Alexzandria is a single mother, an entrepreneur, and a Black Canadian who just so happens to be the owner of multiple businesses including, Miami Extensions, Love Butter, and Blk-ed.
Blk-ed was established in May 2020 and is co-owned by Alexzandria and her four-year-old daughter, Samia. It has already acquired a stellar reputation for featuring some of the bestselling bags and accessories of 2020.
Renee Alexzandria was born in Canada to parents of Jamaican origins and has lived in Canada, Jamaica, and the USA. This early exposure to diversity allowed Alexzandria to absorb many cultures.
She studied economics in the U.S. but never finished school due to financial constraints. Alexzandria has always been drawn to business from a very early age. In her own words, “I love building brands and creating products.”
Her knack for entrepreneurship led to the founding of her three companies. Miami Extensions was founded 13 years ago in the States as a small hairdressing salon and grew to a fully-fledged manufacturer of hair extensions products. Alexzandria’s second company, Love Butter, sells natural, herbal butter-aromatherapy infused shea butter cream to help combat pains in the body. Blk-ed is her latest enterprise.
The idea for Blk-ed came to Alexzandria when she and Samia were shopping for a book bag in Toronto. They were looking for something that resonated with Samia’s personality, but most backpacks were either animal prints or didn’t have the same colour as her skin tone.
Alexzandria recalls the disappointment at not finding the right backpack. “I remember when a little Caucasian, red-haired child walked up to one of the bags that had a caricature of a red-haired girl and said to her mother, mommy look, it’s me.” The mother bought the bag in a jiffy. I was very happy for the little girl but devastated when my daughter couldn’t find the same joy.”
Alexzandria continued her search online but she couldn’t find anything. This led to the painful realization that her daughter would probably never get to see herself represented unless she did something about it.
“I can see my daughter getting oppressed from four years old; it's a silent form of oppression that does something to your self-esteem and is completely unfair but based on something we don't even know we're missing,” Alexzandria says.
Given her background in manufacturing, Alexzandria didn’t waste any time in designing and ordering two bags for her daughter. The first bag was a print of a small child that looked like Samia with her name on it. The second bag was designed based on Samia’s direction. “It’s empowering when children get images that look like them, and I wanted my daughter to feel good and have self-confidence.”
When Samia saw bags that reflected her, the reaction was joyous. “She screamed, jumped around squeezing her bags in appreciation,” Alexzandria recalls. This was a special moment for Alexzandria.
To her surprise, many other people liked her designs and wanted what she was creating. Twelve days after the store incident, Alexandria founded Blk-ed. This was a risky venture for her because it was uncharted territory, but she knew it would resonate with many shoppers since there aren’t a lot of products like it.
“Every time people saw the bag, they said something about it, so I realized it wasn’t just myself as a parent who wanted to see their kids represented,” Alexandria states. Her first bag commission came from a woman who saw Alexandria’s daughter with the bag and inquired about it. The woman liked it so much that she asked Alexzandria to make one for her.
“I created another bag and she liked it so much that she referred me to another client. Honestly, knowing that people like the designs that I like and what I was creating suddenly grew my passion.”
Alexzandria became obsessed with Blk-ed and began experimenting with textures and colours, something she had never done before. “I’ve always had a creative mind but I wasn’t used to creating accessories and preferred to paint things instead, but Blk-ed allowed me to create something that would be worn every day,” Alexzandria says, before quickly adding, “besides, I’ve always been business-driven, but Blk-ed has become the perfect mash-up for my creative and business mind.”
Design Inspiration and Colour for Blk-ed
Alexzandria designs her bags to be cute and for everyday use. More importantly, her goal is to represent minorities and the beauty and strength of the diverse communities in Canada. Hence, each design is unique and hand-drawn. She prepares the colour palettes and sketches, partnering with artists of colour to finish the drawings.
She often asks her customers for feedback that is used to tailor new products and improve customer service and her business model. Customers are asked to vote for their favourite designs, and design ideas that get the most votes are produced. “This way, our clients feel as if they’re part of the Blk-ed journey,” explains Alexzandria.
Regarding colour, Blk-ed leans more towards black and brown for its colours of choice, however, they also receive requests from other racialized people who want to see themselves represented more. In response, the company is now shifting into an overall representation of diverse communities.
Explaining one of her designs called, “Sisterhood”, Alexzandria says, “The design features a dark-skinned woman, a medium-brown woman, a white woman, an Asian woman, and a Hispanic woman. They are holding each other up and resting their heads on each other. This design was inspired by my living in Canada. It signifies that we are all one. Race does not matter.”
Spiritual Side of Blk-ed Products
Alexzandria is very much into nature and a holistic lifestyle so Blk-ed products are made from high quality, recyclable, vegan materials. “I want to be producing products with a purpose,” says Alexzandria. “I don't want to be hindering the world because we need to make sure that we're leaving it better than we found it.”
On top of that, Alexzandria wants her bags to be a doorway to mindfulness. All her bags have a meaning behind them, some of which contain uplifting, positive affirmations. Her wish is for customers to feel represented, and to experience a conscious and subconscious affirmation that boosts their self-esteem and self-confidence.
Going forward, she will feature a product lineup dedicated entirely to affirmation.
Types of Products and Pricing
At the time of writing, Blk-ed produces children's book bags, children’s lunch bags, lunch bags for adults, men's gym bags, men’s wallets, women's shoulder bags, women’s wallets, and makeup bags. Women's gym bags, women’s totes, handbags, cross body bags, mini backpack purses, and mini on-the-go bags are coming out soon.
Alexzandria is keen on setting affordable prices. “We realize that some of our customers are younger and don’t have access to big incomes, so our products are priced affordably and we regularly feature sales and promotions on our website,” notes Alexzandria.
The company sells a few thousand accessories per month and is ramping up production. Its goal for this year is to scale up to 4,500 sales in a month. Blk-ed completely sold out within the first 32 days of opening.
Things weren’t always easy for Alexzandria. “Most people thought it was a bad idea to start another business in the middle of a pandemic, but honestly, there’s no such thing as a perfect time,” Alexzandria says. “You need conviction to succeed and I was willing to take the risk.” She credits her close friends Nadine and Oye, her sister Simone, and her aunts Ernestine and Judith, for giving her the strength to keep moving on with Blk-ed despite the odds.
Blk-ed helps out the community in many ways. The company partnered with the Farmers Guide of Uganda and fed over 350 people for 21 days while the pandemic was in full swing. Blk-ed also provided food, soap, and disinfectant for marginalized communities facing a higher risk of COVID-19 infection.
Human Resources, Logistics, and Marketing
Currently, Blk-ed has around 35 employees of which 10 are full-time workers. Blk-ed has its own manufacturing plant complete with a warehouse and a website that allows users to place their orders online. Branding and marketing are central to Blk-ed.
“You can have the greatest product and the greatest website but it doesn’t matter if people can't find you,” Alexzandria explained. “So I wanted to get the word out there focused heavily on marketing and branding.” Fast shipping is also very important to Alexzandria’s business. Distribution centres for Blk-ed are spread out across North America, and the company has plans to launch in Europe. “I want to compete with the Amazons of the world. I know that we are a young company, but I see the potential of what we can grow into. This is why I am laying the groundwork to achieve these goals.”
As a mother, Alexzandria is trying to establish a legacy and generational wealth for her daughter. She is trying to harness her daughter’s sense of identity, enhance her creativity, and teach her about freedom, finances, entrepreneurship, and the importance of giving back.
With Blk-ed, she plans to produce a lot of different products for men and continue helping people around the world through its outreach programs. Her plan for Blk-ed goes beyond monetary gains. “My goal isn't just the bottom line, it’s about impacting the lives of people,” Alexzandria affirms.
She hopes to become recognized by Oprah Winfrey one day. “Oprah Winfrey was one of the people who heavily influenced me. I like her business acumen and what she stands for. She’s very spiritual and represents the best in people,” gushes Alexzandria.