Jasmin Foster knows from personal experience that feelings of inclusion are deeply intertwined with personal well-being. That’s why she founded Be Rooted, a Black-owned stationery brand dedicated to inclusivity and diversity. In this interview, Foster shares how Be Rooted became the first ever Black-owned stationery brand to debut in Target, obstacles the brand overcame while launching during the COVID-19 pandemic, tips for journaling as a form of self-care, and much more.
Women in Retail Leadership Circle: Tell us about Be Rooted and how it got started.
Jasmin Foster: I’ve always been a lover of stationery. I remember being a young girl, my favorite part of starting a new school year was being able to buy new school supplies. Even as an adult, when I started a new job, I was always buying a new planner and new notebook to take notes in. But I always felt like I was a little bit disconnected from the category. The design and the messaging that was used wasn’t directed towards women of color.
After being in a retail career for over 10 years and actually spending a lot of time building inclusive assortment strategies for retailers and brands, I reconnected with my love of stationery in the beginning of January 2020. […] I’m so passionate about inclusivity and representation, and stationery is the category that I’ve always loved but felt a bit disconnected from. […] So, I started Be Rooted because I wanted to create inclusively designed stationery brands for women of color to feel uplifted and celebrated.
WIRLC: What are some of the challenges that Black founders may face when trying to get into big retailers, and how can they overcome them?
JF: One thing Black founders tend to struggle with is having access to capital to grow our ideas, and get us off the ground and running. And the second thing is typically not having the connections or networks within the space to coach and mentor us along the way. For me, I was super grateful for the opportunity to have my parents believe in my journey, and so Be Rooted is somewhat of a family business. My mom and my dad were both retired, so they decided to really dig in and help, not only financially, but giving up their time in the beginning. […] The stationery category has been historically driven by big, major players. I was very lucky to have a friend that had a little bit of a [background] with a stationery. I was able to tap into her knowledge base and her connections to give me some resources early on to find the supplier within this category, which was instrumental to me being able to make the corporate partnership work.
WIRLC: Did Be Rooted have to pivot its business due to COVID-19?
JF: Oh absolutely! When I started doing my research in January 2020, I thought, like most people, I’d be able to go to trade shows and network and find my suppliers. In March it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen and everything was being shut down. Then it became a real challenge of how do I find a supplier. […] So, I had to pivot my strategy from originally wanting to outsource internationally to instead having to find some domestic suppliers here within the U.S. who were able to help out in those early stages of production. This allowed me to be a lot more nimble. It ended up being a really good thing for me to be able to react to my demand quicker.
WIRLC: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are just starting their businesses?
JF: One thing that I always say is that you have to find the joy in being a student of the business. There are going to be some stumbling blocks, some problems that you’re going to have to solve — some things that you just knew you were so right about that you end up being so wrong about. […] I love taking these lessons and making sure they don’t happen again, but also just taking them as lessons. If you get bogged down in the mistakes that are going to happen, you’ll never want to carry forward.
WIRLC: Why is journaling so important to you as a form of self-care, and why did you want to make sure journaling was accessible to everyone with Be Rooted?
JF: Be Rooted really has our sights set on being the go-to stationery brand for all women of color. When I thought about what category I wanted to start with, I wanted to focus on journals because I know how powerful journaling can be to everyone’s self-care and wellness journey. I find that if you take the time to really sit down with your thoughts, write them down and manifest your dreams, you’re able to put together an action plan a lot quicker. […] So when creating Be Rooted, I wanted to create a journal that was reflective of my community, but I also wanted to interweave positive messaging into every single design so when people pick up their journal, they had something looking back at them that was also uplifting and celebrating them.
WIRLC: Do you have any tips for people who are new to journaling?
JF: I think a lot of people get bogged down by journaling. They feel like if they’re not consistent, they’re a failure. And I just tell people to not make it too complicated. Start off with trying to journal in the mornings or at night, and just ask yourself one simple question. One of the prompts I use is “What made me happy today?” What you might find is that sometimes you may not have an answer, and that’s OK. But if someone is seeking to bring more joy into their life, that might give them the gumption to think about how they can change that for the next day.