Being an entrpreneur in the mannequin industry is an unlikely career choice for someone with a journalism degree from the University of Southern California.
Plus I had no prior experience in fashion or retailing before starting the business. And I am based in Oakland, Ca versus a fashion capital like Los Angeles or New York.
And I am pretty certain I am the only Black person the U.S. (and perhaps the world) who owns a mannequin company.
When I started Mannequin Madness in 2001, I was in my 40’s - an age that is considered ancient in the technology industry that I was working it at the time.
And it was also before "senior entrepreneur" and "girlboss" became part of the culture. In other words, I had few role models.
Where I live in the SF Bay Area and term entrepreneur was applied only to young, white males from an Ivy League school running a tech company with venture capital funding.
I became an entrepreneur by accident. My startup of a business happened because of three random events in 2000
1 The book the "The Artist Way" had made me realize the value of engaging in creative activities on a regular basis.
2 Reading the book "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" motivated me to seek multiple revenue streams instead of relying on my day job (this was before the "gig" economy became a thing)
3 While looking for Tina Turner concert tickets on Craigslist , I saw a post about mannequins for sale. To understand More about Tina Turner's influence on me to become an entrepreneur in the mannequin industry read here.
The Craigslist seller was a real life window dresser and his access to mannequins led to him operate a mannequin rental business.
However, he was leaving town and selling off his inventory. As we chatted, he said sadly: “Now, there won’t be a place to rent mannequins in the Bay Area anymore.”
I started asking him questions about who rents mannequins and why. The more he shared, the more intrigued I became.
I thought a mannequin rental business would be a fun side hustle in addition to my day job at a dot-com. I bought all 50 mannequins he was selling.
This was my chance to have a new revenue stream AND be creative at the same time.
It is a good thing that the Craigslist seller was leaving town so soon after I met him. If I had more time to think about the situation, I would have talked myself out of buying the mannequins.
But I remembered a passage in the "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" book that said, "some people don't recognize a good opportunity when they see it. Some people see a good opportunity but lack the courage to act."
I was normally the latter person, but for some reason, I was courageous when it came to buying the mannequins.. Plus I thought it was just going to be a side hustle, not my primary source of income.
Except for my then-husband, everyone thought I was crazy for buying the mannequins.
My parents, who had paid out of their own pocket every cent of my expensive college education were especially alarmed.
That is why I named the company Mannequin Madness.
At the time at that time, the internet was still in its infancy. Social media did not exist. Except for Ebay, ecommerce wasn't mainstream. Sounds like the dinosaur age, doesn't it?
I won't bore you with the details of what happened next, but let's just say I am tenacious AF. When I discovered that retail chains would throw their unwanted mannequins in the trash when they closed or remodeled their stores, even if they were still in good condition, it lit a fire under me.
Mannequins are made out of materials that do not biodegrade (metal, fiberglass, styrofoam, plastic) so they don’t belong in landfills.
Although the concept of sustainable retailing was still new, I was very alarmed about the enviornmental impact of mannequins in landfills.
I made it my mission to offer retailers an eco-friendly alternative to throwing their mannequins in the trash.
I offered to recycle their mannequins for free which woud save them money on waste disposal fees.
Soon I had enough used mannequin inventory to sell manneqins to local customers to as well as renting them .
When the 9/11 disaster occurred, my day job at the dot-com was one of the casualties.
This was an extremely fearful time in our country's history, but it caused me to live more fearlessly.
My attitude was if this was going to be our last days, I wanted to spend more time doing something that I enjoyed.
So, rather than look for a full time job, I decided to bet on myself and become a mannequin vendor on a full-time basis versus a side hustle.
In order for this to be my main source of income I had to reach a larger audience.
So I started selling on Ebay and quickly became a power seller. Then I became an early adopter with my own e-commerce website.
Just two years after operating the business full time, I received a special achievement award from the Environmental Protection Agency for recycling over 100,000 pounds of mannequins in one year.
Currently, we recycle about ONE MILLION pounds of mannequins annually now that we recycle on a national versus a local level.
In summary, my small business is making a big impact, I love what I do, and I enjoy working with my employees and contractors.
Back to Tina Turner for a final remark. When she was 44 (the same age I was when I started my business), she released her breakout a song “What’s Love Got to Do With it.”
But to get to that level of success, she had ignore the nay-sayers who felt she was a “has been.”
Tina had the persistence, strength and ability to reimagine what she COULD be. She made me believe in making the impossible, possible.
I hope my entrepeneurial journey makes you believe the same way.