Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Women of Color Leadership Network host a panel of entrepreneurs

Four women, four businesses
Alvin Buyinza/Collegian

The University of Massachusetts’ Women of Color Leadership Network held a panel titled “Turning Your Passion into a Business: A Panel of Women of Color Entrepreneurs” on Wednesday.

This panel was made up of four local business owners and women of color, Erica Wilson, Donnabelle Casis, Rosemary Tracy Woods and Sheila Coon.

Wilson, a lecturer for the dance department, came to the area six years ago from Texas. After moving to Amherst, Wilson decided to remove the dreadlocks that she had worn for about 13 years. She took 10 days to untangle them herself and as she was doing so, she realized that there were no beauty supply stores within 20 miles.

Wilson decided to take a real estate course which ended up teaching her a lot about business. This inspired her vision of Head Games, the beauty supply store that she has since opened in downtown Amherst.

Growing up and in college, she always had a passion for hair. “So, when I [envisioned] the plan of the store, I saw it as Head Games Beauty Supply, things to play with your hair,” explained Wilson. “You can come in with your friends and there are stations set up where you can play and test products and sample products and that is what I originally saw.”

The company has since evolved into Head Games Beauty Supply, Your Natural Hair Solution.

“The vision turned into the mission,” Wilson explained. “It is hard work. If I knew how hard it was, I would still do it.” She worked three or four hours every day to start her business, in which time she accumulated a 30-page business plan that she still references today.

Casis is a Filipino-American artist who owns an athleisure brand called Donnabelle Designs. Casis’ journey began one day in her pure barre class.

When looking in the mirrors that covered the walls of the room, she simply did not like what she was seeing. She decided to go home and create her own pair of leggings, based on one of her paintings. At one of her next classes, she was approached by the owner of Artisan Gallery in Northampton who said she loved her leggings and wanted to sell them in her store, and things took off from there. “It was never something I thought that I would do,” said Casis. She is coming out with a new line in February.

“Through my business, I try to promote artists of color,” said Casis. “Actually, I am just starting a photo shoot for a bunch of people who are going to be wearing my athleisure line. People who wear my clothes are anybody. It can be anybody from anywhere and any culture.”

In addition, Casis donates clothes to fundraisers for important causes and to inner-city children at dance studios.

She offered a lot of advice to the audience. “Stay organized, keep receipts, surround yourself with successful people,” Casis said. “You are your own marketer and producer. Stake your spot.”

Woods owns Art for the Soul Gallery. She grew up with eight brothers, working for and traveling with one who was a musician, exposing her to the art world.

When Woods was younger, she visited the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum.

“When I went in, it was the first time in my life that I saw art that looked like me,” said Woods. “I had never seen Black art. So, it started my adventure. I went in and started following around people I knew.”

Woods said she was inspired by another woman who was creating art. “There were not a lot of Black women running museums, but there were a lot of Black women creating art.”

Woods decided to approach the artists and create a platform for them to sell their work. She made connections and has grown her business from there. “My cue to you is don’t follow the gold at the end of the rainbow, follow your heart,” said Woods. “Make sure that what you are doing is what you love to do.”

Woods also recommended that women make a community in the business world. “You have to be very confident in who you are and keep that love and know that we are all sisters and it doesn’t matter how much money you have, we are all going in the same dirt,” said Woods. “Just keep that love, keep that bond and if you see someone struggling, help them out.”

Coon is the owner of Hot Oven Cookies, a store that opened just three days ago. However, Coon’s journey began long before that. She had her first child when she was just 15 years old. When she was in the hospital, she told the nurse that she wanted to go to college and become a lawyer, and the nurse told her that she should throw her dreams away.

Coon had six more children, went to school, decided to not become a lawyer and followed her passion for baking. She then attended community college and started working as a chef. A series of events led her to get a new job as a barista.

Soon after, she began baking in wholesale for the owner of the coffee shop. In 2010, Coon passed a storefront that sparked her passion even greater.

At this time in her life, Coon was divorced with seven kids and she was working 16-hour days, but she held onto her dream and continued to persist. She continued baking and writing down her recipes. She wanted to buy a franchise but was rejected and decided to start small. She began a cookie delivering business, then had a food truck and has finally built enough to open her store. Coon is planning to franchise soon.

Coon overcame countless adversities, but never lost sight of her dream. She bumped into the nurse from the hospital last year and wished her all the best. “Our mission is to spread the cookie love,” Coon said.

One of Coon’s recommendations was to reach out to Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield, which is a mini “Shark Tank” for local businesses. Coon has received grants to grow Hot Oven Cookies which serves over 100 flavors.

She said what keeps her going is the face that a customer makes when they bite into a cookie. That smile lets her know that she is making a difference. “Do what makes your soul sing,” said Coon.

Cassie McGrath can be reached at [email protected].

View Comments (2)
More to Discover

Comments (2)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • A

    amyNov 30, 2018 at 8:48 pm

    What odds?

    Black people in america are the most successful black people in the world, they make far greater amount than black people in Africia and they had countless opportunities from welfare to financial aid for college to small business loans to getting a job to countless special programs for minorities.

    Yet all Alfred can do and as you see this in many liberals(read the Yale study in the language and behavior of liberals towards minorities) is patronize them. Minorities like me are starting to see through this..

  • A

    amyNov 29, 2018 at 4:25 am

    Anyone notice that asians and hispanics are excluded from these ‘women of color’. It seems a bit racist..

    Liberals want to put hispanics in the special box of ‘undocumented immigrants’ and asians because they tend to be more successful don’t fit into the special box of ‘oppressed’ or ‘victim’

    Also anyone who is a minority at Umass should know this well, a new study by Yale shows that when liberals talk to minorities they dumb down their speech and talk to them in patronizing ways.