How Playa Society’s Esther Wallace Developed Her Small Business During Covid

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As a six foot and one inch teenager, I was always told the same thing: “You should play basketball.” The thing is, I didn’t want anything to do with sports. I was introverted and insecure, trying to figure out where I belonged. Self-proclaimed “art nerd” with an interest in fashion design, the basketball court was the last place I thought I wanted to be.

Then when I was 15, I went to my first girls college basketball game, and everything changed. Here are young women who looked like me – and they were fearless, daring and free.

At that point, I realized that I wanted to be an athlete.

After working hard to make up for lost time, I got a Division I scholarship at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, then after college I started playing professional basketball at the foreigner. My professional career ended early, as injuries and heart disease caught up with me. But basketball gave me something that was going to last forever: it empowered me and helped me discover my goal.

This discovery started with realizing that I hadn’t been exposed to positive images of female athletes as a child, then I asked myself: What if I had seen Lisa Leslie in the media as often as I had seen Michael Jordan? Representation was the key to introducing me to the game, and it could have happened much earlier than second year of high school.

Esther Wallace, founder of the playa society

Esther Wallace turned her side business into a full-fledged business at the start of the pandemic.

(Image credit: Amber Hakim)

So I started to develop clothes that would help girls see what I didn’t have. Eventually it turned into a brand called Playa company. My business, which allowed me to rediscover my passion for styling, has been my support for three years. I designed a popular “Female athlete”T-shirt while working in 9 to 5 marketing in Boston; in 2019, I juggled this job with an entrepreneurship program at Babson College. Somehow I found a way to do all of this while shipping about 300 orders per month.

During those early years, I only thought about running my small business full time. Imagine what I could accomplish if I could invest more time? But a familiar theme held me back: the entrepreneurs who were exposed were unlike me, and their stories were unlike mine. As confident as success on the pitch had made me, a part of me still felt like I didn’t belong.

Then, in the fall of 2019, I met a phenomenal woman at a marketing conference who, after hearing my story, grabbed my phone, opened my calendar, and created a reminder for me to take the leap to the full-time entrepreneurship by January 2020. After a lot of waiting, I gave my boss a few months notice from 9 to 5.

My last day of work was scheduled for March 30, 2020.

I completed my business program that month and won the final pitch competition with a grand prize of $ 5,000. While celebrating with friends at a bar afterwards, I noticed that the NBA game on TV showed an empty arena. The NBA season was called off and lockdowns were put in place across the United States days later, just as my journey into full-time entrepreneurship began.

The Playa Society community helped me through the pandemic, while also reminding me that I could be the representation I needed to see in business.

In addition to supply chain issues and economic uncertainty, my biggest challenge during this time was the fact that over a third of my turnover came from sports teams, which were not in business. competition, or in-person sales at tournaments, that weren’t happening.

Scary? Yes. But I wasn’t going to let these roadblocks deter me. I dubbed digital marketing and social media, and focused on building the Playa Society community. There wasn’t much else that I could do at the time.

It was the right decision. As I spent more time in my business, I saw an immediate impact on sales. My growing digital community rallied around me in ways I couldn’t even imagine; as a result, sales doubled that summer, despite the pandemic. I also felt an increased obligation to step in behind the scenes and celebrate my role as a black-owned business. I designed the Athletes Against Injustice t-shirt, which thousands of athletes and teams have started to wear. The Playa Society community helped me through the pandemic, while also reminding me that I could be the representation I needed to see in business. As Playa Society moves forward, these themes are our foundation: community and representation guide our vision for the future.

More than ever, I am convinced that there is no limit to what we can accomplish when small businesses and their communities support each other. My company’s mission is to change the culture of women’s sport and in doing so empower black women and my community. But I get as much support from my clients as I do from myself.

This is especially true at this time, as many small business owners continue to face new challenges brought on by the pandemic. Doing your holiday shopping with a small business that really speaks to you, whether you’ve always made it a priority or been encouraged by initiatives like American Express Small Business Saturday, can be life-changing for an entrepreneur, as was the case for me. Because when you support small businesses, you are more than buying a good or a service. You invest in your community, help create local jobs, and help support the organizations that make your neighborhood unique.

Especially for small businesses like mine that are owned by black women, that face our own unique challenges, every act of support has a direct impact. Every time a single customer tells me that she likes a product she’s purchased or that it relates to my brand message, it serves as an impetus that keeps Playa Society going. Entrepreneurship, like excellence in sport, is a big part of working together to achieve a common goal.

What Small Business Saturday Means for Entrepreneurs

78% of small business owners say holiday shopping will impact their ability to stay open in 2022.

More … than half of small business owners fear they will have enough inventory or manpower to survive this holiday season.

Small shopping can add $ 695 billion to the US economy.

Source: American Express Small Store Impact Survey



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