Shawnte Barker’s mother thought it was silly that her 8-year-old daughter asked for a sewing machine for her birthday. Little did she know that Shawnte would follow her dream to New York City to be a fashion designer, working at major retailers for 15 years. When her company downsized, she decided to move back home to Cincinnati to pursue her dream of opening her own boutique.
Stylish LéNese Boutique launched online and once Shawnte established a loyal customer base, she opened a brick-and-mortar store in the East side of Cincinnati. Shawnte connected with the Women’s Business Center (WBC) Director, Ella Frye, and after learning about the WBC’s resources, Shawnte joined the WBC and signed up for a minority and women-owned business grant.
“ECDI has a lot of resources. Having the community connection tremendously helps, because it is a more intimate relationship, and they really understand your business.” says Shawnte.
The customer experience is at the heart of Stylish LéNese. Shawnte works directly with customers to bring women together and empower them to feel their best. By carefully curating her merchandise to highlight unique items, she knows her customers will love what they find.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Shawnte began sewing masks for family and friends, and then extended her mask-making to Stylish LéNese after understanding the needs of the
community. Shawnte said, “We were making 20 masks a day and it was enough to keep me afloat. Organizations started to reach out to me more and more.” COVID-19 allowed Shawnte to use her creativity to give back to the local Cincinnati community by donating masks to a women’s shelter.
The WBC offered information and tools to Stylish LéNese that helped Shawnte grow her business and reach goals along the way. Her advice to small business owners is to be flexible and welcome opportunities to learn and grow. Shawnte says: “You have to have support for the things you don’t know. Now I have an accountant and access to business files provided through the WBC.” Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Shawnte is hopeful: “I really want to grow my business to the next level, and the WBC has really been helpful in reaching that goal.”