Tones of Melanin Founder Ashley Jones transformed a side hustle into disrupting the collegiate apparel industry.

While attending Norfolk State University, the Virginia Beach native designed for every organization on the campus. However, she noticed there was a void in HBCU fashion.

Coming from grandparents who owned one of the first Black-owned beauty supply companies in her hometown, Jones embarked on her own entrepreneurial journey by launching Tones of Melanin.

On May 19, Jones made an appearance on “Shark Tank,” making Tones of Melanin the first-ever HBCU athleisure brand to be pitched to the Sharks. 

The founder asked for $300,000 for 5% equity.


Since launching in 2017, Tones of Melanin has raked in $3.3 million to date, according to Jones. The brand also made $1.4 million in sales in 2022 and $330,000 in revenue so far in 2023. 

Jones, who runs the business daily, told the Sharks that the money generated goes back into the business, meaning she hasn’t put money in her own pockets yet.

Following sharing her pitch and background story, Mark Cuban went on to offer Jones $300,000 for 15%. However, she negotiated it to 12% and quickly sealed the deal.

Jones aims for landing a deal on “Shark Tank” to give a sense of hope to fellow HBCU alumni chasing their dreams.

“I think that everyone who attended an HBCU will benefit from my appearance on national television, which will show that we can thrive anywhere,” Jones told AfroTech. “Never give up on yourself or your dreams, regardless of what anyone else says. Understanding what your purpose is along with your vision and that no one can ever discredit you because of where your degree may come from. HBCU graduates are thriving everywhere!”

Tones of Melanin has 40 HBCU licenses, and its gear is in major retailers, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Belk Stores, and Follett College Bookstores. With the new investment, Jones will expand her brand, and hopefully, more HBCUs will obtain licensing programs and collaborate with her.

“In the future, I want to expand my company without using a third party by working more directly with HBCUs,” Jones explained to us. “In addition, I want to expand our empowerment line so that we can engage with more members of our community. As we start to lean more toward philanthropic efforts, we are working on partnerships and collaborating with companies and individuals who are interested in supporting HBCU students. I want Tones of Melanin to be the interface of all things HBCU.”