Finding Your Inner Lost Queen
By Janna M. Hall
On February 22, and 2016, Forbes Magazine tweeted, “Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S.” Backing up the statement was an article, published five days prior on Forbes.com, which outlined an angel investor’s plan to get more black women to become founders. But even before Katherine Finney publicly backed aspiring entrepreneurs, millions of black women were paving their own way and creating opportunity where it previously didn’t exist. In fact, black women own 1.5 million businesses between them—a whopping 322% increase since 1997—and generate $44 billion a year.
These business owners hail from all walks of life, and occupy every industry from beauty to technology. They’re profiled in business magazines and speak at conferences, divulging their keys to success to an audience eager to follow in their footsteps. Their advice includes nuggets like, “Find your passion,” “Be true to yourself,” and “Don’t let anyone’s doubts stop you.” By the age of 15, Richmond’s own Eboni Merriman had found her passion, remained true to herself, and with the help of her mother started a jewelry line, InnoCent Beauty. At just 15, she was already a young, black, female entrepreneur.
Fast forwarding seven years, a move to New York City, and failed attempts at working for someone else, Eboni realized that entrepreneurship was simply a part of her DNA. Her mother has owned the successful InnoCent Beauty Collections hair studio, now located in Stony Point Fashion Park, for nearly two decades. Since childhood, Eboni witnessed her mother sacrifice for the purpose of self-employment, and at the age of 22, Eboni herself welcomed similar sacrifice for the purpose of self-expression. In 2014, Lost Queens was born.
Lost Queens is a jewelry and accessories line that empowers women to reclaim their inner goddess. With traditional pieces like necklaces, bracelets, and earrings to non-traditional items like arm cuffs, body chains, and septum rings, the tribal-inspired jewelry line makes a powerful statement about freedom of expression. “In life, how many opportunities do we allow ourselves to feel truly, unapologetically free?” the Lost Queens website asks its visitors. “Society skews our perceptions – often forcing us to mold ourselves into the shapes we think we should be, rarely giving us the freedom to be just who we are.”
The more Eboni studied, she found that the “who we are” when it comes to Black women is more complex than the detailed pieces that make up her jewelry collection.
As a young Black woman with an even younger Black sister, Eboni understands how it feels to give in to pressure to be anything but who you truly are. The struggles with self-acceptance young women of color face are either minimized by society or dismissed altogether, with few safe spaces in which they can navigate the intricacies of who they are and live in their truth. Eboni’s truth, it turned out, was bouts with depression. She had a solid support system, but still longed for a safe space where she could reclaim her own inner goddess and return to a place of peace and stability. Lost Queens was that safe space.
What sets this jewelry brand apart from the competition is how it embodies everything a woman is. For starters, she’s a queen; her very existence is a gift to this earth. The tribal-inspired pieces remind her that she’s a descendant of royalty, a very important part of a powerful legacy. And to drive the point home, each piece from every collection is named for a fellow queen who has inspired women around the world. You’ll find necklaces named for political activists Angela Davis and Assata Shakur. Blanche Calloway, the first woman to lead an all-male orchestra, has beautifully stacked bangles named after her. For bolder pieces, the Maya Angelou, FLOTUS, and Nikki Giovanni pieces capture the eye, while the Dionne Warwick, Grace Jones, and Patti LaBelle necklaces offer simpler designs.
Bessie Coleman, the first Black female pilot is honored in an open pearl bracelet cuff, while Florence Joyner (FloJo), the track star who stayed true to herself by competing with flashy nails, is remembered with equally flashy triangle tassel earrings. Iconic women, both past and present, are represented and honored in the dozens of items available on LostQueens.com.
A turning point for Lost Queens came in the summer of 2015, only one year after the company’s founding. After debuting The Eartha Coin Fringe Choker, Eboni received a personal email from Kitt Shapiro, Eartha Kitt’s daughter. In the email, Shapiro thanked Eboni for honoring her late mother in such a beautiful way. “I don’t know you, but saw your Instagram post of the necklace you named after my mother, Eartha Kitt,” it said. “As a female business owner, I admire your willingness to put yourself out there. Keep on keeping on. #womensupportingwomen” With the message also came a donation that would help tremendously with future Lost Queen collections. Once she realized this wasn’t a fake email, Eboni cried tears of gratitude. It was then that she gained confirmation: she was indeed on the right track, and future success would rely on her following her heart without second-guessing it.
At just 24 years old, Eboni Merriman continues to run Lost Queens as a one-woman show. She works directly with the vendors and hand-crafters, handles all packaging, shipping, and is the voice behind all customer service inquiries. If you tweet Lost Queens, you’ll be tweeting directly to Eboni, and if you click “Contact Us” on the website, it’s Eboni you’ll be contacting. She does it all.
“It gives me anxiety at times,” Eboni admits. “I’ll look at a long order list and know that I need to get on the ball and start packing and shipping. It leads to late nights and early mornings, but [Lost Queens] is my baby and I have to protect my brand. So if I have to lose sleep to make sure my customers are happy, that’s what I’ll do.”
Her drive and dedication certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. Those sleepless nights haveresulted in countless interviews on New York City news outlets, celebrity endorsements, and platforms on which she can spread the message of self-love and self-preservation. It seems that the harder she works and the more exhausted she becomes, the more it pays off: on the evening of May 22, she’ll be presenting her new line at the Innocent Beauty Collections Hair Exhibit in Stony Point Fashion Park, and this July, she’ll have her biggest platform yet: ESSENCE Festival 2016.
The annual music festival in New Orleans, Louisiana takes place July 1-3, and over the course of three days, Eboni will share her collection with festival attendees from around the nation. She’ll be surrounded by dozens of entrepreneurs at the event this year, allowing her to build an even stronger network of fellow Black female CEOs. Her hope is that through her journey from depression to creative freedom, she’ll be able to empower other women to take a risk and pursue their passion. Lost Queens represents so much more than a love of beautiful jewelry and accessories, which is the message this 24-year-old intends to bring down to the bayou.
“The world tells us we can be this or that,” Eboni explains. “But our true nature says that we don’t really have to choose.
“Lost Queens is the accessory shop for those of us who embody it all. Good girl or bad, sexy or subdued, regal or down-to-earth – we can be all or none of these things any time we choose, and Lost Queens gives you the jewelry to showcase your true essence. Our pieces are the armor we wear to go out and conquer the world, embracing the spirit of the Queens and Goddesses that live inside us all.” www.lostqueens.com
Photos: Chef Rai Photography