In a world where black people, especially black women, are underrepresented in many fields, one woman believed that this needed to change, and that it could start with something as simple as school supplies.
And so Nneka, a young entrepreneur and military veteran who goes by one name, came up with the idea to start featuring black culture on school supplies, such as on the cover of notebooks, with her school-supply company, Innovative Supplies.
"Innovative Supplies is a company that gives millennials a chance to feel like the products that they’re getting are unique to them versus getting your standard notebook from the store," the 27-year-old tells The Root. "This company gives them a chance to express who they are and be creative, and also raise social awareness."
The artwork featured on her covers comes from the work of creatives and artists she finds on Instagram.
"I found a lot of art that stuck out to me and just thought 'Man, this would be cool on notebooks,’” she says, adding that she plans to distribute the proper royalties appropriately to future artists.
After serving nine years in the military, having done tours in Afghanistan for 14 months and Kuwait for a year, Nneka will be starting school at Columbus State University in Georgia to study history in hopes of becoming a history teacher. Her inspiration behind that dream? Michael Brown.
"When I found out that he passed away literally a day before he was supposed to start college, I realized that time is short. Michael Brown was on a journey to [gain] knowledge, and knowledge leads to power," she says.
Upon preparing for her college start, she realized that she had never seen a series of notebooks or school supplies that featured black culture. As a young black woman, she felt that it was important that this idea be implemented as a way of inspiring young black people and reminding them of their importance.
And so, Innovative Supplies was born.
However, Nneka was not prepared for the immediate popularity that her company would receive. When her website went live July 29, not even 24 hours went by before she had to shut it down because of the influx of orders it received.
The website's heavy traffic on the first day was the result of heavy promotion through several media outlets before the site went live, she says.
"I reached out to a comedian on Instagram who does a lot of comedy skits. He did a skit for me where he was dressed as a pastor singing a song about back-to-school supplies for the local church and talked about my company and Instagram page. I then sent that to the Shade Room to advertise it," she says.
Because this is a startup company, Nneka says she has yet to purchase the necessary machinery needed to create her notebooks at a consistent and fast pace.
She and her team of six kids—which includes her 16-year-old brother and his friends—create all of the notebooks manually, which, of course, takes much longer. Therefore, not enough notebooks are being created as quickly as needed for the demand of the orders.
Again this is our current process for how we assemble ALL of the notebooks. We are a small business without funds to purchase commercial grade manufacturing machines. Our gofundme link is on the bio with our backstory as well. Please tag a celebrity or anyone who can share this post to spread the word. For those asking for tracking numbers and status of orders we are building these 1 by 1 please be patient with us. Following all child labor laws is the utmost importance to my business. We will NOT be turned into a sweatshop the YOUTH come first from me!
A video posted by Innovative Supplies™ Inc. (@innovativesupplies) on Aug 5, 2016 at 11:38am PDT
Additionally, since school has started back up, her kid team members can work only three hours a day after school.
Nneka has since started a GoFundMe in hopes of getting the machinery she needs to boost production.
While Nneka and her team work to fulfill current orders, she says she hopes to be able to again take orders on the Innovative Supplies website soon; she says she just needs to make sure that she and her team are better prepared the next time around.
"We sold a total of 8,550 notebooks on the first day," she recalls. "We were anticipating maybe 200. We definitely broke the internet."
As far as the future is concerned, she is looking up and remains hopeful for the success of her company.
"Our goal for Innovative Supplies is to become our own manufacturer," she says. "I think that by the middle of October, there's no reason why we shouldn’t be able to make our own notebooks with hard work and dedication."