As the pandemic raged during the early months of 2020, Black business ownership across the U.S. plunged more than 40 percent, the largest drop across any demographic group, according to the U.S. House Committee on Small Business. Among the many impacts that disproportionately affected small businesses, Black business owners were less likely to be equipped with the tools needed to cope with mandated closures, largely due to the lack of access to such financial relief as emergency loans that otherwise could have provided them a lifeline.
One of those companies that had to scramble, and do so fast, was Our Favorite Things boutique, a business committed to fair trade showcasing winsome, beautiful clothing for all body shapes and sizes. Employees at the company’s two locations in Cleveland, Ohio, empower customers to “look, feel, and be absolutely amazing no matter what size they are via wearable art,” Our Favorite Things’ owner, Dr. Lisa McGuthry, told TriplePundit.
Dr. McGuthry added, “Our clothing is comfortable, stylish, and bohemian chic.” In early 2020, she had bold plans for her company to take it to the next level, as in selling at open-air markets and launching pop-up shops.
Then COVID-19 hit. “As a retail boutique, we were not an essential business, but that didn't stop us,” Dr. McGuthry continued. “We created The QVC in The CLE, via Facebook Live, two weeks after the pandemic hit.”
Despite the initial hardship, Our Favorite Things has grown. “We have gained access to 43 percent more customers as well our regular loyal customers,” Dr. McGuthry added. “We are shipping fair trade clothing and accessories all over the United States as far as Alaska and the Netherlands.”
The stores also became a lifeline for local designers, as to date, Our Favorite Things features well over a dozen entrepreneurs’ products in its stores.
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Adding to Dr. McGuthry’s grit, determination and creativity was assistance from SCORE, a nonprofit that bills itself as the largest network of volunteer small business mentors in the U.S. Through an agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the organization also operates programs for women entrepreneurs, runs a small business resilience hub and serves as a clearing house of SBA funding updates.
Dr. McGuthry had already been working with SCORE, which had assigned a board to work with her so she could find ways to expand her business.
That relationship became even stronger once the pandemic was in full swing. “My advisory board at SCORE has been amazing,” said Dr. McGuthry. “I am reminded of why I began my journey: It's definitely not easy but worth it. The impact of giving back to my community and providing quality products that are needed as well as inspire people are what business is all about. We have been able to hire more people due to our increase in sales and delivery. I am grateful to my advisory board for being available to help with questions and concerns.”
Part of that giving back involved new products. For example, Our Favorite Things found new opportunities in self-care and other products, as in selling masks and disinfectant. The company did whatever it could to help others by giving such products to those who could not afford them or who were working on the front lines. The stores also offered shipping options along with local contactless delivery. And because of those efforts, as well as being part of The QVC in The CLE, the business stayed afloat while also helping to build community.
Despite her successes, Dr. McGuthry voiced frustrations with the wider system. “I am still frustrated we have not received an EIDL [an Economic Injury Disaster Loan from the SBA] or advance. We have private services that have helped us via the Cleveland Growth Collaborative, but no federal assistance,” she explained. “The money didn't get into the hands of the businesses that needed it most. I won't give up or give in. Entrepreneurship has taught me that you get out what you put in.”
Unlike other businesses that could not pivot in time, Our Favorite Things has emerged as a success story — but that unfolded despite the system, not because of it. “Today as a business we are continually growing and building community. I have appealed our SBA loan decision and was denied again,” Dr. McGuthry said. “Specific reasons are not available, but as an entrepreneur I am resilient, as well as our team, and we will continue the growth process: learning from our mistakes and striving to get better each day for ourselves and customers.”
Image credit: Our Favorite Things Boutique/Facebook
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.