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How a Black-owned glassware company found success during the pandemic

When Stephanie Hall set out to fill her home with colored glassware, the entrepreneur found little to no success in her local shops and antique stores. This inspired Hall to found her company, Estelle Colored Glass, which was born from a love of antique treasure hunting with her grandmother, Estelle, in South Carolina.

"She had her regular stores that she went to and she was always treasure hunting," Hall told CBS News. "She passed on to me the love of beautiful things and I love business — so I was able to marry those two things here in this brand."

Her luxury glassware is now featured in big box stores such as West Elm, Anthropologie and Zola but Hall's journey wasn't a straight route to success.

Stephanie Hall Catherine Hurt Photography

After a 10-year stint as a lawyer in Washington, D.C., Hall moved back to her hometown of Charleston to start an event rental company. This experience helped her launch Estelle Colored Glass in 2019, which sells luxury glass goods, ranging from wine and champagne glasses, to cake stands and decanters. In less than a year, her passion project became a full-time venture after her glassware went viral.

Hall spent five years researching until she ruled out manufacturers in the U.S. and eventually landed on a century-old company in Poland. However, plans to showcase her products at a trade show in March came to a halt thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

The following months were led by a summer of protests calling for police reform and racial equality. The activism propelled many Black-owned businesses into the spotlight as efforts to "shop Black" and support minority-owned businesses prospered.

That support translated into more than 100,000 followers on Hall's Instagram, which she uses as her main platform to advertise her brand.

Catherine Hurt Photography

"I've been in the entrepreneur space for a number of years now and once your audience finds out that you're Black, two things normally happen: one, you're dismissed altogether, or two you're discounted. So those two things got put on the shelf, and these mainstream influencers said, 'We want to hear your voices. We want you to know we're going to listen to what you have to say.' And it really was a new space," Hall explained. 

"They were saying 'your heritage means as much as our Caucasian heritage' or whatever other ethnic groups. You're giving me the same space that you would give someone else and I don't think that happened before. That's all new," she continued. "I've seen the turnaround in my own community where I know from past experiences that I would have never been given a nod by certain influential folks, but because we got attention on the national level, these local community business owners and others have now asked what can we do to help you."

Black-owned businesses were hit especially hard by the pandemic – a small-business poll from last October suggested more than half may be forced to close by April 2021 without federal relief.  Main Street Alliance and Color of Change, the two groups that conducted the poll, found that only 40% of Black respondents said they could survive past April without government aid, compared to 55% of White respondents. 

Catherine Hurt Photography

With the crippling economic impact of the pandemic bearing down on small minority business owners, Hall is grateful for the movement to support Black businesses. She credits some of her success to the 15 Percent Pledge, a non-profit organization that challenges major retailers to devote 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses.

While the increased attention is welcomed, Hall said it could pose a problem for some small businesses. "If this opportunity would have come to a lot of Black businesses, they will simply have not been able to take advantage of it because of a lack of resources, " she said. "We've had to turn away quite a few big box companies because we were worried about our inventory levels during the holiday season. We could not take on those relationships." 

Hall's advice for other small businesses is to make sure you have strong relationships with your vendors and financial institutions.  

"As a Black entrepreneur you're limited by so many different factors," Hall said. "But none of these other factors come into play if the number one things — your relationships and finances — are not strong." 

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