Mark Juneteenth by Getting to Know These Black Manufacturers

By Monique Mansfield
Zandra Cunningham first launched her lip balm and beauty product business when she was 9. | Photo courtesy Zandra Beauty

These five entrepreneurs manufacture their products locally.

Today is Juneteenth, and we’re marking the holiday by acknowledging five Black manufacturers who have also made Made in America products.

But before we do that, here’s a little background on what Juneteenth means: It’s the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. While many people may be celebrating with traditional activities such as barbecuing or gathering for a good time, others are holding rallies and marches to advocate for racial justice.

Here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, we are recognizing Black manufacturers, some of which you may not have heard of before. One that comes to mind from the past is Madam C.J. Walker, who purchased a factory and grew an entire business based on making hair products. But let’s turn to the present…

Zandra Cunningham – Zandra Beauty

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This 19-year-old entrepreneur began her journey at 9-years-old. With the assistance of her family and an appreciation for entrepreneurship, Cunningham started her business, initially called Azariah’s Innocence, a few days before her 10th birthday… what a great gift!

Cunningham began selling her first products, which included lip balms and whipped shea body butter, at farmers' markets in the summer of 2010.  She started with lip balms and body butter because these were products that she frequently used herself, but the problem was most of the products she purchased from stores would leave her skin dry, itchy and unhappy. With that in mind, Zandra began making her own products that would keep her skin feeling good and soft without irritation. It was in that moment that Zandra Beauty was birthed!

Collin Gill, Ryan Gill. Austin Gill – Frerés Branchiaux Candle Co.

Frerés Branchiaux Candle Co. is an artisanal candle company based in Washington, D.C., created and managed by three brothers, Collin, 14, Ryan, 11,, and Austin Gill, 9. Frères Branchiaux candles and home fragrances are vegan, a good fit for eco-conscious consumers. The company’s products are made in small batches, hand poured, hand packaged, and curated with care. The candles, room sprays, diffusers, soy melts, and soaps are the brainchild of the three brothers, who decided to create a business to earn their own money and give back, as the brothers donate 10 percent of their profits to D.C.-area homeless shelters. The business quickly took off, and was even featured on Good Morning America.  

Reverend Georgiette Morgan-Thomas – American Hats LLC

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The Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, owner of American Hats LLC, is an avid hat wearer. The reverend not only has a passion for wearing them, but also loves seeing other individuals bringing back the hat as part of everyday fashion. In 2016, Morgan-Thomas used her life savings to buy a historic hat factory in Philadelphia that was about to close. She quickly learned the business and created a modern space in the market, while also maintaining the factory’s heritage manufacturing techniques.

Terra Saunders – Dallaswear Uniforms

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This former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader is now the founder and creative director of Dallaswear Uniforms, a company the manufactures uniforms for cheerleaders, including NFL and NBA athletes, along with restaurant staff and others. Saunders is an avid fashionista, having received her first sewing machine at 9 years old and came from a lineage of seamstresses that include her mother, aunts and grandmother. As an adult, she found a way to merge design and cheerleading into a niche that she loves. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saunders turned her factory over to make PPE for healthcare workers and others on the frontlines.

Omar Bailey – Omar Bailey Footwear

Growing up, Bailey fell in love with the game of basketball. But he couldn't make it on the team because of his size. So, he decided to do the next best thing and design the shoes. Bailey started out as an industrial design student at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, but later transferred to the University of Cincinnati to study at the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. Today, Bailey is involved in many ventures, but his focus is his private label Omar Bailey Footwear, which is manufactured in New York City. Through his brand and with access to local manufacturing, he has been able to cater to his celebrity client roster as it continues to expand.

So there you have it. Manufacturing is much more than what captures the eye and cultivates the mind. In many cases, it’s a lifestyle, a culture and history.