Working a full-time job as an Environmental Scientist and launching a new business is no easy feat.
And using STEM, scientific and creative skills as a basis for a business concept focused on celebrating and empowering people of color through designing clothes and jewelry based on skin and hair characteristics is what Deirdre Roberson did.
While working full-time, she used those skills and launched Eumelanin (pronounced: you-mel–a-nin) in March, 2018, a clothing and jewelry brand designed, to celebrate and empower black and brown people around the world. The company is named after Eumelanin, the most abundant type of human melanin found in brown and black skin and hair.
The Melanin T-shirts come in shades of blacks and browns inspired by melanated skin tones and has the chemical structure of Melanin on the chest in gold and each piece of jewelry is infused with the chemical structure of Melanin in its design. It combines Robinson’s scientific and creative sides while enabling her to use her life experiences to address challenges faced locally and beyond.
In her words, “A brand designed to redefine what it means to be beautiful in every shade; combining Science, Self-love, and Style.”
I talked to Roberson about how she’s merged scientific and creative worlds to address a need she’s passionate about.
Lee: You’re a chemist and yet, you started a business last year. Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Roberson: I didn’t decide, it kind of happened (and was) birthed out of my scientific and creative worlds colliding and trying to address needs that I am passionate about. I was in a pitch competition for my company Motor City S.T.E.A.M and I am a co-founder of this company with two other black female scientists. I decided to put the chemical structure of Melanin on my shirt in hopes the judges would ask what it was.
We won the competition and they didn’t ask, but everyone else loved the shirt and wanted one so I decided to create, design and build the brand and its website.
After I released the shirts online in March they sold out in 6 hours and at that point, I knew I was on to something and that is how Eumelanin was born.
Lee: And how are you combining science and fashion to promote self-love?
Roberson: Combines science with fashion by using the inspiration from melanated skin tones as the palette for its apparel colors and infusing the chemical structure of melanin in all of our jewelry designs. The line allows customers to boldly wear their values; It says “I am Melananted and proud.” It allows us to love and affirm ourselves, our beauty and say we love our melanin in a world where we are told not to.
It changes the conversation from melanin being seen as a threat to it being fashionable, empowering and beautiful. Eumelanin allows us to stylishly proclaim the beauty and design of our blackness; scientifically know as our MELANIN.
Lee: How important is it to teach new generations about STEM?
Roberson: I would not just say STEM but STEAM which includes the Arts. The integration of the ARTS from creative, literary and visual propels STEM learning. It is extremely important for a number of reasons; STEM jobs are on the rise and the demand for STEM professionals is rapidly increasing, so we need to prepare the future for the careers of tomorrow.
STEM also is the birthplace of where the majority of problems are solved from health to tech, and in order for the problems that plague our communities to be addressed, we must be present to speak up about them and make them a priority.
The more representation we have, the more minorities we have in STEAM careers improves the lives of minority groups by making sure we find solutions to our problems.
Lee; What impact has STEM had on your life and what was the moment you wanted to make a profitable business from it?
Roberson: At an early age STEM had an impact on my life, back then we only called it chemistry. I fell in love with Chemistry in high school at Cass Tech. I had the best Chemistry teacher! What turned it until a profitable business is when my STEM world collided with my creative side and this new birth of STEAM. STEAM is the reason I am a chemist, creative and entrepreneur.
Lee: How has your life experience shaped you as an entrepreneur?
Roberson: I have always been a fearless and passionate person and I believe those two things are the foundation my entrepreneur journey and experience is built upon. I am always trying to find ways to make my worlds collide and that’s what Eumelanin is for me the combining of my scientific and creative sides.
Furthermore, Eumelanin addresses issues of colorism that I have experienced and black and brown people around the world experience. I wanted to create a brand that tackles this problem head-on while still being true to who I am, my intelligence, my creativity, and my style. I have received so much clarity about who I am and what drives me on this journey of building Eumelanin.
I am constantly reminding myself not to rush the process and be present in every moment.
Lee: What are some of the highlights and challenges since starting Eumelanin?
Roberson: So some of the highlights have been launching in March 2018 and pretty much selling out pre-orders within 6 hours, In September 2018, I won a $5k grant and obtained my first micro business loan as well. I am also set to launch in three Macy stores in the U.S this March/April 2019, as I am approaching the 1-year mark for Eumelanin.
Now the Challenges, Working a full-time job while trying to build a business has been a significant challenge–a lot of late nights, early mornings and little sleep. To this day, I am still the only employee, so I had to make really great partnerships with my apparel and jewelry manufacturers so I can focus on scaling the brand.
And most importantly, funding and financing your business. I started Eumelanin with my savings, but it gets difficult balancing personal and business financial obligations. It taught me how necessary it is to find a balance between pursuing your dreams and not putting yourself in bad financial situations because of your dream. I am still learning this especially when your passion is in the front seat.
Lee: Additionally, you recently will be selling your product at Macy’s. How did you make this happen?
Roberson: I applied for the Market at Macy’s program and after them checking out my company, its metric and sales my business was accepted. I have been aggressively working on growing my business so when opportunities arise I jump on it.
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