By Chandler Luhowskyj
Orion has spent most of her career working in corporate America. Like many of her peers, this often required frequent traveling across the world meeting with clients. Orion worked in corporate America for nearly 15 years prior to making her debut to being a full-time entrepreneur at the end of 2018. Making the decision to move away from the tech space to the travel industry was one that simply made sense.
Nearly every hotel she stayed at when traveling failed to have the proper amenities for her hair type. This meant that Orion had to pack a toiletry bag filled with the proper haircare products or she’d be left having a bad hair week for her entire trip, making extended stays and impromptu trips less than ideal.
Prior to launching BlackTravelBox, the smallest brand Orion previously worked with had $30 million in revenue. It took a major headspace change to have to go from top-down strategic solutions to bottom-up tactical solutions.
With having a significantly decreased marketing budget, Orion quickly realized the importance of community engagement and word of mouth marketing. Knowing that many other individuals have to deal with similar headaches when traveling, Orion found that she wasn’t alone in her frustrations. After rapidly accumulating over 10,000 followers over the span of a few months, she knew she was onto something.
Despite having a significantly smaller budget than when she worked at previous positions at Kraft and Hasbro (Backflip Studios), Orion finds her motivation to move forward in the form of notes from previous customers. She didn’t launch BlackTravelBox with the intentions of simply creating a private label, but rather to offer a product that actually helps people’s lives for the better by creating products truly tailored to their needs. Receiving notes of encouragement from customers helps solidify that she’s doing just that.
Like many other minority-owned businesses, Orion struggled to find VCs to invest in her company. Many were hesitant, believing that it was too niche of an audience with remarks like “I don’t know how big this is going to be” coming from many of the VCs she met with.
In reality, the Black travel industry has reached $103B and is an underserved niche. It’s a movement that has been growing exponentially, yet under the radar of mainstream media and brands, for nearly a decade. So, why were VCs quick to say no? Orion thinks that this is due in part to the beauty and travel industry being incredibly white-centered. Travel ads and in-flight magazines rarely include Black travelers, which along with other stereotypes, may lead to investors getting the impression that Black people simply don’t travel.
For some investors who were interested, it was for all the wrong reasons. Orion was stunned by the number of VCs that wanted to invest in her as part of a “social impact” effort, not due to the actual product and vision itself. Simply put, she is Black and female and therefore a charity case. This flies in the face of the notion that investments are made because the market opportunity is good. And that the ideas of minority/female entrepreneurs are systemically underfunded. Instead, it’s predicated on the pervasive idea that these entrepreneurs simply aren’t investment worthy.
“There’s a difference between equity and philanthropy,” says Orion, “If 15% of the country is a certain ethnicity, then 15% of their portfolios should be the same. If half the country is female, then half of their portfolio should be businesses owned by women.”
Despite African American consumers spending 80% more on cosmetics and nine times more on skin care than other ethnicities, most of the beauty industry neglects representing them within their marketing and promotional efforts. Part of the problem stems from cosmetic manufacturers blatantly excluding African Americans and other minority groups from their products. A large reason behind this is because companies that do smaller orders want to run items as turn key as possible. Unfortunately, what they already make en masse is usually not what works for her customers. Orion has reached out to several manufacturers and oftentimes received messages that they “don’t make products for afro-kinky hair.”
Orion has plans to help make the beauty industry more inclusive by offering a wide range of hair and skin care products to give women of color a brand they can trust. All of BlackTravelBox’s products are meticulously formulated using natural ingredients that are sustainable.
Back when Orion first started pitching her business idea, the black travel industry was a $63 billion market. Today, that number has quickly scaled to over $103 billion. With a rapidly growing industry, she hopes to eventually have BlackTravelBox become a media platform for all-things travel related for people living the on-the-go lifestyle. “I think the core of what this brand stands for is black travel culture,” says Orion.
With previous generations, black travel typically only happened if you were in the army or visiting family. Now, that industry is worth billions of dollars. Orion remains optimistic that brands will start catching on and start adjusting their product lines to be more inclusive, “We haven’t gotten there yet with beauty, but I’m really hopeful and I’m really excited about some of the brands that are coming out.”