Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are the institutions responsible for breeding the next generation of Black business owners and entrepreneurs. As the leaders of many industries, Black founders have the power to change them for the better — starting with their diversity problem.
As a product of Florida A&M University (FAMU), founder Darrin Eakins had a vision to create a brand (a whiskey brand to be exact) inspired by a significant part of his college experience called DuBlase. Today, that brand represents a revolutionary act for Black founders breaking into the spirits industry and actually owning their spirits. Now, Eakins hopes to position his own brand as a catalyst for change to champion more Black ownership in an industry that lacks true diversity and equity.
The Makings of DuBlase
According to Eakins, the name of his brand actually derives from his roots in college Greek life and his line number as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
“It was inspired by that and the camaraderie during graduations, homecomings, and any type of celebration,” he tells AfroTech. “For every celebration [my brothers and I] would toast with a glass so that’s kind of our motto, a toast to life.”
In addition to his HBCU college days, Eakins was also inspired to create his own spirits brand by his family — more specifically his uncle in Cincinnati, OH who makes wine.
“He actually introduced me to spirits, recipe creation, how different ingredients go together and what it takes to actually make a spirit,” Eakins shares. “I wanted to do a whiskey [for my brand] because that’s my spirit of choice.”
After a two and a half year approval process, DuBlase finally set itself up to launch in May of this year across 32 U.S. states. As a result, a new American whiskey was introduced to the market just as the world began to open back up amid the pandemic.
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Diversity in the Spirits Industry
Black founders across many industries are gravely underrepresented, but that fact is especially true in the spirits industry.
According to Digiday, Pronghorn research reports that while Black Americans represent 12 percent of alcohol consumers across categories, they only make up 7.8 percent of the labor force and two percent of executives in the industry. With DuBlase, Eakins hopes that his whiskey brand will help change these statistics and inspire more ownership in the industry.
One way that Eakins is focused on this goal is by forming strategic partnerships with other Black-owned businesses to promote more growth. To him, the No. 1 challenge for diversity in spirits is the lack of distribution for Black business owners, so his solution is to share information and resources to increase access.
“Every state has its own laws on alcohol. So, just having that access to different distributors is challenging,” he says. “There have been quite a few brands to try to come to market, but they get shut down at the distribution level, so they’re never really able to [make that happen]. Unless you have your own distillery, which few Black-owned brands do, it’s difficult to [break through].”
As a newer brand on the market, Eakins finds it helpful when other, more experienced, Black-owned brands are able to extend a helping hand by sharing their own knowledge of the dos and don’ts in the spirits space.
“Getting that success and paying it forward” is a method he believes builds unity amongst other Black founders and stimulates change.
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Keeping the Black Dollar in the Black Community
Launching DuBlase wasn’t just about creating another whiskey brand for consumers. For Eakins, it’s also a chance to help Black consumers focus on spending intentionally when buying Black. Circulating the Black dollar in our community and keeping it there is the key to having a thriving community where we control our own destiny.
Though we’re still consciously working toward breaking into spaces that weren’t created with us in mind, it’s our job as consumers and owners to prioritize our own communities first. Eakins is all about setting an example for others in the industry to follow, so it’s his hope that DuBlase is able to become a beacon for change.
The ultimate goal for his brand is to expand outside of spirits and get into other spaces like fashion, sports and others. If Eakins can get other industries to pour back into his business, then DuBlase has the potential to grow far beyond where it is now.
For more information about DuBlase Whiskey, visit its website.