PITTSBORO — Following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers last summer, Lysandra Weber opened Instagram and saw a flood of black squares.
It was “Blackout Tuesday,” an initial effort to pause business as usual in response to police brutality protests, which went viral and morphed into the incessant posting of black boxes across social media platforms.
Weber, a Black business owner of handmade clothing line geekchicfashion, thought to herself: “Posting a black square does not support my business.”
She decided to post about it.
“I woke up to scroll through social media only to be bombarded with tiny black squares. That doesn’t show me solidarity. It doesn’t show me support,” she posted from her Instagram account (@geekchicclothing) on June 2. “It’s literally the void. The absence of anything of meaning. I’m just one person and this is just my opinion (shared by some other black influencers like @chefroble and @moemotivate), but white people have to do more than a square.”
Her post quickly garnered shares and attention; she gained thousands of followers, contributing to a 400% increase in her social media following over the last year.
“The awareness around that really drove a lot of growth for my business,” Weber said. “And it’s horrible — it’s like a weird double-edged sword, a horrible way to lead to really good business growth. But people are becoming more aware of supporting Black-owned businesses.”
Weber launched geekchicfashion six years ago — a name meant to reclaim and embrace the term “geek” — after growing frustrated with the lack of comfortable and fashionable clothing options, particularly for women working in STEM. She sold her handmade clothing lines primarily at pop-up markets across the Triangle, all the while working out of her home studio in Pittsboro. When the pandemic hit in March, she was forced to pivot, focusing on her online presence and using her Instagram account to advertise and sell products with a really personal approach.
As other small businesses struggled to stay afloat during the challenges presented by the pandemic, geekchicfashion flourished — growing sales by 400 percent last year. As a result of this growth, Weber was able to move into a new studio on Main Street Pittsboro, and soon, she’ll hire the company’s first part-time employee.
“I’m at a point in my business where I’m the bottleneck, right? Like I can only sell as much as I can make, and I can only make as much as I have time to make,” Weber said, adding that she didn’t necessarily feel safe hiring and bringing someone into her former home studio. “Right now it’s just me — it’s a one-woman shop, Lysandra does everything. I’m really excited about hiring my first employee and being able to do that safely during the pandemic.”
Weber’s blanket scarves — made from colorful and soft 100% cotton fabric — are extremely popular among customers, along with the slippers she designed this year in an effort to sustainably use the scraps from her blanket scarves to make something new and comfy.
“I’m actually wearing a pair of them right now — I love them,” she said with a laugh.
Another new product has been widely popular: her patterned masks. Weber started making masks at the beginning of the pandemic to donate to health facilities, but soon pivoted to selling them once the CDC began advising everyone to mask in public. She’s made masks featuring Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Madam Vice President” Kamala Harris and Georgia politician and activist Stacey Abrams — for children and for adults.
With all the growth of her business, “there have been long nights,” Weber said. When she had the huge spike of customers in June, and in the holidays, she said she and her husband set up a shipping statement in his office. Still, managing a growing business while also homeschooling her 5- and 7-year-old children is a “special adventure.”
“It was incredibly tricky,” she said. “I think time management was the hardest part. Because I am trying to be present for my children … not only was I trying to run this business that was growing by leaps and bounds, I’m also trying to teach my children at home.”
Being unafraid to pivot has been crucial.
“I’ve made more facemasks than I can count, like so many,” she laughed. “If you’d asked me six years ago, when I started this business, if I thought that’s what I would be making, I would’ve told you no — but being flexible in your business is really important.”
So whether it’s making unique masks, or “answering a million questions” over Instagram direct messaging, Weber will keep looking for ways to pivot to serve customers and grow her business. And in-between all of that — plus completing the move into her new studio — Weber also hopes to launch some additional collections this year, bringing her sketchbook of ideas to life after months of delay due to the pandemic.
Weber always knew she wanted to own a business. She’s been to business school twice and always had high aspirations. In high school, she remembers being told to write her future job down on a name card for a class.
Hers read: “CEO of a major corporation.”
“Maybe that corporation will be my own,” Weber laughed.
“To be in my own studio now and in the process of hiring my first employee, it feels really amazing,” she added. “It’s a bizarre time to be doing that, because I do acknowledge that a lot of businesses, they have not survived last year. But I’m incredibly thankful for my customers and for my friends and family who stuck around and have supported my business and kept shopping small so that a lot of small businesses can stay around. And I’m excited about what is to come.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.
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