Japan’s Black community is largely under-researched and not much is known or written about the members, be it in academia, business, entrepreneurship and sports. However, in the heart of Tokyo are several thriving Black businesses.
One of such is Little Mavericks, an e-boutique platform owned by Shaneka Willingham from America. She moved to Japan in 2015 following the demise of her mother and accepted a teaching position serving military-connected students.
While teaching, she decided to venture into entrepreneurship, which has been part of her since childhood. She recalled in an interview with Shoppe Black that back in sixth grade, she sold body creams and soap.
“Years later, after collaborating with and photographing events for a dear friend with a successful Black-owned cotton candy business, Sugar Shack Tokyo, I was motivated to start my own,” she told Shoppe Black.
Willingham launched her company after nine months of planning and with the support of friends and other Black businesses in Tokyo. For her, the support was valuable since they know the business terrain.
She launched Little Mavericks on the birthday of her late mom which is January 28, 2020. “My business is dedicated to my mother’s memory, how she dressed me in tailored-made garments, swooped my bangs, and called me her Little Lady,” she said.
Little Mavericks is a bold, fashion-forward e-boutique. The firm creates stylish and distinctive collections for children sizes newborns to Toddlers (18 months). The company takes pride in providing quality, trendy pieces that are hip, fun, and affordable.
“From paint-splattered shoes, and cosy swaddle blankets, to our one-of-a-kind Express Yo’self bodysuits, we know your little one will enjoy our products just as much as we love creating them,” the company notes on its website.
Willingham said the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur is having big ideas but no funding. According to Harvard, less than two percent of Black business owners get funding support and the situation is worse for female Black business owners. As such, Black founders depend on their savings to fund their business, including Willingham.
Despite the challenges, Willingham said she enjoys being an entrepreneur. She told Shoppe Black: “The most fulfilling part of being an entrepreneur is the creative outlet and the love I’ve received from the community I continue to build through Little Mavericks. I am detail-oriented and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE creating and curating various products that are stylish, fun, and affordable.”
Willingham said her experience in Japan has been “rewarding and culturally rich,” adding that “never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d live in a foreign country doing what I love.”
She said she has been able to explore and see different parts of the world and meet incredible people. Her short-term goal is to establish brand partnerships with Black-owned brick-and-mortar boutiques so her products can be available in major cities. Her long-term goal is to expand her apparel line and eventually walk into major retailers to see Little Mavericks on the racks.