By Lajeune Hollis
Launched in August 2020, ReFramed by Nikki is an eyewear business located in North Haven, Connecticut. Owner Nicole Forbes-Shaw—who goes by “Nikki”—is a nurse by trade who believes that patient care should be a nurse’s first priority.
With an extensive professional background in nursing, Nikki is an Assistant Nurse Manager of the Interventional Immunology Center where she assists in managing two out of six sites that focus on chronic and auto-immune diseases including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, lupus and other inflammatory disorders. Nikki also attends Western Governors University and is actively working to complete her Masters in Nursing in 2022.
To Nikki, “ReFramed means reframing your visual perspective. Your glasses make your whole visual perspective – clear.” The ReFramed by Nikki eyewear includes a range of styles, from chic and precise, to astute and edgy, with eyewear styles categorized in unique collections, each of which has a significant meaning.
The first collection, “The Collective,” was introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic and was a way of acknowledging the heroic work of close family, friends and colleagues who worked as essential workers – including Nikki herself. Ten percent of the proceeds from eyewear purchased from “The Collective” collection was given to Yale Haven Hospital’s COVID Relief Fund.
“ReFramed means reframing your visual perspective. Your glasses make your whole visual perspective – clear.”
The second collection, launched in October 2020, is the “While Black” collection. It was introduced to increase cultural awareness and knowledge of common stereotypes and issues faced within the Black community.
ReFramed by Nikki is an online-based eyewear business that also offers services such as virtual and in-person consultations. In-person consultations are offered for a ten-dollar fee per person. These consultations offer an opportunity to meet with Nikki or a brand ambassador to try on and purchase frames upfront (depending on availability). To ensure the utmost safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nikki and her team adhere to CDC guidelines when meeting in-person. Group consultations require a minimum of five people, with the host receiving their consultation free of charge.
Beginning in Spring 2021, ReFramed by Nikki will offer a new service for clients outside of Connecticut who want to try on or purchase frames. This service will allow clients to select four eyewear styles of their choice and schedule a private Zoom consultation with Nikki or a brand ambassador. The brand will also be expanding to include eyewear for kids, readers and smaller frames for petite faces.
Click here to visit the ReFramed by Nikki website or find ReFramed by Nikki on Instagram or Facebook.
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By Alicia Brown
“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” is an anonymous quote that seems fitting for Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co., a growing company based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Oh D’Luxe is owned by Oddette Staple-Brown, an amazing candle making guru.
During the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic, many people seemed to be trying new things. Some found yoga, and some, like Staple-Brown, dabbled in online language courses. But it wasn’t until she remembered that she loved candle making—after all, she has an “utter obsession with all things with amazing scents”—that she was fully inspired to dive deeper into it. She started trying out different waxes, settling on soy-based as her preference.
“I am of the belief that scents play a great role in cultivating a tranquil and elevated state of mind. The candles I would smell in the store did not smell the same once they were taken home and lit,” she explained. “So, I went online and found a whole community of candlemakers."
What Staple-Brown was referring to is the term for how a candle smells in the store compared to when it burns at home: cold throw and hot throw. She claims that “hot throw,” or consistency between both experiences—what you smell before and during a candle burning—is key.
The candle makers group on Facebook, which was very collaborative and open to sharing their ideas, helped her learn all things “wax-in-ating”, like techniques with materials, temperatures and scents. Soon after, she shared her new creations with her friends at church, who fell in love with them!
In September 2020, Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co. was born. With her husband by her side, she knew she’d have some great support as she embarked on her mission to create candles that would satisfy her requirements for quality, appearance and an amazing scent profile.
“Throughout this journey of experiments and discovery I found a love and passion for this whole new world that opened up to me and what started as a hobby has now transcended into Oh D'Luxe Candle Company."
“What makes this work is that my husband loves chemistry,” she explained.
And, that’s what candle-making is all about. It’s not just about pouring wax and calling it a day. Ratios of wax to scented droplets, which wick works best for burn time and many other factors are things Staple-Brown considers when crafting her candles.
“Where my weakness is, that’s his strength,” she said. “And I thank God every day for it.”
Staple-Brown continues to learn and add to the Facebook group, giving back to the online community that was so giving to her. She also looks forward to giving back to her local community by teaching students about the candle making business once the pandemic passes. Oh D'Luxe Candles strongly believes in giving back—they actively donate a percentage of their profits each month to help offer educational opportunities to youth.
“Throughout this journey of experiments and discovery I found a love and passion for this whole new world that opened up to me and what started as a hobby has now transcended into Oh D'Luxe Candle Company,” shared Staple-Brown. “Remembering ‘our why’, we have fittingly employed the mission statement ‘to provide luxurious candles on a budget.’”
Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co was birthed from Staple-Brown’s inherent need to find something interesting to do during the pandemic, and was first supported by friends and family. Thanks to her new endeavor, playing with scents, wicks and waxes has now turned into a business.
“I have so many ideas where I want to see this business go,” she shared. “And I am thankful for everyone who has supported me.”
All Oh D’Luxe candles are hand poured in small batches to ensure that we provide quality products. Their ingredients are 100% American-grown soy wax, phthalate-free fragrance oils complete with lead free wicks to ensure a clean burn and amazing scents while also being non-toxic.
Find Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co. on Facebook and Instagram, or shop online at ohdluxecandles.com.
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By Cassandra McKenna
We Shine Apparel and Accessories (We Shine) is an online store run by two young entrepreneurs, Bryson and Justin, with a little help from their parents and some outside resources. The store offers clothing and other products that feature uplifting and encouraging messages with the hope of inspiring others to believe the good things about themselves and to help promote kindness and positivity. In the immediate future, the young duo plans on expanding their business to offer canvas wall art, long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts and more accessories.
While they have been generating ideas for their business since 2016, the boys first formally named, promoted and launched We Shine in November 2019 while preparing to participate in an upcoming Kids Pop-Up Market in their community.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they did experience some setbacks.
Their plans to attend every weekend craft fair and sales event within a one-hundred-mile radius had to be put on hold along with their pending offers from local coffee shops and stores to showcase their items and expand their market.
In lieu of not being able to physically attend sales opportunities, their mother Jaclyn began to learn more about social media group sales. “It’s been quite the learning curve,” she shared, “but we are trying our best to let the world know what they are offering and why it matters!”
We Shine truly is a family business.
“As Co-CEOs, both Bryson and Justin are heavily involved in creative designs and operations,” Jaclyn shared. “They both have shirt designs that they alone created. Bryson often wakes up with ideas for new designs and Justin always wakes up asking about orders to fill for the day. He is the taskmaster that ensures orders are prepared and shipped out swiftly. Mom is essentially a COO, keeping operations and fulfillment running smoothly, and Dad has been the primary investor and constant source of support and inspiration.”
When Bryson was seven years old and Justin was three, the boys came up with the idea for their business while they were out shopping for new clothes for the upcoming school year. Shortly into their shopping experience, Bryson quickly noticed that none of the shirts represented who they were. Most of the commercial inventory featured messages such as “lazy but brilliant” and other statements like “addicted to video games” and “talk to the hand”. He had no interest in wearing apparel that did not represent who he was and even said that “Mom wouldn’t buy these anyway.”
The boys were mobilized by the fact that there is a gap that exists within children’s apparel to uplift and encourage, which ultimately inspired them to move forward with their idea.
He was right. The boys were raised in a home where they were taught to encourage and uplift others—so their mom challenged them with one simple question: “What are you going to do about it?” Bryson thought about the question and decided they should make their own shirts that say what they want them to say. The boys discussed the idea and Justin enthusiastically agreed that it was a great idea.
According to Jaclyn, the boys were mobilized by the fact that there is a gap that exists within children’s apparel to uplift and encourage, which ultimately inspired them to move forward with their idea. From that day forward, Bryson and Justin began calling for family meetings where they would work together to compile positive phrases that they used at home on a daily basis. They did this with the hopes that one day they would be able to share these uplifting messages with the world.
“Over the last three years, we built a list of approximately 70 phrases and words that are design possibilities,” Jaclyn shared. “Bryson and Justin believed that the affirmations we utilize every day would be helpful for people outside of our home to use. So, they focused on building a list with positive and encouraging messages that would help people feel good about themselves.”
Whenever Jaclyn talks about her sons and the accomplishments they’ve made at such a young age, you can tell how proud she is. “Any time a five year-old and a ten year-old—their ages when they made the decision to move forward with We Shine—feel compelled to put themselves out there solely for the purpose of making the world a nicer place, you know that there is something special happening.”
The boys happily invest a lot of their free time into their business They work together to come up with designs, often engaging with design support and offering critiques and suggestions on iterations of their visions. Bryson checks the We Shine email throughout the day to monitor inquiries or incoming customer communications. He personally answers 75% of the email traffic himself, always responsibly cc’ing his mom on the exchanges.
Justin happily owns order fulfillment. Every day, without fail, he wants to know what orders came in overnight, what orders are outstanding (and why), and leads the charge for weighing outgoing shipments, printing packing slips and shipping labels. He is also the lead salesman. His insistence to share information about their business with anyone who will listen has garnered a lot of business over the last few months!
The pair also include personalized notes of appreciation with each order.
“The boys are grateful for every order and every person who supports their business. They write thank you notes—using their absolute neatest handwriting—to express their appreciation for everyone who chooses to spread love and positivity.”
Originally starting out as a way to inspire kids through positive messages, their business has grown into so much more. Wise beyond their years, they also acknowledged that adults need encouragement too, so they insisted on expanding their items to meet this need. According to Jaclyn, their hearts are what make We Shine unique.
Their most popular items? the Amazing Bracelet (click here), The ABCs of Me Journal (click here), and the "Smart, Kind, Strong, Awesome" t-shirt (click here) top the list.
We Shine focuses on long-lasting and high-quality products. “It was really important to all of us to put high quality messages on high quality materials,” Jaclyn explained. “We didn’t want to dilute the brand by choosing the cheapest shirts available and sacrificing the integrity and confidence that We Shine represents.”
The shirts are long-lasting and are made with very high-quality fibers, which is why they are so soft and comfortable. Many customers also express how much they love the bracelets due to their durability. Jaclyn described the experience that customers have with the business as being genuine, positive and heartfelt.
I know all of this to be true because I recently purchased a few items through their site including a t-shirt that featured the phrase “Be the Nice Kid,” which has a comfortable fit and feel. I also purchased a journal and a bracelet off of their site and I was very happy with the quality of each item and the excellent customer service. I especially loved the personalized handwritten note from the boys that was included with my purchase.
Jaclyn discussed the some of the ways in which their business offers great customer service. “Communication is key,” she said. She emphasized the importance of keeping customers informed of order updates or delays.
The boys are also actively involved with social media, creating their own posts about We Shine and interacting with customers on those platforms. Jaclyn discussed the importance of paying attention to detail as she talked about how their entire team strives to make sure that things are done properly or are promptly corrected when required.
We Shine is rooted in their community by using local vendors and suppliers, as opposed to using less expensive online options, and they partnered with various support systems during their launch and growth process.
Jaclyn mentioned the importance of patronizing other local businesses—two organizations in particular have really stepped up to assist them, Big Thunk in West Hartford and Budget Printers in Hartford. “We sincerely appreciate everyone on our team and have made great strides with everyone’s support,” she shared.
Sometimes, the We Shine team seeks professional graphic design guidance to lend creative perspective to the typography designs, but at other times Bryson and Justin have a clear vision for a design that they want to execute. The boys are actively working on gaining skills that will help them continue to build onto their business in the future.
“Bryson is currently enrolled in a graphic design course, so that he can learn the art of taking ideas and making them aesthetically pleasing images,” shared Jaclyn. “Justin hopes to also learn that skillset eventually and, by then, the two boys will be unstoppable.”
“As their parents, we hope that the pride and sense of self that they are cultivating lasts a lifetime,” she added. “We also want them to see how impactful their efforts to improve the world can be! They are so proud of themselves and truly believe that they are uplifting people and inspiring others to be better and do better. They want to help people and they also want to be successful businessmen.”
The boys hope that they will be the catalyst for a shift in how people treat each other and how they regard themselves.
“They often vocalize that they want to make the world a nicer place because people can be really harsh,” shared Jaclyn. “Who can argue with that? And who wouldn’t support two little boys in wanting to change the world from where they sit? We keep going, because telling them they can’t do it is not an option.”
At a time when kindness and positivity is most needed, it is refreshing to see children leading the way in reminding all of us to encourage and lift each other up, and to be a light in the world that continues to shine.
Visit We Shine online at www.weshine.shop or on their social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.
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Photo courtesy of The Key
By Jaclyn Wilson
Inspired by the intimate interactions she had with booksellers as a conference attendee, Hartford, Connecticut resident and UCONN grad Khamani Harrison created The Key Bookstore in 2018. The Key is an Afrocentric mobile and online bookstore with carefully curated book lists focused on African American history, environmentalism, entrepreneurship, and spirituality. Harrison calls these subjects the four pillars of her business, using each as a guide when building a list of books. “Curation,” Harrison explains, “is everything.”
Photo by Angel Thompson Photography
Her booming business and thriving online community prove Harrison knows exactly what readers want. Harrison notes, “Some bookstores are missing the connection to the soul of a book reader.” Armed with that knowledge and dialed into the desires of readers like herself and her friends and neighbors, when she first began bookselling in 2018 Harrison would set up her mobile bookstore at community events, festivals, open mic nights, and pop up events, bringing knowledge right to the community, and providing books intended to enrich their lives.
By building a dynamic, interactive space for online reader discussion, Harrison is filling the void left by traditional brick-and-mortar booksellers—a void that is filled when a reader is able to go online and interact with others who have also just read the same book and want to discuss the book’s content, pose questions, talk about their favorite parts, or get clarification.
Like all businesses, Harrison’s has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting shut down, and is currently operating exclusively online at keybookstore.com. During the pandemic and since Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, Harrison’s business has “exploded.”
Harrison explains, “People are looking for answers to take action with…the marches have led people to ask themselves ‘what do I need to know, how can I learn it, and where do I get it from?' The answer to that has been Black-owned bookstores like The Key.” Harrison also notes that part of the explosion of orders and subscriptions she’s seen is also due to The Key’s “White Ally Book List” that went viral on Twitter 10 days after George Floyd’s death, and was then picked up by Buzzfeed.
Photo by Angel Thompson Photography
“People are looking for answers to take action…the marches have led people to ask themselves ‘what do I need to know, how can I learn it, and where do I get it from?' The answer to that has been Black-owned bookstores like The Key.”
Photo courtesy of The Key
Harrison includes White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo on the “White Ally Book List” and notes that it is currently her best-selling title. A New York Times bestseller as well, White Fragility explores how the reactions of White people when confronted with issues of race can ultimately serve to maintain racial inequality. Other titles on the “White Ally Book List” include the most lauded and celebrated Black voices of our time, such as The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
They Key also offers other insightful book lists about the Black experience, such as Black365, which includes titles like Survival Strategies for Africans in America by Anthony Browder, The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B DuBois, while the Black History 101 book list recommends The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, and The African Origin of Civilization by Cheikh Anta Diop, now in its 30th printing.
No matter what readers may set out to learn, the book lists curated by The Key offer readers sophisticated recommendations and a dynamic online community with whom they can discover these books, and perhaps a new perspective on life.
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Pictured: Co-owners of Your CBD Store Simsbury, Katonya Hughey and Nakia Kearse. (Photo: Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
By Sarah Thompson
Nakia Kearse and Katonya Hughey always knew they wanted to go into business together. A friendship that sprouted 14 years ago when they were corporate colleagues has now flourished into a business partnership with proud new roots in Simsbury.
CBD. It’s a buzz word that has been around long enough for many people to know that it has something to do with cannabis, but perhaps not long enough to fully grasp the wide range of benefits it offers. The growth of CBD products has been so immense that industry analysts predict the U.S. CBD market will reach $20 billion in sales by 2024. For Kearse and Hughey, it not only has helped them with friends, family and personal health challenges, it has offered a great way for them to give back and help people in their community improve their lives.
Hughey was born and raised in Bloomfield and has frequented Simsbury since childhood. Kearse, a resident of Simsbury for the past 14 years, has enjoyed raising her children in the town she now calls home. Both have a deep affinity for Simsbury, which is why it made perfect sense to set up their business right in the heart of the Farmington Valley town, on Hopmeadow Street.
“As I thought about my community, I reflected on the number of stories I’ve heard over the years about friends and their loved ones with health concerns or just looking for something to help them feel better. And after not finding many options locally to seek out these natural alternatives— like CBD—in a place with people you could trust and who cared—that is what we set out to create. A neighborhood store, with high-quality products and a strong community connection,” explained Kearse.
Because one-size-doesn’t-fit-all for using CBD products to address ailments, Kearse and Hughey take customized approaches to each person who
With education, consultation and community at the heart of their business model, the pair work hard to ensure that all who come into their store feel comfortable and informed.
“We strive to be consultative,” shared Hughey. “We put a premium on listening to our customers’ concerns in order to provide appropriate solutions.”
According to Project CBD, cannabis has a rich history as a medicine going back thousands of years. CBD is one of more than a hundred phytocannabinoids unique to cannabis. These cannabinoids endow the plant with its robust therapeutic profile. Cannabinoids interact with the body's Endocannabinoid System. The Endocannabinoid System is a system of receptors responsible for regulating many vital processes within the body including immune response, communication between cells, appetite, metabolism, memory, and more. CBD binds with these receptors to help your body achieve homeostasis—a state of stability, balance or equilibrium within a cell or the body.
“We make sure that customers understand that it is an alternative to traditional pharmaceutical drugs,” explained Hughey. “We talk through all the benefits and the different ways of ingestion. CBD is a natural anti-inflammatory. Each product works differently and can impact each person in a different way. We explain the whole process to them.”
Because one-size-doesn’t-fit-all, Kearse and Hughey take a customized approach to each person who walks through their doors—something they have dubbed “helping one neighbor at a time.”
“Our goal is to help,” shared Kearse. “We’re not here to sell something that doesn’t work. We want to help people discover what works best for them, their routine and their goals.”
This promise is even backed by a 30-day refund guarantee on all their products—including their most popular—Topical Creams, Oil Tinctures and delicious edible treats like and Peach and Watermelon Rings.
Kearse and Hughey also stay on the cutting edge of new developments in the market. Because the store is part of a larger footprint of stores, they are connected to regulations and how the market is evolving.
“We are excited about some of the new science exploring other powerful cannabinoids and the use of other natural ingredients to target specific needs,” Kearse explained. “Like our new CBNPlus tincture that is infused with lavender and valerian root, to help relax and calm before bed. It has CBD, but also a higher concentration of CBN, another cannabinoid found in cannabis. Or our Maxine+Morgan capsule that is includes CBD and other natural ingredients like fennel, tumeric, ginger, cramp bark and valerian root. This products helps women suffering with premenstrual and menstrual symptoms.”
After having opened their doors in February of this year, the pair was full steam ahead with doing in-store sampling and offering high-touch in-person demos to showcase the power of their high-quality CBD products. They could easily point out the unique QR codes that are on each product that link directly to third party lab reports, ensuring a consistent quality process and transparency all the way through.
And then boom—COVID.
Just one month into their new business, they were forced to shift gears. But, finding solutions is what Kearse and Hughey do best, so in a matter of weeks they launched a new website with an online store, virtual consultations, curbside pickup and even delivery.
What has catapulted them into a more grassroots effort has kept student athletes with aches and pains and people with arthritis, gout, sleep issues or anxiety reaching out for help.
And beyond helping customers find relief, Kearse and Hughey have supported first responders in Simsbury and Bloomfield with CBD care packages and are working to develop a forum that will allow community members to discuss racial injustice, bias and inclusion in a safe space.
“We both have a history in diversity and inclusion,” shared Kearse. “As we see the level of unrest, a lot of the times people just don’t know how to have the conversations and they want to help, but don’t know how. They have questions but don’t have a safe place to discuss what’s on their mind. Many may not have close relationships with people of color, so they are left looking at TV or reading something in the news as opposed to having real-life interactions.”
“We can begin to have some of these conversations that are deeply meaningful for us as a country, so this is simply not a movement for a day, but something that can have a long-lasting effect on the way we interact and live. Our goal was to be a neighborhood store, to understand the needs of the community and try to serve them not only with CBD but with other things, and this was a gap that I think we were uniquely positioned to try to help fill,” she added.
The store is also partnering with Signs Plus of East Granby to benefit Simsbury A Better Chance (ABC)—a non-profit organization making a difference in the lives of academically talented young men of color from underserved communities. Black Lives Matter signs and t-shirts printed by Signs Plus are being sold at Your CBD Store Simsbury, and $5 of the sign and shirt proceeds plus an additional 5% of CBD sales from customers who buy a sign or shirt will be donated to ABC.
Now that their store is fully operational, Kearse and Hughey are experiencing the joy of helping one neighbor at a time have health without the “high”—benefiting from the therapeutic properties of cannabis without the psychoactive effects.
“We always had a desire to do something different—something where we could truly give back and help,” said Kearse.
In just a few short months, they are fulfilling their dream of building strong, lasting relationships with their neighbors and offering high-quality service and products for a better community.
Your CBD Store, at 1243 Hopmeadow Street in Simsbury, is open Monday-Friday from 11:00am-6:00pm, Saturday 11:00-5:00pm and Sunday, 11:00am-4:00pm. Visit their online store at ycbdsimsbury.com, find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Your CBD Store offers 10% off for new customers (use code "neighbor); is hold a Fourth of July sale (July 1-5) with 25% off entire orders; and a Shop Black special on 7/7 - buy one get one 50% off.
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CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNER: MELANIE S.!!
To celebrate the launch of www.shopblackct.com, we're giving away a self-care gift basket packed with great items from Black-owned businesses listed on this site!
INCLUDED IN THE GIFT BASKET:
Lavender Mint Massaging Soap Bar (Heavenly Bodied)
King Me Loofah Soap (Heavenly Bodied)
The King's Butter (Heavenly Bodied)
A Kingly Scrub (Heavenly Bodied)
Earrings (Shanta's Vintage Boutique)
Necklace (Shanta's Vintage Boutique)
Shea Lip Butter (Royal House Products)
Sea Moss Face Masque (Royal House Products)
"Love" Clip (Clouded Boutique)
Sativa Seed Lip Oil (Clouded Boutique)
Coconut Lip Gloss (Clouded Boutique)
"The Penthouse" Gold Paparazzi Necklace and Earrings (Jewels Exclusive $5 Bling)
Whipped Unscented Shea Butter (Ray of Sol)
Soap Tray (Ray of Sol)
Handmade Body Soap (Ray of Sol)
CBD Bath Bombs (Your CBD Store - Simsbury)
Pure Uncut Egyptian Musk Oil for Body and Burning (Royal House Products)
Retail value: $210+
HERE's HOW TO ENTER:
1. Comment in the blog comment section with your name and which item you are most excited about winning!
2. Follow SHOPBLACKCT.com on Facebook (CLICK HERE) and Instagram (CLICK HERE).
3. Share this giveaway page on your social media.
4. Complete the form below.
The winner will be chosen at random on July 8, 2020 and will be contacted by email and announced on SHOPBLACKCT.com social media.
The gift basket items will be shipped to the winner. Open to US residents only. No purchase necessary.