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'We'll continue to rise': How this Black-icon-infused fashion line found success amid Covid-19

Johanne and Terrance Wilson, owners of COOL Creative, recently won Comcast’s RISE contest, which invited Black small business owners who were hit hardest by the pandemic the chance to win consulting, media services, or a technology makeover.
Johanne and Terrance Wilson of Cool Creative.
Johanne and Terrance Wilson of Cool Creative.Courtesy of Comcast.

Several years ago, Johanne and Terrance Wilson, of Hollywood, Florida, celebrated African-American icons in a meaningful way, by passing on their inspiring stories to their daughter, who was 6 years old at the time.

Terrance, an illustrator, brought influential Black figures—from Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou to Notorious B.I.G. and Lauryn Hill—to life through storytelling and sketching portraits. One day, Johanne had an epiphany—these beautiful portraits created by her husband within the walls of their own home should be shared with the world. And so COOL Creative, a unique boutique that offers apparel and accessories with African-American icons displayed on them, was born.

Models wearing COOL Creative apparel.Courtesy of Comcast.

COOL is an acronym for Create Out Of Love, because for the Wilsons, their brand design and digital agency isn’t just a business, it’s a family. The Wilsons worked hard to expand and lay the groundwork to open a brick-and-mortar store to sell their apparel in Little Haiti, a neighborhood of Miami, Florida.

Despite the strides the family took to grow their business, they recently experienced the major setbacks as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. After pouring countless resources into opening a store, they could not physically open due to lockdown orders and delays from manufacturers. Ironically, during a time when racial inequality and #BlackLivesMatter protests echoed in cities around the country, COOL Creative was also fighting for a lifeline.

The Wilsons are certainly not alone. African-Americans have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 from every angle, from systemic health inequities that put them at greater risk of the virus to the fact that Black-owned, small businesses are nearly twice as likely to shutter during the pandemic.

A model in COOL Creative apparel.Courtesy of Comcast.

Between February and April 2020, the number of active Black-owned businesses declined by 41 percent, compared to 21 percent for the general population, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Unwilling to back down from their dream, the Wilsons carried on. With the same tenacity and grit that Johanne once had as a young student applying for numerous grants and scholarships to finance her college education, she set out to find assistance that might help COOL Creative rise above the overwhelming pressures that came from the pandemic. That’s when she found the Comcast RISE contest, which invites Black small business owners who were hit hardest by the pandemic to apply for a chance to win consulting, media services, creative production or a technology makeover. RISE targets the pioneers of legacy, the curators of culture, the family franchise and more.

Comcast RISE—which stands for Representation, Investment, Strength and Empowerment—stemmed from Comcast’s $100 million Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative that launched this past summer. The contest awarded COOL Creative with significant media services, including a commercial for 90 days and a recent appearance in November on “The Kelly Clarkson Show.”

“It’s more important than ever to stand with the Black community and amplify Black voices,” Clarkson said during her segment. The contest awarded several other Black small business owners, including LeDay Grant, owner of an ice cream shop that provides space for community engagement in Denver, and Alicia Goodwin, owner of Lingua Nigra Jewelry in Chicago.

“We’re really excited to take advantage of the promotion and to get a commercial for 90 days,” Wilson said. “Our goal is to drive people to the website and also to the store and make up for all the sales that we lost over these past months,” she added.

Terrance Wilson, co-owner of COOL Creative, at his store Little Haiti, a neighborhood of Miami, Florida.Courtesy of Comcast.

Teresa Ward-Maupin, SVP for Digital and Customer Experience at Comcast Business, said that RISE came from a deep desire to help people on a more granular level and to recognize those who have been most impacted by Covid-19. “We set out to determine how we can make the biggest impact, not just during this moment in time but to help businesses recover and prosper for the long term. We set out to truly lift businesses up.”

While the first phase of RISE focused on Black small business owners, the contest is now accepting entries from BIPOC small business owners. In all, Comcast will award around 700 small businesses in need among various categories.

A model is COOL Creative apparel.Courtesy of Comcast.

“When the thought of losing COOL Creative hit us, we kicked into fight mode,” Wilson said. “During a time of racial inequality and protests, we need fashion lines like ours more than ever. It really speaks to the struggle and truly connects people,” she explained, adding that she hopes their Little Haiti store will be a space for people to engage and connect within the community.

“Our fashion speaks to a nation that has been hurting,” Wilson said. “We’ll continue to rise.”

Disclaimer: Comcast is the parent company of NBC Universal. Know Your Value is part of NBC News.