two other mothers expressed the same sentiment in different ways. 

Many others have also done so via emails, social media forums, and parenting groups where my t-shirts had been posted. 

I made a decision that day to clearly define my goal to combat Colorism. In my own way. To remain true to my girls representing my very own two beautiful brown girls. Vowing not to alter her Ebony hue because it meant so much more. How could I explain that to my daughters?

 I wouldn’t . 

Because they are indeed beautiful, and not for dark skin girls, just beautiful period. I thought to myself ‘I am happy my girls didn’t have to hear that, yet upset that her little one did.’ 

I wrestled with this notion. I thought, maybe she just wanted a design in her daughter’s likeness. Yet she is in her likeness. Light skin, brown skin, dark skin. We are all still Black women. When so very few options like mine exist, why create that barrier? I would be willing to bet the majority of mothers including the above mentioned have purchased Cinderella,Snow White, Ariel, sisters Elsa and Anna, without hesitation. Are any of those shirts in her likeness? Surely not, so where and why does the shift occur?

 Most of the mothers’ hues even closely resembled my own. Making it a bit more puzzling. A large portion of our supporters and mothers that purchase are not even solely black. Yet they support. I can’t help but to conclude that still today we feel the affects of Colorism . Whether subconsciously or not, its remnants still surface. 

Coco’Pie Clothing will stand firm in our position. I will not change my designs. Because Coco is enough. My daughters are enough, and so are yours. 

Have you had an experience relative to colorism whether personal or professional that you’d like to share? 



Meet The AuthorShantae Pelt is the CEO and Founder of a vibrant new t-shirt line, Coco’Pie Clothing. Momprenuer of two awesome daughters and also KidPrenuers, Shantae is passionate about celebrating the beauty within ethnicity. She has both a personal and professional commitment to combat colorism. You can connect with Shantae on Coco’Pie Clothing and Instagram & Periscope.