Cynthia Jackson couldn’t find any wall artwork for her daughter’s room that represented Black children. Frustrated by the lack of diverse images in mass-market children’s room décor, she decided to create her own line of Black-inspired room décor to create confidence and a positive self-image. We spoke with Jackson, a pastor, mom, and founder of Tiny Tots and Tikes, about her experience starting her mission-driven business, the challenges she faced, how a mentor helped guide her, and why it’s essential for retail businesses to sell products that include and celebrate diversity.
Women in Retail Leadership Circle: Tell us about the line of decals you created at Tiny Tots and Tikes that reflect positive and creative images for Black children.
Cynthia Jackson: Our line of wall decals is so creative and inspiring. Our goal is to provide positive and inspiring room décor for children of color. Our decals consist of doctors, athletes, fairies, princesses, musicians and ballerinas.
WIRLC: What inspired you to create these decals? Were you unable to find wall artwork in the market that represented Black children?
CJ: I was inspired to create these decals after a personal experience. When my daughter was three years old, she began to question if her skin tone and hair texture were beautiful. After much thought about this surreal moment, I realized that I had completely underestimated the impact on my own daughter’s self-image when I decided to enroll her in a predominately white pre-school and when I was serving as a pastor of a predominately white church. My daughter was receiving conflicting messages about her self-image because everyone and everything around her at the time were white.
I tried to look for Black-inspired room décor to help with her confidence and self-image, but I couldn’t find anything. Therefore, I decided to create our own line of Black-inspired wall decals. Our decals are meant to creatively affirm Black children so they, too, will see themselves as beautiful, smart and equally qualified to hold any job they desire. Our goal is to produce creative, fun products that highlight Black beauty and success so no other parent or child will have the same experience we did.
WIRLC: What does it mean for Black boys and girls to see themselves reflected in these pieces? Why is it essential for retail businesses to sell products that include and celebrate diverse images?
CJ: I think that it means a lot, and having this representation is very valuable. Various media outlets and major retailers still struggle to provide adequate and equal representation of positive Black images. As a result, many Black children feel as though they’re not beautiful, worthy or capable of attaining certain goals. Therefore, it’s important for retailers, like Tiny Tots and Tikes, to figure out creative ways to inspire and affirm Black children in a society that at times views them as inferior.
WIRLC: Why is having a mission behind your business important to you?
CJ: Our mission keeps us focused and constantly reminds us of the reasons why we do what we do. Running a business is a joy, but it’s also very fast paced and time consuming. Therefore, our mission keeps us centered and helps others to understand the intention behind our products.
WIRLC: Coming from a career as a pastor, what were your first steps to starting the Tiny Tots and Tikes business? Did you secure funding or bootstrap your way forward?
CJ: I still work as a pastor because I’m fully aware that pastoring is my calling. However, I view my business as my personal ministry. Through this ministry, I enjoy being creative and producing meaningful products that children will enjoy. To help fund my business, I spent a lot of out-of-pocket money. I saved funds and researched to make sure that I made smart financial decisions.
WIRLC: As a Black small business owner, what challenges have you faced launching and growing your business? How have you overcome those challenges?
CJ: I’ve experienced a lot of challenges. First, I assumed that starting a business would be quick and easy, but I soon realized that it was challenging and a marathon. At the beginning, I was so frustrated and impatient because I thought certain things would happen overnight. However, with time, I’ve learned that obtaining stability and success takes a lot of prayer, love, time and patience.
Second, it was challenging to try to figure out everything on my own. Therefore, I found a business mentor. I didn’t realize the value of having a business mentor and how much I needed one. Early on, I made a lot of mistakes and was unaware of certain things. However, once I found a business mentor, she and I connected so well and she provided a lot of insight. She helped me grow individually as well as a business owner.
Lastly, it was challenging trying to do everything on my own. When I first established my business, I did everything I could to cut costs. I did the administrative work, handled the financial spreadsheets, managed my social media, built my website, and everything else that was required to operate a business. I was doing all of this myself, but I honestly didn’t have the knowledge I needed to handle some of the business aspects. Not only did I lack some knowledge, but I was working around the clock, which led to fatigue and burnout. But during a conversation with one of my closest friends, she encouraged me to start building a good team of trustworthy people. That was exactly the advice I needed at the time and that was exactly what I did. Now, I have more peace of mind and I can focus more on things that I enjoy and require my attention.
WIRLC: What advice would you give to other women inspired to create their own mission-based business?
CJ: Patience is key. Very rarely does success or anything happen overnight. Success and being a household name take time, patience and lots of energy. Therefore, don’t give up — even when you want to. If you believe in your mission and your products, then stay the course. Take deep breaths and learn to take things day by day.