When Brian Williams first tried the men’s grooming products made by skin care company Solo Noir, he knew he’d stumbled onto something good. “It was fantastic. I threw away everything from Nivea and Neutrogena and never bought them again,” says the founder of Purchase Black
, an e-commerce website that promotes products made by black entrepreneurs.
The Arlington, Va., website sells clothes, accessories, books, gifts and everyday essentials.
Williams started the business while getting his MBA at the University of Texas from 2011 - 2013. A course where he could explore the challenges and successes of black owned businesses taught him that black businesses that were most publicized were also associated with poor customer service and low-quality products. Higher quality products exist, but weren’t getting the he promotion they deserve. Purchase Black can be the glue between quality black businesses and the consumers who wish to support them, Williams says.
After obtaining his degree, Williams moved from Austin to Washington, D.C., because of the city’s legacy of African American businesses, budding tech scene and proximity to historically black institutions like Howard University.
Last month the site released its first set of what Williams considers to be exceptional businesses. They [all have] an element to their business, their story, their product—preferably all of those things—that will ‘wow’ a person,” he says. “These are businesses that have really reached the upper echelons of their own potential.”
If you don’t trust Williams’ opinion, not to worry—each product is marketed with an accompanying video so consumers can hear from the entrepreneurs themselves. Jasmine Lawrence, founder of natural hair care line EDEN BodyWorks can be seen in her 2007 interview with Oprah Winfrey, explaining how she created the decade-old line at the age of 13.
After screening potential merchants, Williams will add up to five new businesses to the site each month. “That is pending we find five that we like,” he says. “Our standards are more important than our numbers.”
Integral to Williams’ mission is for everyone, regardless of race, to embrace the “black experience.” There’s no need to filter yourself out as a customer just because you aren’t black, he says. “I am certainly not looking to exclude people from being my customer by any stretch of the imagination because to me that would be the antithesis of what I'm trying to do.”
In the future, Williams plans to roll out features to expand the site beyond e-commerce. This fall, Purchase Black Gives Back will allow organizations and groups that positively impact the black community to receive a percentage of sales from featured merchants. Early next year, Purchase Black Experiences will host in-person and online events to engage audiences through product demonstrations, speakers and more. Customers can also expect a Purchase Black mobile app by the end of the year.
“There’s a lot of exciting stuff; a zillion things going on,” says Williams. “But I'm really happy to be involved.”