By Bria Overs | Word In Black

Credit: Marissa Kearney

(WIB) – Black business owners often speak about their struggles and big goals. Getting their products in major retailers like Target, Walmart, Macy’s, Ulta, and Sephora is one of those dreams.

Content creator Marissa Kearney, who works with these businesses, says it’s challenging for them to make these dreams come true. And it’s even harder to sustain them once they happen.

Kearney, also known online as Retail While Black and Target While Black, is a 30-year-old content creator in Tampa, Florida. She’s dedicated her platforms to promoting Black-owned and -founded businesses

Her social media pages showcase Black products found in stores and online, tips on how to use them, and reviews. She also shares glimpses of her personal life as a mother of two, fiancé, and shopper.

In 2018, Census Bureau data found about 3,115,000 Black-owned businesses had no employees, compared to 134,567 with employees. Yet, Black companies only make up about 3% of all U.S. businesses.

Kearney’s “North Star” for her brand is spotlighting representation in every way, and supporting these businesses as they grow.

“When we’re talking about Black-owned businesses, we’re talking about businesses who are innovative in doing something for their community but get no shine. Businesses who are doing it with no marketing dollars, no capital, no support, and they’re still putting the entire community on their back.”MARISSA KEARNEY

Before creating content full-time, Kearney was a teacher working at an underfunded school with predominantly Black students. She says it wasn’t the career for her.

In November 2020, Kearney spotted Target’s Christmas merchandise featuring Black Santas. While Black Santa is well-known in Black households, they’re often hard to find at big box stores.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute. Somebody’s figured this out. I want all of these things.’ So I started sharing all the Black Christmas stuff I could find that was in Target.”

Black History Month came around, and Kearney saw another opportunity to share her finds.

“That was the first Black History Month that Target finally got its hand slapped enough to know that you’re not going to make a Black History Month collection and not use Black people,” she says.

Marissa Kearney won the Webby Award for Education and Discovery earlier this year.
Marissa Kearney won the Webby Award for Education and Discovery earlier this year.

That was the start, and her following grew tremendously after. Across two Instagram pages, Kearney amassed over 289,000 followers and 234,400 followers on TikTok.

Using her background as a teacher, Kearney found a need for someone to share these brands and educate consumers. Just this year, she won a 2023 Webby Award Winner for Education and Discovery and a nomination for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — a prestigious award for work on the internet. 

Broadening Her Finds

Earlier this year, Kearney changed her platforms’ tag names from Target While Black to Retail While Black. The switch, she says, was necessary after realizing her direct business relationship with Target wouldn’t grow.

“I was kind of disappointed with the relationship I had with them,” she tells Word In Black. “I thought it would be a better, bigger, closer relationship where I was doing more things with them.”

She hired a management team to land more opportunities to collaborate and grow the relationship with Target and other brands.

Despite the disappointment, she wasn’t discouraged. Kearney wanted to do more and “be beyond this.” Changing the name expanded her content so she could share more of her finds in various retail stores. 

“I have now started highlighting Black-owned, Black-founded, and [general] representation, like The Little Mermaid, but inside all retail stores to protect my [brand] and not be so niche with one place,” she says.

Black Businesses in Big Retailers

Retail While Black is here to stay. Now, Kearney wants to change how stores think about diversity.

She hopes retailers will offer more Black brands in-store instead of solely online, creating more ways for consumers to find these brands on their sites. 

“I deserve to be able to go into the store and see something that’s for me,” she says. “Just like everyone else because I’m an American too.”

This would give consumers more opportunities to test products before buying — an obstacle white-owned brands often don’t face.

“People want diversity on their shelves because they want to see themselves in all places. If I don’t see myself in places, I’m not coming to your store.”MARISSA KEARNEY

It’s not on retailers alone. Consumers need to be on board with supporting Black businesses. Using her platform, Kearney encourages more folks within the Black community to shop Black.

“How are these brands at Target, Walmart, Macy’s, and all these other places, and we don’t show up for them when they’re going through hell to show up for us,” she says. “I feel like it’s our job to support people who are trying to support us.”