Meet Ashley Jones, an HBCU graduate and the founder of Tones of Melanin, a Black-owned business that makes apparel and promotional items for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
The company aims to make clothing that brings awareness to HBCUs and also operates as an ally and modern-day revenue-generating marketing tool for these underrepresented institutions.
Jones started her business as a side hustle while studying at Norfolk State University. She recalls designing for every organization on the campus and later realized there was a void in HBCU fashion. This inspired her to launch Tones of Melanin in 2017, which has made $3.3 million to date. In 2022, the brand raked in $1.4 million in sales and $330,000 in revenue so far in 2023.
She recently appeared on Shark Tank to pitch her business on the show for an equity stake, and disclosed to the investors that the money generated from the brand goes into production, marketing, and other expenses, according to Sportskeeda.
She aims to push for diverse representation in the fashion industry and establish a viable HBCU presence in the collegiate fashion market involving bigger and well-known educational institutions such as Duke, Harvard, and Yale, among others.
So far, Tones of Melanin has 40 HBCU licenses, with gears sold in major retail outlets, including Follett College Bookstores and Belk Stores
Jones wanted $300,000 for 5% equity in her company on Shark Tank. However, Mark Cuban, one of the investors on the show, offered $300,000 for 15% – both later settled on 12% and quickly sealed the deal after negotiations.
“I think that everyone who attended an HBCU will benefit from my appearance on national television, which will show that we can thrive anywhere. Never give up on yourself or your dreams, regardless of what anyone else says, Jones told AfroTech.
“Understand what your purpose is along with your vision and that no one can ever discredit you because of where your degree may come from. HBCU graduates are thriving everywhere!”
Prior to launching Tones of Melanin, Jones worked as a research assistant for almost a year at Norfolk State University, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration and management.
While working as a research assistant, she also worked part-time at her design studio, Ashley Designs, in addition to running BBUB Greek Gifts.