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Empower Magazine (EM) shines the spotlight on Denise Butler, owner of Cocoa Cutie, an empowering product line created for young people of color to inspire them to envision limitless possibilities. The unique brand markets a range of made-to-order apparel from dresses and T-shirts to purses and backpacks to beach blankets and PJs featuring hand-drawn images of boys and girls of color. In a special Q&A with EM, the South Carolina native shares the inspiration behind the brand, the highs and lows of her journey, and advice to others ready to embark on their own entrepreneurial journey.
What inspired you to launch the Cocoa Cuties brand?
It all started with a tutu and an aunt’s desire to be “Extra”. My niece’s 4th birthday was coming up and I asked her what she wanted – she said a tutu. Me being me, I wanted to make an outfit and looked high and low for a black ballerina tee to go with the tutu, but could not find one anywhere. I’ve always drawn and doodled, so I figured I’ll make her one. I got a lot of positive feedback. For months it just was in my head, and I thought I can’t be the only one looking for these products, so I researched how to take my artwork and mass produce it. It took time and a lot of research, but it has been so worth it to make sure children have products that celebrate them.
Describe your early beginnings and your entrepreneurial journey.
I am from a small town in South Carolina. I would say that the entrepreneurial spirit has always been in my blood, both my parents are small business owners. But for me, it hit me around 2013-2014 with this brand. Before then, I worked for other companies as a chemist. I went to Converse College and during my time there I spent time between the chemistry and art department.
My brand is important to people of color, especially children of color because it is so visual. Children need to be able to see themselves visually and be able to imagine that they can do and aspire to be anything. Think of when Obama became president, more children of color were inspired to be president one day, why because they saw this man of color who looked like them as president. My brand is about making sure children have images that can open their minds and help build self-esteem, so as they grow, they know they have endless possibilities.
What has been the response to your brand from consumers?
The response has been great, I constantly get emails from parents and others that are happy they found my brand.
What has been the most fulfilling response you have had that stands out in your mind?
There are so many I can think of, but the ones that get me the most are the kid reactions. One, in particular, is a couple of years ago. My products are here in a gift shop in Charlotte. I was visiting the gift shop that day and I remember this little girl coming in and running straight to my display. Unbeknownst to me, today is the day she gets the backpack she’s been eyeing for the past couple of months. Her face was all lit up and happy as she got and paid for her ballerina backpack! (I found out later that she and her mom are frequent shoppers of the store and every time they come in, she is always over at my display.) When I experience this, every time, it just confirms I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
As an African-American female entrepreneur, what unique challenges have you experienced in launching and sustaining your business?
Financing, also, finding the right resources and the right marketing strategy.
Describe the lowest point in your journey and how you were able to persevere in growing your brand.
There are times I have been discouraged, sales are not happening, and I want to just shut it down, but then I’ll look back at the comments from my customers and remember why I’m doing what I’m doing.
What advice would you give to other women of color who are embarking on or attempting to sustain a business venture?
Define your “why” – it’s one of the most important parts for sustaining your business!
What is your personal motto or mantra that you live by?
You can’t be afraid to fail – you can always get back up.
What haven’t we asked that you would like other aspiring entrepreneurs to know about your journey?
Don’t be afraid to pivot. If something is not going the way you want it in your business, look at ways to change it.
Where do you envision the Cocoa Cutie brand in five years?
I see Cocoa Cutie being a household name, a brand that people can find that celebrates kids and the diversity of our world.
Where can your brand be purchased?
Cocoa Cutie can be purchased directly on cocoacutie.com. We also have an Amazon and Etsy shop as well as in select stores nationwide.
For more information:
Business Number: 704-561-1957