In less than five years, three women turned their love and concern for Black women into highly celebrated business ventures. Now, they are in Target stores nationwide for Black History Month.
As a research scientist with a background in public policy and advocacy, Jacqueline Dow is well aware of the issues and health disparities affecting Black women. Possessing a doctorate in public health, Dow’s dissertation examined a woman’s weight prior to pregnancy and how that impacted her pregnancy outcomes. “In public health, a lot of focus has been put on whether a woman is overweight or obese,” Dow told theGrio. She hypothesized that, if a woman is overweight then the more overweight she is, the more likely she is to experience adverse pregnancy outcomes.
“I was pleasantly surprised that my hypothesis was actually wrong,” she told theGrio. Dow found that women who were underweight prior to pregnancy were more likely to have complications, such as preterm birth.
Those findings and Dow’s desire for a creative approach to Black women’s health conversations led to the launch of the affordable athleisure brand J.Dow Fitness in 2018. A lover of data, Dow knows all women don’t share her affinity and recognized that when people consistently share research and statistics, it can feel condescending. “It’s not as if people don’t know what the issues are,” Dow said. In creating the brand, Dow said she was “looking for a sexy and a different way to start a conversation with women about their health.”
When sisters Kim and Keyondra Lockett looked around at the Black women in their respective careers, they noticed the lack of emphasis on self-care and mental health. As a gospel music singer and songwriter, Keyondra saw all the ways Black women were putting everyone before themselves, believing it was their duty. “We can do so many things that work against our wellness and we all need a tribe that is able to speak into our lives,” she said.
As a counselor, Kim is pleased at the growing acceptance of therapy and mental health services in the African American community. “Whether we want to accept it or not, we are living vicariously through the damages of slavery,” the youngest Lockett sister told theGrio. “We’re just as resilient as everyone else but we all know that we don’t have the same starting point and that has taken a toll on us.”
Recognizing a need for affirmation among Black women, Kim couldn’t help but notice how few inspirational graphic tees and sweatshirts featured people who looked like her and her sister.
“We would notice these beautiful graphic tees with women on them but maybe one out of every ten had a Black woman on it.” The sisters bemoaned the fact that wearing inspirational apparel often means Black women aren’t wearing themselves. Now, as the unisex brand gears to create its first capsule collection, the sisters are excited that Black faces will be everywhere. “Black beauty is beauty and we deserve to be lifted up in the same way as others.”
When the sisters started their elevated leisure brand Jolie Noire (French for “pretty Black”) in 2019, the Louisiana natives wanted Black women to know that it is possible to be whole and move to the next level. “That’s what we offer with our clothing and with our mission,” Keyondra said. “We validate Black women. We affirm Black women. It’s not only a business. It’s a movement.”
For Dow and the Lockett sisters, their apparel companies meet a specific need for representation and visibility. “I work out all the time and I can never find anything that fits me,” Dow said of her fit and curvy frame. Whether the waist is too wide or not wide enough, Dow said she, like many Black women, typically ended up working out in an outfit that didn’t match—which isn’t the case for many white women whose bodies are the prototype for most athletic apparel.
“I’m trying to work out but I don’t feel comfortable,” she said, echoing the feelings of many of us with thicker frames. As she looks to continue J.Dow Fitness’ relationship with retail stores, Dow is excited for what it means for Black women’s overall health. “We should be able to be in the gym just as comfortable and fashionable as everyone else because when we feel and look good, we tend to be at our best.”
Both size-inclusive brands are part of Target’s “Black Beyond Measure” campaign. They, along with four other brands, were invited to create limited edition collections for Black History Month. Items are available online and in stores nationwide only for the month of February.
Candice Marie Benbow is theGrio’s daily lifestyle, education and health writer. She’s also the author of Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who’ve Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn’t Enough. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @candicebenbow.
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