3 Soles streetwear

Jerome Wiggins Jr. (third from left) recently resurrected his 3 Soles streetwear brand, something he first envisioned as a high school student. 

As the pandemic strangled Miami’s economy this spring, many small businesses struggled and some even had to close their doors for good. But that didn't deter Candace Williams from starting one of her own. 

Williams, a 29-year-old Miami native, had been considering a new cosmetics company for months. When the pandemic arose, she hesitated.

“I thought, ‘People aren’t even going out.’ What’s the purpose of wearing makeup?”

Instead of giving up, she decided to adapt.

Kissing Booth Cosmetics, born in May, now boasts a vegan and cruelty-free line of long-lasting makeup, and is set to launch online by the end of the year. Williams’ signature product is a lipstick that lasts.

“In the beginning, it was a challenge, but no one wants their makeup all over their mask,” said Williams. “Kissing Booth lipstick won't rub off.”

Kissing Booth Cosmetics owner Candace Williams launched the new venture during the pandemic, in spite of her fears. 

She’s not alone in staying true to her entrepreneurial spirit. Despite the pandemic, economic instability and racial tension, scores of new Black-owned businesses have arisen in South Florida over the last five months.

Although businesses formed at a slower rate at the beginning of the pandemic, the number of applications is now rising, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

These applications decreased from December 2019 to March 2020 by 4.3% nationally and 1.8% in Florida. However, from March to June 2020, they increased 4.8% in the U.S. and 2.5% in the Sunshine State.

Past economic downturns have produced several successful American companies, including Uber, Airbnb and Disney. This time, entrepreneurs like Williams have taken the opportunity to show resilience and meet new needs in their markets.

When COVID-19 forced her to close the doors to her Kendall salon, hairstylist Abena Isaac (shown at left) started selling natural hair extensi…

Another business owner who had to adapt was Trinidadian-born Abena Isaac. When her Kendall hair salon, Visible Results by Abby, was forced to close in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus, she turned to selling products online.

Her new line of hair extensions, Visible Results by Abby Virgin Hair, supported her financially through the mandatory closure of her salon.

“I wanted to start it a long time ago, but I was kind of scared,” Isaac said. “During the pandemic, I had no choice.”

A trusted hairstylist with 10 years of experience, Isaac easily found a customer base for her new business in her salon clients – they were the first to buy the merchandise. The side hustle has quickly turned into a successful business venture; she recently expanded the line to include hair oil and has plans to register the business soon.

New Black business owners have always had to push past other struggles that are unique to them, and there’s evidence that the Black community is being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, following the death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests erupted in late May worldwide. The demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism sparked what some have called a modern civil rights movement.

That has affected each business owner differently.

“It hits home,” said Williams, who worries about eventually having to explain racial issues to her young daughter. However, from a business perspective, “with the state of the culture being so supportive of Black-owned businesses, it does help you get a lot of support,” she added.

Jerome Wiggins Jr., the 25-year-old owner of a new streetwear brand called 3 Soles, shares the sentiment.

“[The protests have] pushed me to focus on more Black-owned businesses and support my Black friends,” said Wiggins.

Born and raised in Miami, Wiggins came up with the idea for 3 Soles in high school, along with two other friends. The group scattered after leaving for college, but Wiggins never forgot about what they had started. He worked in construction before the pandemic and saw the lockdown as the perfect opportunity to return to his creative roots. He launched the 3 Soles online store in May with a collection of T-shirts featuring art he drew by hand. He plans to expand the collection soon by adding hoodies, shorts and hats.

“I also look up to [other] black-owned businesses right now,” Wiggins said. “They motivate me to just keep that mindset, the tunnel vision, to keep going.”

Starting a business at any time comes with a lot of risks. Around 20% of new businesses fail in their first year. However, these local entrepreneurs have shown that taking a chance right now could still pay off.

“Now is the time to start a new business,” declared Wiggins. “You just have to work hard and stick with it.”

This story comes to The Miami Times through a collaborative relationship with Florida International University’s Department of Journalism + Media.

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