Owner of Vegan Luxe, Brooke Young Discusses Being A Black Woman Entrepreneur
Updated: May 14, 2020
Brooke Young, also known as "Brooke from Brooklyn" is a brand developer, entrepreneur, a former television news producer, and a mother of three, a fifteen-year-old daughter, Kaori, and a set of 9-year-old fraternal twins, Reign and Dorian. Growing up the daughter of an educator, obtaining a higher education was instilled in Brooke from a young age. While most black college students admit that that 90’s hit television show, “A Different World” played a pivotal role in their decision to attend a historically black college(HBCU), Brooke, says that because of her active school life, she didn’t spend a lot of time watching television. Instead, she spent most of her time at a performing arts high school and participated in activities like theatrical dance.
Brooke was raised in a pro-black home and is “very proud to say that I was raised in a pro-black house” and is an alumni of the mecca, Howard University. She ironically almost attended a PWI because of her love for dance. “Most of the schools were PWI’s because they had performing arts programs that are competitive,” she said. Brooke applied and accepted into ten different college programs. Howard University was the fifth choice on her list. Her first and second choices were Fordham University and the Alvin Ailey program because “they had a dual program.” Brooke also applied to Tisch School of the Arts which is located in New York City.
When asked how did Howard University prepare her for the real world Brooke shared a story in which she said that she was prepared for the real world after her mother passed away during her junior year of high school. “I instantly became the eldest of six orphans. We were you know, definitely humble beginnings in Bed Stuy in the late 90s,” she explained. “Imagine being motherless and fatherless, except for God, and my Nana who took us in. It was somewhat already in my mind that my mother had been sick for a few years before that. I already had like a kind of like a crust or shell preparing me for the real world, because I had already been dealing with real-world issues.”
Brooke says that as it relates to her professional life, Howard University equipped her with the tools to become successful.
"It was the place I needed to be because it just like catapulted me, groomed me, shaped me placed me in positions that I needed to be like, I was given a hug by Howard I was taught hard lessons,” she said.
Brooke shared how she stood out as an undergrad due to her dedication to her work.
“When I was an undergrad, they brought me on very quickly because they saw the level of content and where I've tried to sleep in the newsroom,” she recalled. “I stayed in the towers or I stayed at Baldwin. I would try to camp out and get told you need to go home. I was like okay, but I'm working on something else.”
Brooke also added that support from her mentor, Beverly Lindsay-Johnson helped her during the time she didn't have anywhere to stay. “ I didn't have a place to stay at Howard one time in between that like, you know, the transition went between semesters and she let me stay with her and stuff like that. She's just a brilliant woman.”
Brooke who is very open about her faith in God shares that the scripture Proverbs 22:6 which says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it” has set the foundation for her, especially now that she is a mother.
“I can instill that foundation with my children, so that they can grow and know and even if you're swayed in any type of way, no matter what I went through in school, no matter what I went through in a relationship or at a job, she said. “I had that foundation because of my mom because of my grandmother, my Nana, I like to say and those things were constants. So no matter which way I wanted to go in life, those thoughts, mantras, and that training in the scripture would always bring me back to the right path.” Often as women, specifically black women, society tries to make us choose between motherhood and our career making us feel that we have to be strong and handle it all.
Brooke revealed that she has been guilty of inflicting the stereotype of the strong black woman on herself. “I've always felt like it's my responsibility and my duty to take on everything to take on the world, the world, to be the alpha female. And to place yourself in that position on top of being a black woman in this America is by far one of the most challenging roles I think anyone can play,” she said.
Brooke admits that although she had a family to help her while balancing the beginning of her career with being a new mom, it was still difficult adding that her cup became empty because she constantly kept pouring into others. After all, she felt like she “owed” them something. “I've been the one to at the very beginning of my career and being a new mom because I started I had my first daughter two years after college. So out the gate, it was hard," she explains. "My Nana was alive, my brother was such a huge help. What I found was that I was trying to be a superwoman to everybody. I owe something to everybody, for my employers, to my ancestors. Everybody had a piece of me, but I didn't have a piece of me and I didn't have a sense of direction sometimes because I felt like I was moving and going and being pulled in every direction right.”
While Brooke is now “comfortable” with telling people she needs a break, she also knows that saying no is a luxury that a lot of women do not have. “So, when that happens now, I'm very comfortable in saying, hey, I need a break, I need my own time, I need to be in my room and close the door and just have myself I need to go for a drive or go for a drive,” she said. “Now, I will say time, definitely helps with that. Unfortunately, there are many single women out there still struggling. And it's just like, Well, I have to work these two jobs and get my son to daycare and get somebody else to this karate class. I know single moms who have twins, and one maybe a deformity or maybe some type of something, you know, there's a chemical imbalance or something that's going on, and then you have one twin and everything is fine. Could you imagine being stuck in that position where you have to deal with two different types, and then you have to go to work, and then you have to pay the bills?”
Brooke’s experience in the news industry includes television writing and producing. While she doesn’t miss being in the newsroom, Brooke says that she will come back to media “under my business creating programming.” While working for PBS in Washington DC Brooke was nominated for an Emmy. She has also won several communicator awards and professionalism and professional journalism awards.
Even at the professional level, Brooke said that respectability politics for a black woman does not exclude microaggressions and mistreatment in any industry. “As it relates to the beauty industry, it's very similar to my time in television regarding people trying to play a role,” she said. “Now it's more of a suppression if it wasn't suppressed before. Now it's like really suppressed, and it's up to the black community and black brand developers to support each other and to support it just to support our business.” According to Essence Magazine, Black women spend $1.2 trillion each year, and that number is projected to rise to $1.5 trillion by 2021. Although Sephora carries brands that cater to black women such as Fenty Beauty and Madam CJ Walker, there still isn’t a company that is fully ran by a black woman. Brooke who worked at Sephora from 2007-2013 noted that during that timeframe, “you will not find a product that is 100% owned and operated by women.”
Brooke’s company Vegan Luxe brand which has several companies beginning with Pedicureans. Vegan Luxe also houses Brooke's haircare line for dreadlocks and natural hair started simply because “we needed it,” adding "I also did it because when it couldn't be done and I was told that it couldn't by white people.” In 2020 seeing there was a need in the marketplace for jazzy masks due to COVD-19 Brooke created RUL Face Mask.
Being a black woman entrepreneur in the beauty industry has its challenges. One challenge, in particular, is getting the beauty industry who is run primarily by the Europan and Asian markets, to be inclusive of black women.
Brooke has "always gotten looks, I've always got in kind of like those microaggressions like, you know, the stupid side-eye and sideways comments" especially when she wears her "hair big."
Brooke is "sick and tired" of the pressure we have on us as black women to conform our looks to the European standard of beauty. Brooke wants black women everywhere to know that we do not have to give into that "desire" nothing that she certainly will not,
" I don't have to adhere to the pressure that you're putting on my spirit. I don't have to deal with that."
Brooke knows that to “be happy as an entrepreneur and as a black woman” she is to do 100% on her own. Brooke also said that the reason she doesn’t ask investors for money is “the investors that are out there willing to spend big money on Caucasian men, they don't understand the beauty industry, but not at all.” Adding that she set her business up in a way where “they have to ask me, I'm not asking them.”
Brooke advises everyone to “Research your industry.” “What is it that people are needing? Look for the holes,” she stressed. “Don't let anybody in your family, your friends, your job, if you have to keep your mouth shut, sometimes be an entrepreneur, or random element, like random older is very lonely because you have these ideas and you'll start rattling off these concepts.” “never give up and feel like people aren't necessarily in your corner, but you just got to kind of just be focused and driven.”