Interview with Bombchel’s Founder, Archel Bernard
What inspired you to start your own business?
AB: I moved to postwar Liberia in 2011 in order to become the west African Oprah Winfrey. I would make dresses with local tailors to have African clothes to wear when I went to film my projects. I soon found that people were more interested in the clothes I was wearing than in the projects I was covering! I started my business by shuttling clothes from the back of my pickup truck, and in a year I had saved up enough to fix up a store. In 2014 my store had to close because Liberia was hardest hit by Ebola. In 2016, I reemerged with the intent of building a long lasting factory. I started my business to create stability for myself, and in the end, we have created financial stability for lots of fashion loving women in Liberia.
How do you strive to create a diverse and inclusive culture within your business?
AB: When you walk into our store, you are met with a big sign that says ALL ARE WELCOME. I understand that African clothes can be intimidating to women who have never been to Africa, especially non-black women. But I’m excited to unite the world through fashion, and everything and everyone we put onto our sales floor is a reflection of that vision.
What challenges have you faced as a black business owner and how have you overcome them?
AB: There were times early on in the business when I felt I would have been further along if I had a white cofounder. I simply put 1 foot in front of the other and decided that I was enough to grow my company. Our community is vast and strong and that is exciting. But I do challenge non-black customers to shop with and advocate for black businesses because that is the only way that we will see business equality.
How do you hope to contribute to the advancement of black entrepreneurship in your industry?
AB: As a black business owner myself, I love to work with other black businesses. We always have pop-ups in my store, and these are the best way for small black businesses that may not have our reach to take advantage of the opportunity to reach more potential customers. We contribute to the advancement of black businesses by offering excellent products, excellent customer service, and bringing others along as we climb.
What advice do you have for other black individuals looking to start their own businesses?
AB: Start, and start laterally. So often we look up and say “I would like to dress Beyoncé.” Are there smaller bloggers that would maybe be excited to work with you? Start by dressing your local celebrities and growing with people who are on your same level. It’s great to grow together.
If someone is new to your brand, what product would you suggest?
AB: I would definitely recommend people wear the Handkerchief Dress. It’s one size fits everyone, and it looks fabulous on everyone. I promise. People are often so surprised that it looks as good on a size 2 woman as it does on a size 12 woman. Don’t forget to accessorize with our Folding Fan. It is the moment!
What are other black owned businesses that you are currently inspired by?
AB: Telfar! He is also Liberian like me, and Beyoncé literally closed her album giving his iconic bags a shout out. For the best African outfit you could ever find, buy a Bombchel dress and wear it with your Telfar bag!