Learn how this female entrepreneur built her passion into an online apparel brand to inspire other women of color.
By Shari Neal
Back in 2010, a friend turned me on to T.S. Monk's funk song from the 1970s, "Bon Bon Vie (Gimme the Good Life)." The lyrics about being stuck in an unfulfilling 9-to-5 struck a chord with me. I had a steady job as a web developer, but I wanted to escape the daily grind and pour my creativity into something I was actually passionate about. Like Monk, I just wanted "the good life" – not necessarily material possessions, but a life where I could answer to myself, pursue my dreams and start each day with a sense of joy.
So I made the leap. After starting my own business selling graphic tees, I quit my job. I had a T-shirt obsession at the time and had been playing around with designing my own. I felt there was a gap in the market for clothes that celebrated brown women and our unique style, so I focused on designing tees that would inspire women of color to be confident and go after the good life too – whatever that looked like for them. As you probably guessed, I named my company Bon Bon Vie.
Eight years later, I'm fielding online orders from thousands of customers worldwide. Bon Bon Vie's offerings have expanded to sweatshirts, crop tops, mugs, totes, and even some men's tees and baby apparel. It's incredible to think that people around the world are rocking my designs. It motivates me every day to know that my work is not only bringing me fulfillment but is also inspiring so many others to express their individuality.
Over the years, I've realized that the toughest part being an entrepreneur isn't just fanning your spark of an idea into a successful company, but also keeping the flame burning in the face of everything else life throws at you. Right now, the biggest challenge has been keeping up with demand and dreaming up new designs that will resonate with my fans. Now that I'm married and parenting a toddler, I can't work the same crazy hours I used to. For years I had been doing it all myself – shipping, customer service, advertising, social media, events, everything – nearly to the point of burnout. I often say Bon Bon Vie was my first baby. It's agonizing to let go of being 100 percent responsible for a project that you've built from nothing. However, with a lot of careful planning and trial-and-error, I've found ways to keep my business running smoothly while also improving my own work-life balance.
One of the key lessons I've learned is the value of outsourcing as much as possible. While it can be a hassle to find vendors and partners you trust, it makes a world of difference once you do. For example, I now work with a company called Printful that handles the printing, shipping and fulfillment for all my orders. Clearing those responsibilities off my plate has made life much easier. I'm able to focus on designing products, and they handle the rest – processing online orders, printing the products on demand, storing surplus product and making sure the orders reach my customers on time. Being able to make the actual designs my top priority again has renewed my enthusiasm and reduced my stress level significantly. Building partnerships with companies like Printful has definitely paid off.
It's hard to believe it's coming up on a decade since I launched Bon Bon Vie and started on this whirlwind journey. Leaving my job to become a brand-new entrepreneur seemed like a crazy decision at the time, but every day I'm glad I chose to be a little crazy and pursue my passion. Going after the good life and deciding what that looks like for me is an ever-changing process, but channeling that ongoing pursuit into my designs is something I never get sick of. Whenever I get photos or messages from people of color around the world who have been inspired by Bon Bon Vie, I'm reminded that it's worth putting your everything into creating a life that makes you happy and celebrates who you are.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.