Editorial Note: Opinions and thoughts are the writer’s own and not those of AfroTech.
Five years ago, I started my business, Beaux & Paws, making bow ties, which are in my personal opinion – the perfect complement to any formal outfit. When I launched the business, I knew I wanted to do more than just sell a product. I wanted to make a difference.
My idea sparked when I saw all of the displaced pets following Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey. Some of these animals were understandably not looking their best given what they’d been through. And while we know we shouldn’t, many of us judge books by their covers. I’ve always gotten compliments on how I present myself — my signature bow tie and dapper look is even how I got the nickname “Sir Darius.” That’s when I had the thought: what if, by wearing my bow ties, these dogs could find their “furever” homes faster? After all, who can resist a puppy in a bow tie!?
I started by donating some bow ties to the ASPCA in New York City. Soon, I decided to follow the buy-one-give-one model popularized by brands like Toms and Warby Parker. For every pet bow tie I sold, I donated one to a local Newark animal shelter or organization. Five years later, and through Beaux & Paws, we’ve accomplished more than I could have ever dreamed of. We’ve helped raise more than $300,000 to support animal shelters, sponsor adoption fees, donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to sponsor a Puppy Wish, all while donating thousands of bow ties to shelters and adoption centers across the world. I even received a personal letter of encouragement from former President Barack Obama — a truly life changing moment for me.
I want to let kids — and adults — who have a passion, mission or idea that speaks to their heart and captures their mind, to know they can go for it and succeed. It won’t always be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.
Here are three pieces of advice to others looking to start their own business or organization.
Don’t Let Self Doubt Fool You
As I shared, back in 2018, I received a personal letter from President Obama encouraging me to continue my efforts with Beaux & Paws. It came at the perfect time — when I was in low spirits and doubting myself and my vision for the business. I will always remember his advice — anytime I’m facing something difficult — whether in the business or other aspects of life: “As long as you stay engaged in the world around you, continue looking for ways to help others, and never give up on yourself, I’m confident our future will be bright.”
These powerful words gave me the motivation and encouragement I needed in that moment to not give up. Soon, my self-doubt had faded away and instead, my mind was filled with hope and creative ideas for the business. As an entrepreneur, you’ll have tough moments, but know that believing in yourself, your ideas and your desire to make positive change is what is truly important. As long as you don’t lose sight of this, you will eventually succeed.
Harness the Power of Online Communities
Simply put, Beaux & Paws wouldn’t be where it is today or have helped so many pets if it wasn’t for Facebook and Instagram. These online communities helped Beaux & Paws take off, and I’ve been so grateful for their tools and support. If you’re starting a business — especially one that is mission-driven or has a cause tied to it — know that social media is an excellent opportunity to share your message and reach people around the world that also care about that cause.
In addition to helping me spread the message of what I’m trying to do with Beaux & Paws, Facebook and Instagram also helped me generate sales. My Facebook page has its own Shop that people can buy from directly, and last year I was invited by the company to participate in its #BuyBlackFriday initiative spotlighting Black-owned businesses. On the day of my #BuyBlackFriday promotion, we sold $7,000 worth of merchandise on that day alone.
Things aren’t slowing down either, especially now that I’ve started using Reels on Instagram. People really love to engage with my content, and it’s helped increase my following. Right now, I have more than 136,000 followers on the platform, with new ones rolling in every day.
Selling and Helping: You Can Do Both
Sometimes it seems like people think you can either do one or the other — make money or help others. In my experience, that’s simply not true at all. Of course the goal of any business is to turn a profit, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the only goal. One of my biggest pieces of advice is to lead with empathy and think creatively about how your business can benefit others aside from what you’re selling.
That may be embracing a buy-one-give-one model like we have at Beaux & Paws, or it could be something else entirely. For example, 19&21, an apparel brand that celebrates Black history and a fellow Facebook #BuyBlackFriday business, gives a percentage of its sales to local organizations in North Tulsa where it’s based. Its founder, Trey Thaxton, also focuses on spotlighting other Black-owned businesses and encouraging the next generation of Black entrepreneurs. As a young Black man from Newark, NJ, I can tell you how important having role models to look up to is, and like Trey, I hope to also inspire others.
I’m living proof that you don’t need to wait to follow your passion or to make a positive impact on your community or the world. All you need is the idea, the drive and a smartphone. I truly believe my generation can make an amazing impact on the world if we just believe in ourselves, leverage the modern digital tools at our disposal and never lose sight of helping others.
Sir Darius Brown is the founder and CEO of Beaux & Paws where he designs and creates handmade stylish bow ties for pets. In addition to being a teen entrepreneur, philanthropist and shelter pet advocate, Darius is also a recipient of the Global Child Prodigy Award.