African American Families: Balancing Business and Family

African American families are succeeding at business and life. (Google Images)

African American families are succeeding at business and life. (Google Images)

On a summer evening, Karen Tappin pulls up to collect her 6-year old daughter from a full day of African, tap, ballet, and hip-hop dance classes.

Fresh from a speaking engagement, the Brooklyn native and founder of hair and body care line Karen’s Body Beautiful situates her daughter in the back seat as we chat about balancing the beauty business and family life. She politely excuses herself for a moment to give her dance-weary daughter some dinner.

“You want your food now, or something to drink first?” Tappin asks her young daughter. “Sorry, I’m driving, I’m trying to feed my daughter, and I’m like multitasking here.”

Act I in the metaphorical musical “How to Succeed in Business While Being Parents.”

The sparse offerings of products with natural ingredientsfor naturals has begun a paradigm shift in the black beauty industry, which The Huffington Post estimates at $500 billion, with young, black entrepreneurs like Tappin at the helm.

Karen’s Body Beautiful is the end product of a care package mail order business Tappin started while a student at the University of Virginia. She left teaching to focus on the business full time in 2004, a transition made easier by having family involved.

“It’s not difficult at all, my husband’s the COO, which makes life a hundred times easier than it might be if he weren’t,” said Tappin. “Sometimes during events, I’ll have my daughter introduce me. I make her feel included in that regard. When she was younger, I would take her to the factory and her job was to sort the bottles.”

Managing beauty and babies has been a bit more challenging for Oyin Handmade founders Jamyla and Pierre Bennu. Like Karen’s Body Beautiful, the popular brand grew out of Jamyla’s frustration with products containing ingredients such as petroleum and mineral oil.

“I began experimenting with my own kitchen concoctions for personal use, and because I was a freelance web designer at the time, [I]eventually built a website to sell the products to others with similar needs.”

Pierre is also an award-winning artist, writer and filmmaker who with Jamyla runs the alternative arts and media company Exittheapple. Combine all of this with two small boys, whom they describe on their website as “somewhat distracting, but super fun,” and you have the recipe for a hectic life.

“It’s almost impossible,” Pierre says of balancing business and the boys. “We are only just getting our babysitter game together this year, and [we] do not get enough sleep.”

Still, their earthy approach to business and the way the Bennus revel in the glow of family garnered them the honor of Ebony Magazine’s Coolest Black Family in America in 2012.

Balancing acts like Tappin’s family and the Bennus are becoming the norm among beauty mavericks catering to black naturals as a primary market. Dr. Debra Nixon, celebrity marriage and family therapist and entrepreneur,  believes the key to balance lies in planning.

“Couples have to plan it. That’s my husband and I too. We have to make sure that we schedule meetings for what we have to do in terms of the business so things don’t go undone.”

Also a professor, Dixon feels that complimentary roles aid in maintaining a healthy relationship.

“He’s way more romantic than I am, so he’ll make sure that the personal parts don’t get left out of the equation. So they have to balance each other in terms of asking ‘how do we attend to our personal relationship and then how do we attend to the business’, and it’s not always easy. ”

Based on her own personal and professional experiences, Nixon suggests that couples need to allow the person with expertise in a particular area to exhibit their skill, without assigning tasks along gender lines. She further believes that training children to understand the time involved with business activity, and that parents have lives too, assists in performing the business-family shuffle.

Both Karen’s Body Beautiful and Oyin Handmade recently negotiated coveted distribution deals with Target, a move that could take both businesses to the next level. As such, life will only get busier, as evidenced by Tappin’s new ventures.

“I’m working on an app, called Afroji, with images that look like us. I’m also working on a web-based talk show on natural hair, called ‘Karen Says.’”

Yet, the thought of adding more to her already full plate does not phase her, especially since she has the support of family.

“I really enjoy what I do. I have zero stress in my life. I hire people who I enjoy, I don’t sweat the small stuff, and I’ve gotten rid of stressful people in my personal life.”

It appears that the secret to striking a work-life balance in business and family may literally be in a jar.

This post was written by Dr. Chetachi A. Egwu, Associate Professor of Humanities at Nova Southeastern University. Her scholarship focuses on Black Internet Usage and the African image in film, with an emphasis in documentary. The Howard University alumna is the owner of Conscious Thoughts Media. Dr. Egwu is a regular contributor to The Grio. Follow her on Twitter @Tachiada.

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