From left to right: Lloyd’s Carrot Cake Brandon Adams, TED’s Carla Zanoni,  author and perfumer Tanaïs, and Epicenter-NYC publisher S. Mitra Kalita kicking off Disruptors: Success and scale are not mutually exclusive discussion on Thursday, June 22, 2023 at the UBS offices. Photo: Epicenter-NYC

Leaders in the beauty, food and live events industries gathered last week to discuss how they engage authentically, maintain values and identity, and scale without compromising.

The event was convened by Epicenter-NYC and sponsored by UBS and featured: 

Key takeaways: 

On what it means to be a BIPOC entrepreneur

It all comes down to having a quality product that people can authentically connect to and represents them––more so than just being a minority-owned business.

How Brandon Adams sees the business: 

[It is] about seeing us for our product and not the fact that we’re just a Black-owned business. I think both my mother and father did a really great job at teaching us that we have, to make sure the quality of everything we offer is top tier. We hope it comes across every time somebody takes a bite of our cake. 

(Lloyd’s Carrot Cake was featured in our very first Epicenter-NYC newsletter nearly three (!) years ago. We also mentioned the bakery in our roundup of holiday gifting.)

Tanaïs shared that their work intentionally disrupts the beauty industry with new aesthetics and ideas, and sources in ethical ways:

All of my models are usually queer femme people of color. That is one of my values. The art that I’m using to adorn them is art that’s made by a person that represents the groups that I want to market to. The way we’re spreading the word is doing a wild-posting campaign all across New York City and in Los Angeles with these bodies that have traditionally been excluded from the beauty industry. So it’s disrupting this idea of what it looks like to be beautiful. (Editor’s note: Wild posters are street-level advertising posters)

I think for my product, it’s definitely trying to source in the most ethical way: being able to trace the natural ingredients back to the family. All the packaging is an ethical kind of non-labor exploitative environment. I really care that humans aren’t being treated in exploitative ways. 

(Tanaïs has been an Epicenter-NYC featured artist for their book, perfumes and activism)

Mainstream vs. Niche

Tanaïs touted the benefits of a product that’s more niche and hard to find versus swimming in the stream with everyone else:

Just because I am a BIPOC brand or a Bangladeshi-owned brand, whatever you want to name it, why does that mean I also have to be there?  I just feel like there must be the space for us to also experience what it feels like to build one of these YSL-type brands or where it starts with a visionary and then it kind of expands. If you’re doing all kinds of art making, you really can’t do that in a place like Sephora. You just have to be real about that.

Adams added that the idea of being mainstream is very appealing but it’s a dance to ensure you are not sacrificing the integrity of the product: 

We would love to be able to be in every Whole Foods. We would love to be in every bodega. But we don’t want to sacrifice the quality of our product. And it’s a tricky dance because we definitely want to grow. We want everybody to be able to taste it. Once you can taste it, that’s the key. We want to make sure that that cake tastes just as good the first time as the last time.

Carla Zanoni noted the importance of knowing and protecting your value –and figuring out the spaces where you can open a bit more and really amplify. She also shared how the game of reach can be a really cheap one and how being authentic will allow the community to find you:

We can say we have 100 million followers across all of these channels. But we know, actually, the percentage of people who take the next step, who engage with the content, who follow you, who have some sort of more loyal habit-building kind of relationship with you, can be a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of them. The piece that I found most inspiring was when I started looking at time spent and the quality of someone engaging with that content.

Rather than volume, I would just urge all of us to think about what is that authentic story? Like telling that story and pulling back the curtain and being a little vulnerable and allowing people to know what it takes. Your community will find you, not just the people who knew that they needed your product and sought you out, but the people who are like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know. I’m connecting to the story and yes, actually I would like that product.’

More takeaways

Tanaïs on having goals: Goal setting is important for growth and to keep making it happen.

Adams on collaborating: We’ve done some really cool collaborations with Sweet Chick based in Soho. They’ve done a yearly collaboration with us during Black History Month, where they’re doing a carrot cake waffle.

Zanoni on quality engagement: If you’re not really thinking through what is the quality way that you want to engage at each [step] – discovery, creating buzz, converting people to, say, a membership program or buying a very expensive ticket to your conference- if you’re not thinking through what is each step that you need to take to get them to that behavior, you’ll have a bunch of vanity metrics that feel really good but don’t pay the bills.”

A bit of sweet news broke during the event: the New York City Council approved a Bronx street co-naming in honor of Lloyd’s Carrot Cake founders, Betty and Lloyd Adams Way. After such an honest, engaging discussion, this development really felt like the icing on the cake. 
Stay tuned for the full recap on our YouTube channel — subscribe to get alerted.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.