By age 7, Dupart was already cutting and styling the hair on her dolls. By 12, she was braiding her friends’ hair after school. Dupart’s parents initially discouraged this (they had high hopes she would become a lawyer or another professional), but when she got pregnant at 15, they let her start charging for her services and transfer to a trade school to study cosmetology.
Dupart worked out of her family’s home before and after school, styling the hair of fellow students, relatives, friends, and neighbors, until she built up a loyal clientele. “I didn’t just do good hair,” she says, “I had good customer service.” By 18, Dupart had two children (she now has three) and was making good money, far better than she could have made at the minimum-wage jobs available to her. She soon rented a chair at a beauty salon.
After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, Dupart moved to Houston. She had $20,000 saved from her business but had no access to FEMA funds and quickly spent it covering living expenses for her family. She set up shop in a rented house and began doing hair for other New Orleans exiles, advertising by printing photos at Kinko’s of hairstyles she’d done, then pasting them around Houston.
For half a year, Dupart lived between the two cities, rebuilding her life and business in New Orleans during the week, then driving to Houston Friday night, to see her kids and cut hair for two days straight before driving back. “It was exhausting,” she said. “I love money, opportunity, and growth, but it was exhausting.”
By 2007, Dupart had saved enough to open her own shop and beauty salon with her romantic partner, Ro. This is when she first began to dabble with social media marketing, posting photos and videos on Facebook to draw in business, then hiring local hip hop celebrities, radio DJs, and social media influencers to attend events at the salon. Eventually, as a result of the recession and changing dynamics with Ro, she sought to go solo. She registered the name Kaleidoscope, inspired by her love of colors, at the end of 2012.
“I’ve decided to branch off on my own,” Dupart announced in an Instagram post. “God has placed on my heart a phenomenal plan … and I’m just executing it.” Kaleidoscope salon opened in August 2013, secured with an $1,800 rent deposit (out of her remaining $2,000 savings). Dupart worked tirelessly over the next months to acquire the chairs, sinks, dryers, and other infrastructure she needed and paid for them one cut, style, braid, and weave at a time. There was no investor. No bank. No debt. She didn’t even consider them. Dupart became an entrepreneur by what she calls “grit ’n’ gravel.”
Of the dozen black female entrepreneurs I spoke with in New Orleans, not a single one, regardless of their financial success, went to the bank for a loan or sought venture capital or outside financing of any sort. That idea was so drilled into their head as inaccessible that it seemed ridiculous to even consider. As the dismal diversity of the venture capital industry’s deals and dealmakers shows, even when they get in the door, black entrepreneurs are rarely given access to the contacts, networks, and communities of money that white entrepreneurs often have. Without that capital, many African American entrepreneurs are destined to remain in a state of limbo, unable to fully realize their dreams because they lack the wealth and privilege to take a bigger risk.
Unfortunately, being a black entrepreneur in America has never been as simple as opening a business. Ownership may be the first step to overcoming inequality, but it is insufficient on its own. There have been overt economic and political barriers that restrict black businesses at every turn and subtler racism that undermines their efforts.