In a new series called “Black Mom Owned,” we’ll highlight Black mom-owned businesses for you to get inspiration from if you’re a fellow mompreneur and to support if you’re committed to buying Black.
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A bit of Black mom trivia for you: You’re 10 and playing in your bedroom when you overhear raucous laughter and gossip coming from the living room. You go to see what’s happening and find your mom holding court with her friends, your aunties.
The older women don’t notice that you’re listening as they discuss some wrong that needs to be righted. During a silence you pipe up to ask a question or offer a bit of 10-year-old wisdom. But instead of thanking you for your insight, your mom turns around and says this universally known Black mom phrase to you.
What’s the phrase?
I’d have to revoke your Black card if you didn’t say some variation of, “Stay outta grown folks’ business!”
So many of us have heard that line growing up, along with other iconic Black mom phrases. You may even use them now that you’re a mom: “You got some McDonald’s money?” “When we get in here, don’t ask for nothin’, don’t touch nothin’” or “Do I look like Boo Boo the Fool?”
All of these—and arguably the most iconic one, ”I’m not one of your little friends”—appear on CocoIV, a retail company that emblazons Black moms sayings on T-shirts and other merchandise. Created by Raven Barrett in February 2019, the line brings a knowing smile to many a Black mother and grown child’s face. (I may have to get me a “You got some grandkids’ money?” one.)
According to Raven, CocoIV was a stroke of “divine intervention”: She was laid off from her job as an nursing employee relations coordinator the day after she found out she was 18-weeks pregnant with her daughter Kennedy.
“The support I received from Black women and the very women who raised me helped me push through those difficult times,” Raven tells mater mea. “Now combining that feminine power with God telling me to do so, I knew I had to create a brand that reflected those very women and my next stage in life: Black motherhood.”
Raven tells us more about her company’s story, how she managed some of the challenges of launching her business, and what’s next for CocoIV.
On your website, you describe your pregnancy as happening at an unconducive time. What made it so?
It was an unplanned pregnancy. One of my big goals was to be married before having kids, be financially stable. Unfortunately those circumstances weren’t beforehand. But I’m very grateful she still came along.
How did you feel about being laid off?
I was heartbroken, I was mad, I was happy. It’s so weird… I literally had a dream two weeks before that that I was being laid off. I didn’t know when but I knew it was going to happen.
Your brand is “dedicated to paying homage to every Black mom one tee at a time.” What was the aha moment that made you realize t-shirts were the best way to do that?
Clothing, in general, is a conversation starter and to me it sends a message. Whether it’s how you mix prints together, how you throw on some yoga pants and hoodie, or a T-shirt with words, it all reflects on how you’re essentially feeling that day or your overall vibe as a person.
Since I’ve always had a passion for fashion and I stan for a good tee, I knew I could communicate who my grandmother, mother, and aunt were as black mothers and ultimately who I am as a black woman and mom without really saying it, and I knew that it would start a conversation. Whether that conversation is an exchange of memories, an “If that ain’t my mama,” a learning experience, or honestly just a smile, sometimes that simple interaction really goes a long way in making our day or someone else’s.
What did your first shirt look like?
My first shirt was “I’m not one of your little friends.” It came out really good; I didn’t think it would but I was like “I love it, so let’s just try it and see what goes from here.”
Why that phrase? It’s such an iconic phrase, but there are a bunch of others too. Why did that feel like the right one to start your line?
It is so iconic. We do have a language that’s universal even outside of our sayings, it’s just a bond that Black moms just share. From racial disparities to Black maternal health, it’s just something that we can all relate to somehow. But I knew that “I’m not one of your little friends,” every Black mom has said it, every Black grandma, every Black auntie, even if you white, your cousin or your friend down the street got a Black mama, you’re just like, “She’s said that before. I know that!”
That’s the thing I love about your shirts. It reminds you that there is a common language even though we’re not a monolith. What’s been the response to your brand?
I didn’t know what all this entailed, I just knew that God told me to do it: “Stop playing games, girl.” So I’m here. It’s just been super supportive: receiving messages from women that have been on the website, read my story, [want] to start their own business and me just being able to support them in any way, being able to give advice, telling them my vendors, anything like that. It’s just been amazing. Amazing is the word.
What are some of the challenges of running a business?
I’m still fairly new to the business scene, but I would have to say the learning curve is the hardest. From making the shirts, answering emails, shipping products, to arranging meetings, and managing the accounting aspect, I do it all.
Sometimes I want to scream—and do scream—but I understand the importance of needing to know how to do everything when it comes to a business that’s yours. Whether I have five employees in the future or 200, there shouldn’t be a moment when someone comes to me and asks me a question about how to do some aspect of my business that I shouldn’t have an answer to.
How did you figure out how to start a business? Are there any entrepreneurs in your family?
In my family, it’s just my uncle. My best friend has a business as well, so they was like the two people that I leaned on—just as far as seeing them, how they moved, how they started their businesses.
Google has been my best friend. YouTube has definitely helped me. My brother’s major is business so he’s helped me as well. Being around other women entrepreneurs has definitely helped me as well. It’s all just been a learning curve.
Is this your full-time job now or is this a side hustle?
This is my full-time job with multiple part-time jobs on the side, but this is definitely my main priority.
I love that, that’s so real. I tried to go full-time with mater mea, and life just kicked me in the ass… [Laughs]
[Laughs] Yes, that definitely happened to me. Like, “Girl, you got a baby to feed, you have to eat, get gas in your car… So let’s have our hustle and have our other hustles, but definitely still focus on this.”
So how does Kennedy play into the CocoIV business?
The IV itself is part of her, because the IV does represent four. I’m super big into numerology and four is a life-affirming number. Her birthday is 4/28, she’s the fourth generation, the time she was was born is 8:22, 8-2-2 is 4. So she’s definitely like my little guiding light.
What are some of the challenges of being a mom and an entrepreneur?
The biggest challenge is time. I’m either on mommy duty all day and up until 3:00 a.m. working or I work on the business during the day and have mommy guilt for not playing with her when I have important business to finish.
I’m working on incorporating her “work” into my day (a.k.a. some markers and paper) so that when I’m jotting down notes, she can scribble her notes and feel that she’s working with mommy. When she’s older I know that it will be a little easier, but for now we’re just adjusting day by day.
What’s the best thing about being a Black mom and a business owner?
Just having my little one there to see me [and] her being my inspiration. Days where I just wanna scream and pull my hair, I’m just like, Well, this is who you’re doing it for. I just want her to be proud of her mom. To see that women can literally be anything that they want to be with no limitations.
What’s a milestone that you’ve hit for your business that you’re very proud of?
Being featured by you! I’ve honestly been following your work for a while so when you reached out to me I was overly ecstatic and grateful.
(Editor’s note: Aw, shucks!)
What is a goal that you have for your business that you have not yet accomplished?
My goal is to be featured in Essence one day. I’m not worried though because I know that day will come.
What is a lesson you’d like to share with other Black moms who want to start their own companies?
The lesson I would share is to just do it. I was reluctant [about] starting this business in the beginning. As I said before, this was a vision that God gave me, but I kept doubting him and being fearful of the “what ifs?”. He had given me every sign, those around me every sign, but the part of walking out on faith is so much easier said than done—especially when at the time [Kennedy] was a newborn.
I haven’t “made it” yet, but I understand why God gave this to me. So if you have an idea that’s in your heart, stop waiting, and just do it, mama.
Raven is giving a discount to all mater mea readers:
Visit CocoIV and use discount code Cocomoms for 10% off your purchase!