Doing business takes many different forms and Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB) alum Dianna Harris is mixing making a profit with making a positive difference in the world.
She was at least partly inspired to do so by her LTAB experience, both in competing and through the people she met and was inspired by. Currently, she is a teaching artist and the social media coordinator for Young Chicago Authors (YCA). She also runs her own business: Black Proverbs. It’s a clothing line based on her popular blog. It’s mission is to use language as a home to her ancestors in the black community. “We are a celebration of all the beauty, love and knowledge in being black,” she says.
Selling Products And Ideas
As far as the nuts and bolts of Black Proverbs, which she founded in June, 2014, Harris sells t-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies. “It’s been awesome. In the six months since I started, Black Proverbs got so big I couldn’t manage it in addition to my two jobs and course load for graduate school,” says Harris. “I was packaging over 100 orders every day and that’s a lot of work.”
In order to build an ever more viable business, Harris is now backing up a bit , working to build a strong foundation for Black Proverbs. “I want to build it up in multiple ways: publishing a book or books, hosting other clothing lines, making the website a hub for podcasts, cooking shows and a collection of resources for black people, from scholarships to jobs—things that help other people,” she says.
Toward that end, Harris donated part of the proceeds from the sales of her “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts to the St. Louis Food Bank. As a young entrepreneur, the lessons are coming fast. “I’ve learned that every path is going to be scary but you can do it. I always tell myself that this is just a mountain and I’ll climb it. It doesn’t matter at what speed I do that, I’ll do it. You don’t have to gladiate it every day, you just have to keep showing up and it’ll happen.
“People are amazed when they found out I’m 24 and started my own business,” she continues. “They ask, ‘How did you do it?’. Seriously, the resources are out there and you just have to talk to people and be willing to listen. If you believe in your dream and keep working at it, you’ll get there.”
As far as what has made Harris a success, it’s all about the personal touch and integrated branding/marketing. “I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty,” says Harris. “Plenty of people want to start a t-shirt line and it can be easy these days with the new models out there, but I brand my products with a customized tag, my mission statement, and customized packaging. I’m creating an experience, not just a product.”
Art Influences Business
While it’s easy to think that art and business are worlds apart, it doesn’t have to be so. “A lot of what I wrote and competed with in LTAB was political and about social justice and the feelings of people other than yourself,” says Harris. “When you compete at LTAB, you’re going to meet a bunch of other people who think the same way. It fosters and supports your inclination toward social justice and achieving something greater as an artist.
“You can be professional and make yourself profitable in many regards and that inspired me to go to the University of Wisconsin on a scholarship so I had the opportunity to invest in my art and my education,” she continues. “It’s important because while I was in high school I wanted to be an OBGYN, I really love science, but it felt like I could make a bigger impact if I was writing and creating art and participating in LTAB definitely made me feel that way. I’m not convinced all of us are sure writing makes sense, or that anyone wants to hear what we write or that it even matters, but when you get in this place and compete, you know you matter and people do hear what you want to say.”
While Harris doesn’t feel she’s necessarily breaking new ground, she does feel that being true to herself and mindful of social justice can allay the sometimes harmful effects of raw capitalism. “I take that into my business logic and I think anybody who wants to start a business can do it,” says Harris. “I do think that LTAB provides a lot of branches through participating: you can find somebody who can mentor you and thereare a lot of exposure opportunities, as well.”
Making Dreams Come True
When you ask Harris about her dreams, an avalanche of thoughts are sure to follow. “My dreams are huge, I want to do everything,” she says. “The issue with me is it doesn’t matter what I accomplish because I’m already worried about what I’m going to do next.
“I told myself when I started this business I wouldn’t recognize it in a year and that’s already happened. I went from working at Wal-Mart and Subway to being an entrepreneur and I’ll never look back, I’ll just keep moving forward and do it the right way, with the effects of my business on the larger world on my mind.” One of her retail goals is really an allegory for life. “I want to be distributed in stores and I want my merchandise to be the end cap at the head of the aisle.”
Don’t forget about us little people at LTAB, Dianna.
You can support Dianna and her Black Proverbs movement below: