Stepping out of your comfort zone is key to small business survival: Michelle Felder

CLEVELAND – During Women’s History Month and following the many Black History Month celebrations, I’d like to share my story of how I pivoted my former planning business to events during the pandemic and fulfilled a dream: to educate others about notable Black Americans.

For more than a decade, I have been the creative genius and CEO of Felder & Co., the parent company of Style My Event, an event planning company; Gorgeous Living, an interior boutique style company; and The Silent Bell, a luxury concierge and lifestyle management service.

In the spring of 2020, I found myself facing an immediate future without events, and reams of Ankara textiles that I had purchased in Ghana the year before. An entrepreneur at heart, I saw more than an opportunity to realize a three-year-old vision. I decided to bring Cotton Blocks to life, a brand where fashion and history meet, offering unique products that celebrate, educate and uplift the people, places and events of Black Americans.

Although coming from a long line of seamstresses, I had never sewn a single stitch in my life. I relied on my aunt’s expertise to teach me on WhatsApp and some YouTube videos, and in no time I started producing and selling my handmade face masks on Facebook. I launched Cottonblocks.com on June 16, 2020 with my masks selling out quickly across the country. Since its launch, Cotton Blocks has launched a line of t-shirts and hoodies and [email protected], a home décor line including lampshades, cushions, napkins and draperies, all designed with African textiles.

As I began to think about how to grow and scale this new business, I knew I wanted to add meaning and purpose to my masks, which eventually led to an idea coming to life, which was to create and to build a brand that honors the legacy of those who came before me and whose blood, sweat and tears fueled America’s economic engine. The name, Cotton Blocks, is a way for me to highlight and keep alive the memory of the grueling and brutal labor that many enslaved Africans endured in the cotton fields, and the auction blocks on which they were forced to stand when they were sold to the highest bidder. .

My products are named after notable black Americans in history – Duke Ellington, Fannie Lou Hamer, Harriet Tubman and many more. Every piece I create is given a name and description of that person’s mark in American history. It’s important to me to celebrate and uplift the people, places, and events that have made immeasurable contributions to America, and the response has been nothing but heartening.

I never thought that after that first post on Facebook, I would start another business. I have learned a lot of things over the past few years.

First, if you have an idea, believe in it and in your ability to act on it. Sewing was completely new to me, so I applied all the efficiencies and processes I had mastered in my world of event planning to my new found love of sewing.

Second, don’t be afraid to build on your experiences – as in my case, I was able to apply them in a completely new setting.

Third, although it was not one of my expectations, my village, which is part of my social network, really showed up for me. This, for me, gave life to an African proverb: “Where there are many, nothing goes wrong”.

A lot has gone wrong during the pandemic; however, the power and reach of social media helped me create something new, and I felt supported by others, albeit physically separated. At the end of the day, my restlessness, my faith, my creativity and my village helped launch a new beginning.

Michelle Felder is the founder and owner of Cotton Blocks.

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