2021 Business to Watch – Designs By Dij

Khadijah Muhammad is the founder and designer of Designs By Dij, which is a Gift Shop that specializes in creating signature collections of lifestyle art to empower and uplift and elevate. Her brand focus is to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the black culture and melanated people. She designs her beautiful statement art on accessories and home decor items such as umbrellas, backpacks, pillows, blankets, and more to showcase the representation that is lacking in the market. Representation matters and it’s important to her to create a space of inclusion in celebrating the beauty of natural hair, which is shunned in various workplaces, the beauty of cultural hairstyles such as goddess locs, and even the beauty in being covered and crowned, as she is Muslim. The world is a diverse place and she feels that the more we see ourselves in the world, the better the world will be. She hits various bullet points through her statement pieces to embrace the dopeness and diversity of the black culture and is fully invested in changing the trajectory of what society deems as “normal”, one powerful design at a time. Her most popular item is her umbrellas that display beautiful art that makes her customer base looking forward to a day of rain. Many customers are quoted as saying “I can’t wait until it rains so that I can carry my umbrella!”. She is creating an experience with her brand that literally changes a drab day into a fab day. She also places an emphasis on young black girls whose studies show that 2 out of every 3 girls feel that they are underrepresented in products on the market, and through our empowering products, she aims to help make black girls feel more confident in themselves.

Why is your business a business to watch in 2021?

My business is a business to watch in 2021 because as a small business, I’m always looking for ways to be innovative and I always have my ‘ear to the streets’ and am listening to my customer base in how I design and aim to help push the culture forward. Also, one of the highlights of Designs By Dij is that we celebrate the beauty of natural hair through art because, in 2021, there are still black women who face natural hair discrimination in corporate America and in various workplaces, and that is not okay. So it’s important to empower women in spaces like mine to celebrate the beauty and diversity of their natural tresses that grow from their roots. I love creating experiences around my brand and will be hosting an event to build awareness around the story of each of my designs in fall 2021.

What inspired you to start your business?

The lack of true and accurate representation and the lack of celebrating diversity and inclusion.

How did 2020 change your business? Was it for the better?

2020 changed my business drastically. Before Covid-19, I was strictly focused on selling at pop-up events, not giving a worry to building my website. I barely looked at my website and didn’t focus on building it up. It was just…there. I would do pretty good at these events, but 2020 forced me to focus on turning my digital platforms around and focused on building my social media, which I have been having success with. Also, it’s forced me to learn how to optimize my website so that my products can be seen by those who are searching specific keywords on Google. So, I would say that at the beginning of 2020, I was a deer in headlights because now, events were non-existent. But, I’m the type of person who knows when it’s time to pivot. I took some classes on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and have been educated on how to get rid of the crickets in my online platforms (website, and social media) and things have turned around for the better. 2020 was a year to be still and grow and take in all of the gems of knowledge that were being taught to me so that I will be covered no matter what happens in the outside world.

What lessons did you learn in your business in 2020?

If last year hasn’t taught me anything else, it has taught me to always stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. It taught me to stay prepared and make sure that your business is set up so that if you aren’t physically able to attend events etc, you are still making money on your digital platform.
What kind of impact do you want your business to leave on your client or customer?
I want to leave a lasting impression on my customers; I want them to feel important and feel like they truly matter. I also want them to feel fully represented and feel celebrated and empowered. When they purchase one of my products, I want it to be about the EXPERIENCE; it’s not just a product but my brand is an experience.

Do you feel your product or service meets the needs of the market?

Yes! I ABSOLUTELY feel that my product meets the needs of the market. Right now in this time of social injustice, more than ever.

What hurdles did you personally face in getting ready to open your business and how did you overcome them?

Before opening my business, I faced the hurdles of not knowing how to properly register my business and I didn’t know really know what I was doing: I thought I could just pop up one day and say “I have a business!” and that’s all, but it’s more to it than that. You have to have your paperwork in order, and your documents filed so that you can be considered a legitimate business. So that’s what I did. I educated myself by doing some deep online research and also surrounded myself by other business bosses in various Facebook groups and at different events, and I learned the proper way to open up a business and I went back and filed all of my documents. Better late than never.

When did you realize entrepreneurship was right for you?

I’ve known that entrepreneurship was for me since I was a little girl. Growing up in my Muslim community, I was taught the meaning of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and going to work for yourself. All of my life, I saw members of our community turning the key to their own businesses and being their own boss. I was taught the importance of regenerating our dollars amongst our own black communities and neighborhoods. I’ve witnessed the hardships and successes of entrepreneurship because I was around it so much in various capacities.
When I was an early teen, I had my own “babysitting club” where I was the president of the club. I had some business cards made and everything, haha. I just knew that I was going to be the boss of SOMEthing. I just didn’t know what.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship?

As they say, “I didn’t choose entrepreneurship; entrepreneurship chose me.” But seriously, it’s been ingrained within me and I couldn’t imagine anything better than working for myself and doing what I love to do, and working towards making it a full-time gig for myself. Entrepreneurship is definitely not for the faint of heart. You have to be a specific kind of person to endure the ups and downs and highs and lows of entrepreneurship, and by the grace of God, I’m still here and growing by the day.

What would you say is your most driving motivation to keep doing what you do?

My motivation comes from my Faith. That’s number 1. Secondly, my support system. And also, just knowing that I am making a difference also drives me to keep doing what I’m doing.

What are you most excited or passionate about? (In both business and life or both)

My future looks pretty great both in business and personal life. In business, I’m excited about taking things to the next level by being able to take a person’s picture and making it into an illustration version of them. I’m currently working on this now. In my personal/professional life, I’m excited about music! I am a singer/songwriter/pianist and wrote and performed my first song on a stage at age 11. I am currently in a group called Soul Essence, which is a soulful singing group that includes myself and two other amazingly talented sisters. We have some special performances coming up and every time we perform together, it’s a vibe. We are all strong vocalists as individuals and it’s beautiful to harmonize and create beautiful music with these ladies.

What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your business? What are the goals that you hold personally?

I want to just continue being a better version of myself. I am in competition with no one but to be a better me tomorrow than I was today. My personal goals are to continue growing in all ways for the better and never be complacent. Complacency is a dangerous thing and to stay there means you have given up on life. I will never give up on this beautiful gift of life, therefore I will never allow myself to be complacent. A little growth every day is the goal, mentally, spiritually, financially, and professionally.

Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in, and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.

I lean heavily into my Faith, as I am who I am today because of my strong background and foundation in Islam, by my leader and teacher, which is the single most important part of my life and has molded and shaped me into a decent human being with a good head on my shoulders, and for that, I am truly grateful.

Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today? Tell me about them.

My big brother encouraged me to start my business. One day we were chatting and he really picked my brain about what I wanted to do next. I was at a crossroads with what direction I wanted to go in and he laid out a list of ideas for me. Although I didn’t choose any of those ideas, he really brought back to the forefront of my mind the values of entrepreneurship that he and I were taught as children, growing up together. As I began to really turn things over in my brain about what was next for me, Designs By Dij was birthed.

What’s next for you in your business/brand? What can readers look forward to from you?

You can look forward to more empowering art and also events to create an experience around each of my collections. You can look forward to more handmade art and designs on new products. I will announce new product alerts through my email list, and you will be one of the first to know if you sign up for my email list on my website.

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Chandra Gore

Integrity and hard-work have always been the hallmarks Chandra has used to build successful and profitable businesses through her consulting firm has worked with entrepreneurs to help them create foundations for success through her boutique consulting and public relations firm, Chandra Gore Consulting. Quietly making strides with placements for small businesses, entertainment, authors, therapists and motivational speaking clients on local and national news outlets she has been leaving her mark as a publicist in the industry. She is also an author, festival founder, producer and speaker on topics such as Business Strategies, Media Relations and Entrepreneurship. Launching Conversations with Chan - her personal brand that includes a podcast, YouTube channel and publication on Medium.com.

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