“I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” – Madame C.J. Walker (A Black woman who be knowing)
What’s up, errbody? Hope y’all missed me cause I missed y’all. I was traveling for most of July and now I’m going through the August Blues. Y’all know what that is. As soon as August hits, all you see is back to school and fall shit just to remind you that summer’s about to be over although there’s still like 6 weeks left. This is particularly depressing for educators for obvious reasons and parents because that means our pockets finna be hella light. I fall into both categories so I’m doubly depressed.
The August Blues got bluer when we lost our Black, literary queen last week who transitioned to be with the ancestors. Rest in Power, Toni Morrison. I’m re-reading Sula this month as I promised in my tribute to her prior to her passing.
August ain’t been all bad though. I have some exciting news but y’all have to listen to this month’s interview with Amber Le’shea in order to find out what that is. Amber and I are talking about boss tingz: entrepreneurship, challenges, successes, and ways that Black women are making waves for themselves and their communities.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Make sure to listen to the audio above. Enjoy.
BWBK: Alright so we’re here. Black Women Be Knowing! Podcast #2 with my boo boo, Amber, a.k.a. Amber Le’shea. She is an entrepreneur and owner of Ratchet Assets and all kinds of other endeavors. Just so you know, this is the second person I’m interviewing who comes from Texas. I’m 2 for 2. There’s some shit in the water cause Black women are doing some dope ass shit in Texas. So, Amber’s gonna introduce herself and I always ask women that I’m interviewing to describe themselves in five words. So welcome Amber you’re gonna start right there.
Amber: Yaaayyy! First of all, it’s about damn time that somebody recognized… a real one. (laughter)
BWBK: So a real one is in the house and I am recognizing.
Amber: Representing all the way from Dallas, Texas, to New York City to New Jersey to Atlanta. So five words: I’m ambitious, extra as fuck (that’s one word), Black, creative and giving.
BWBK: So Amber missed a word. I’ma tell you what the word is. I love her to death but we got different friends for different reasons and different seasons. She’s my forever friend but she’s my forever petty friend so she left out the word petty. And you will probably understand as she continues to talk.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Who was little Amber and how has your upbringing molded you and your entrepreneurial spirit? Because we’re talking about Black women not only securing the bag but Black women creating the bag. So how’d that come about?
Amber: So I grew up in a very strict household; my mom was ratchet as I like to say and I was actually a quiet girl. Very quiet, very nerdy and stayed to myself or what have you but I think the entrepreneurial spirit has always been in me. My family was considered working class. We weren’t on welfare. My mom earned minimum wage. Sometimes she worked two jobs. My stepfather was a detention officer. I think the struggle came not necessarily with the amount of money that they brought in but how they managed their money.
I remember being at my childhood friend’s home and she had all these damn stuffed animals that her mom won from playing BINGO. I was like we need to sell these stuffed animals so we can go to the store and buy some snacks. The thing was, I wasn’t [necessarily] the person selling things but I would always come up with these ideas on how to make money.
We went from door to door selling her stuffed animals for 10 cents. I remember one of her neighbors saying, “You sure you want to sell this for 10 cents?” I was like yeah cause you know we were just trying to get some snacks. I was like, if we sell ten stuffed animals at 10 cents, that’s a dollar…I didn’t really understand the value of a dollar.
On top of that, my mom always had a hustle. I remember in 2nd or 3rd grade, she started a lab for kids to get tutoring. I also remember that not lasting for long. But when I was a freshman, my mom was working at Kinkos (a copying center) and she was the master of copies. She didn’t like the way Kinkos was treating her so she started her own copying business. I remember her starting in a small location and then gaining so much clientele, she had to move to a different (bigger) space.
That was my first true experience of entrepreneurship because my mom relied on me to do the marketing for her. I remember passing out flyers on her behalf. But I also remember people saying, “Hey, we did business with your mom and we’re not gonna come back because your mom is never there.” So I always kept that in mind, the amount of money she was making and the amount of money she lost because she wasn’t consistent.
BWBK: You started to talk about your mom. I’m making the connection between your testimony and the first podcast with Cynthia because her mother came up immediately. In addition to your mom or you could continue to talk about your mom, who is a Black woman who you would consider to be knowing and what lessons have you taken from that woman?
Amber: The first person who comes to mind is actually you. Khalya has been such an inspiration in my life and I love her to death. I met her as a teacher and I was literally in my own world. I ain’t fuck with nobody. I had one friend and I didn’t care to make any more. I didn’t even care to be Khalya’s friend.
I didn’t think Khalya was stuck up but I was like she too Black. Cause when I met Khalya she had the long nails and I’m from the south. It’s not OK to wear afros. Everything I’ve learned now about owning who you are as a person of color, you’re taught to reject that immediately (in the South.) I was a cheerleader and out of 25 people, there were only 2 Black people, me and this other girl and we’re still friends to this day.
I went to an HBCU and I love the fact that I graduated from Spelman. I learned a lot and I grew but I felt like a lot of my peers became very good at assimilating to white culture. And so Khalya was the first real one that I met cause I was confused. So she is definitely a Black woman who be knowing and that’s because I remember working at our school and not paying attention to the paraprofessionals, you know not speaking to people. And Khalya had a way of subtly saying like, “hey, they’re people as well.”
At that point, Khalya used to wear a perm. Y’all don’t know that Khalya.
BWBK: Y’all don’t know that Khalya. Y’all know militant, Angela Davis Khalya.
Amber: But Khalya would step into the school building like she was the shit with her long nails. The principal was Black but a lot of the staff was white and it was very professional. For Khalya to be that comfortable in her own skin, I wanted to be a part of that. I’m such a fan of Khalya.
BWBK: Insert blush here. I am blushing. But I’ma keep it professional and keep it cute. So you talked about our connection and thank you. We’re both educators and I wanted to emphasize that Amber is a phenomenal Math teacher. As an educator and teaching being your primary hustle, how does your role as an educator play into or support your business endeavors. Which skills can you point out that have helped you as a business woman?
Amber: When you start a business, it’s very important for you to have a plan and as a teacher, everyday you have to have a plan. Teachers have to have a plan with specific outcomes, but in math itself you’re looking for a solution or outcome. So I had to create a plan that would yield a result.
Also, presentation skills. You have to get students to buy in to your lesson. You have to form some type of connection and [effectively communicate] what you’re trying to convey to them so they’ll do well. It’s the same when you have a business and people are working for you. You have to get people to buy in to the product that you’re selling and the services you’re providing.
Planning and making sure that I’m getting the desired outcome… I [also] had confidence.
BWBK: And the confidence shit is intense because if you can stand behind the firing squad of a bunch of 7th graders… them motherfuckers are not nice. Them 7th graders are giving it to you. They giving you the business. I would agree and say being an educator and constantly having to be in front of people and convincing people that this knowledge right here…this knowledge is the shit. You need to know this quadratic equation. That’s a hard sell…
You’ve had a business before. You originally started a salon in Harlem and you recently transitioned to what is now Ratchet Assets. What made you start the salon and what made you transition?
Amber: I used to teach in Harlem. I had a lot of students who would come to school without their hair done. So In Texas you can be broke as fuck but everyone’s hair is laid. That was one of the reasons for me starting a salon.
The other reason is my hair stayed laid. I had every weave; I had a lace front before everybody else. I used to pay $300, $400 as much as $700 for my hair and when I had my son, I realized I can’t continue to do that. I remember going to Atlanta with my friend Courtney and she showed me a salon that did $50 sew-ins. I was like, “What? $50?”
I started doing research because I didn’t think it was fair that people were spending their light bills and car notes to get their hair done when the majority of people in Harlem who were getting their hair done lived below the poverty line.
That’s how Wicked Weaves was born. There was a need. There were a lot of salons charging $300/$400 for weaves. One of the issues I thought I would have is Black women being committed to their hair stylist. But if you see $50 sew-ins, you’ll at least step out and take a chance. And Wicked Weaves took off and I was in business for 5 years and I did well. So much so that I was able to open a second business in Dallas. I felt really good that people could work in my salon and afford to pay their bills.
BWBK: I always think about people’s motivations for going into business. You said that you happened to see a place that did $50 sew-ins but not just that, there seemed to be a purpose behind what you did. [You’re thinking], I’m looking at my students and I know kids want to look nice and look fresh and maybe I can provide that. So it is about providing a service but do you think people should follow their passion or follow the market?
Amber: So that’s a really good question. I interviewed an entrepreneur recently and I asked him how long it took before he made his first profit and he said 10 years. So I asked him, why did you stay in business? I had to ask.
And he was like, Because I love what I do. You have to ask yourself, is it worth you staying in business when you’re not making any money, especially when you have bills to pay. I go back to Wicked Weaves and because of Khalya I became woke. A lot of the women in my shop weren’t comfortable in their own skin. It didn’t sit right with me that where I grew up everything Black was disregarded and I didn’t want to contribute to the standard beauty norms.
I started thinking, “Am I doing a service or disservice to the community by promoting straight hair and Brazilian hair?” and I started to lose my passion… If you don’t have the money, the passion will carry you and if you don’t have the passion, the money will carry you. I lost my passion after the 3rd year but it fulfilled a need.
You have to like what you’re doing and it has to make money. The person I interviewed was a unique situation. But he stayed in business because he loved baking.
BWBK: I asked you to describe yourself not as a business person just as Amber so when you say words like ambitious, extra as fuck, Black, creative and all these things, how does that play itself into Ratchet Assets and what is Ratchet Assets?
Amber: I thought about this business like 3 or 4 years ago. I always said when I make it, I’m gonna give the cheat code to everybody. Because even though I grew up in a household with entrepreneurs, it was still hard for me to access that information. I’m surrounded by tons of dope people who have way more talents and skills, you included, and I’m like, “how much more money can people with these skills make?”
I created Ratchet assets to provide a hub for people to get the knowledge, skills and that motivational speech to go out and launch their own business.
BWBK: I want you to talk a little bit about a major setback that [taught] you a major lesson.
Amber: First of all, I gotta shout out Arnold. He was one of my stylists. We were on the phone one day after I closed my shop and he said, “I’ve been in the business for 20 years and you were perhaps the best owner I’ve worked under. The issue is just your mental. You just let shit get the best of you.” I reflected on that and it kind of hurt my feelings cause I thought I was a better person than that. I thought about it and he was right.
There were people who came to me saying negative things. I would read the reviews and internalize them. I would have people who would say “you’re not a good business owner; you’re not good at what you do” but they never started a business on their own. I was walking around insecure about being a business owner. I gave people jobs, had a great location but I fed into the lies they were telling me and it really got the best of me.
Despite seeing the results and making a change in my lifestyle; [if] I didn’t get the approval from the people who were working with me and my competitors, it got the best of me. The lesson I learned is that sometimes there are gonna be people who don’t believe in you; who don’t support you but you have to have enough faith in yourself, your ability and your vision to continue to move forward. You can’t believe the stuff that people are pouring into you and you can’t seek validation from others.
BWBK: I’m glad you said that cause it’s easy for a motherfucker who don’t do what you do to criticize. As a Black woman who be knowing, a lot of that has to do with confidence and finding your own voice. It’s about taking those risks, taking those leaps, and not being a basic bitch.
I think about that in every aspect of my life. Does it feel right for me? Is this the best thing I’m doing for me? And if it is then fuck everybody else. So what advice would you give to someone thinking about going into business for themselves?
Amber: Just do it. There’s never a right time. You need to have a plan but the only way you’ll learn is to do it. You have a higher chance of being successful if you have an idea of how your business is going to pan out.
BWBK: So both of us are mothers and you are a mother and a wife. I think about what it means to wear multiple hats. What is the impact of being a business owner on your family, both positive and negative?
Amber: I appreciate my husband more. At the time that I had my business, I despised him. My husband is very conservative, very quiet; he’s the total opposite of me. I think he thought I was insane when I talked about starting the business. Once he saw everything that was going into it, he said, “I’m not gonna congratulate you til you make your first profit.”
But I think it helped him to value me more. It gave him more insight into who I was as a person and the value I add to this relationship. I’ve been on TV, featured in magazines; I’ve made money and he was able to see how I maneuvered as a wife, a mother, a teacher and a business owner and I think he was thoroughly impressed. I think his respect grew for me.
However, I will say, you hear about the success stories but not the sacrifices you have to make. So I sacrificed a lot of time with my family. There were times I didn’t leave my shop til 2 in the morning. There was a holiday that I stayed at my shop and my husband had to bear the brunt of staying with Dylan, our son. For the most part, I was able to balance things but sometimes I didn’t spend time with my family.
The other day my son said, “hey mommy we should open a gym.” College is an option for him but if he wanted to start a business, he could do that too. Being an entrepreneur changed my perspective. When I was growing up, college was the only option. It was your ticket out. And with my son, sometimes he struggles with school but I’m not worried about it. He’s very hands-on. So he can go to college or he can start a business.
BWBK: I was going to ask about your ideas about children going into entrepreneurship so I’m glad you touched on that… Amber and I just came from Europe and we had a discussion while we were out in Amsterdam about rejection and resilience. Resilience is a huge part of being in business because you are going to get rejected. You’re gonna lose some stuff, lose some money perhaps, lose resources, lose clients, lose people and staff. There’s a lot of potential loss.
One of the things you want to build is people’s ability to be resilient and you told me about the interns you’ve been working with this summer and how you’ve been teaching that lesson. If I had to use another word to describe you, besides petty, I would say you are resilient as fuck. I know you to be a person who bounces back…That candle may dim but it don’t ever go out.
With that being said, where do we find you on social media?
Amber: You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @RatchetAssets.
BWBK: Of course, you should be following Black Women Be Knowing on IG and Twitter at BWBK_ and now on SoundCloud.
You’ll see Amber around cause “Everyday she’s hustlin’, hustlin’, hustlin” (in my Rick Ross voice.)
Thank you baby!
Amber: Thank you for having me. I’m so honored.
Black women be building wealth.
Black women be creating wealth.
Black women be sharing the wealth.
And if you don’t know, now you be knowing.