SOLOMON / LAWYER & FOUNDER OF SOLOMON:CHANCELLOR / WASHINGTON DC
Meet Solomon. He’s on his way to becoming a kick butt lawyer while concurrently launching a line called Solomon:Chancellor of impeccably made leather goods . He cares about communities and has a commitment to every person in his production process and a passion for the customer. His ability to speak bravely about the impact of his female mentors, the example set by his entrepreneurial grandfather, and the failure he has overcome is authentic and daring. He’s relaunched his website, rewritten his brand values, and oh yes, he’s Blooming.
LAURA: HOW WILL YOU BLOOM IN THE NEXT YEAR?
In the next year, I will Bloom by graduating from law school, figuring out what firm I want to start at, and what type of work I want to do. But, more so, I think I'll have found a rhythm for my entrepreneurial pursuits.
I started a clothing business, Solomon 4:7 Chancellor, out of an iPad and a stylus. I convinced a major manufacturer to make the product and believe in me, and finally got my first investor. Hopefully I'll start to see my product in places in the next year.
I will get my friendships back (laughs). What I mean by that is that law school takes away from your ability to interact with a lot of people, although I still try to. I’ll regain and rekindle a lot of those relationships in the next year.
L: TELL ME ABOUT AN OBSTACLE THAT YOU'VE OVERCOME.
Sure. I have failed before. This is not my first business.
I launched a tie brand at the end of my first year of law school. The product was fine, everything was great — but I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know how to market, though I knew how to make products. I learned that I am not a good marketer, that I'm a good products person. I can organize, I can even be a salesperson, but I cannot get people to the door.
I scaled my first business too fast. I ordered too many ties — I still have 40 of them underneath my bed, and they serve as a reminder.
This time, I wrote up a brand story, but I didn't write down the brand’s core values. I'm now going back and doing that and all of these pieces are coming together. So while the business hasn't started off perfectly, it has grown from overcoming that failure. And it sucked the first time to fail. I will say that.
WHEN YOU REALIZE THAT PEOPLE’S VOICES ARE BEING DISCOUNTED OR AREN'T BEING HEARD IN THE SAME WAY, YOU DON'T SPEAK FOR THEM, BUT YOU CAN DO YOUR BEST TO QUIET THE ROOM TO ALLOW THEM TO SPEAK.
L: TELL ME ABOUT A PERSONAL OBSTACLE.
A lot of people have invested in me in terms of wanting me to accomplish my goals and dreams. A difficult obstacle to overcome has been trying not to disappoint people, but also being okay with taking care of myself, my own mental health, and my own focal points. I am still working to overcome learning how to prioritize what I need to prioritize, and not prioritizing what I think will make other people happy.
L: WHERE DOES YOUR FEMINISM COME FROM AND HOW DO YOU TRY TO DECREASE ANY GENDER INEQUALITIES IN YOUR DIRECT SPHERE?
My feminism comes from my mother. My mother and I had that bond where I respected her opinion above all else and it meant that there was never a discount of values when we were speaking. It was perhaps more valuable because that was the context I approached it from.
Every aspect of my business and some of my best mentors in law school and in life have been women, particularly Black women, who have taken the time to invest in my focal points and figure out what I need to know and how to push me to reach those goals. The investor I have, Michelle, is only 32 years old and is a chief international trade compliance officer for Facebook. She asks the things that other people haven't necessarily asked.
When you realize that people’s voices are being discounted or aren't being heard in the same way, you don't speak for them, but you can do your best to quiet the room to allow them to speak. Black women in law firms don't get the same opportunities that their white female counterparts get. They don’t get the same opportunities as their minority male counterparts. I have been trying to listen and learn from the things that bother them and recognizing what my lane is. I'm not going to tell a woman the best way to exercise feminism but she can tell me the best way that I can help.
L: I LIKED WHEN YOU TALKED ABOUT YOUR MENTOR/MENTEE RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR INVESTOR, MICHELLE. WHAT DOES A GOOD MENTOR LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
A mentorship to me is not a one-way relationship. I have a mentorship with an attorney in St. Louis named Willie Epps. Mr. Epps is one of the best trial lawyers in America. He’s incredibly busy, and his time is needed and valuable. I may talk to him for hours on the phone and at the end, before we can say goodbye, he'll say, "Thanks for teaching me something today."
It's an absolute given that I am learning from him because he is my mentor, but when somebody affirms your voice to say, "Your voice is powerful enough to teach me something too,” that relationship becomes mutual.
L: TELL ME, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED FOR?
I want to be remembered for doing my best to build communities. Everything that I do, whether its law or business, is built around a structure of sharing advice and information in a way that can strengthen people as a whole.
I want to take my business and build a manufacturer in my old neighborhood because I want people to have jobs and opportunities through that. I want to be remembered as someone who, in their own way, strove to build community — not necessarily to be an activist, but to make others people’s dreams and realities come true, and to make their lives better.
BRIAN: IS THAT WHAT YOU SAW FOR YOURSELF WHEN YOU STARTED TO BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR?
A lot of my entrepreneurial thought process and pursuits come from my grandfather. Never met the man, he passed three months before I was born, but my family is from U Street in Washington D.C., which was known as the Black Broadway before Harlem was Harlem, before Black art and culture moved up to New York in the 1920s. My grandfather ran two restaurants and a nightclub in D.C. because Black performers couldn't eat with or stay in the hotels with the people they were performing for. So you could find Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington at my grandfather’s restaurant and at his dinner table. My grandfather was known as the Mayor of U Street and had one of the few businesses not burned during the riots.
My grandfather had businesses, but he also had his hand in every aspect of the community. Being a successful entrepreneur means caring about everybody in your supply chain, everyone from your team members to your clients to your customers to your suppliers to your distributors to your community.
It’s not just about your client. I think that success doesn't come from money; success comes from the respect you gain for trying to do things the right way.
B: I WOULD LIKE TO TALK MORE ABOUT YOUR ENTREPRENEURSHIP. WHY PRODUCTS FOR MEN?
I'm a clothes junkie. I have a tailor in four different states. I went to a Catholic, all-boys high school and we had to wear professional business attire and I became comfortable with that. When I first got to WashU I was like, "I can wear jeans!" and then like half a year in I was like, "Casual clothes make me kind of uncomfortable. I'm going to go back to dressing in suits."
To get started, I went around learning about the people who make things. I began with learning about English and Italian leather shoemakers and came to love leather as a product for its longevity. I started with shoes, moved to suits, and started learning about the people who make these products and I found the art in it.
And that's how I've gotten here. I still care about the craftsmen. I still know exactly who makes this bag. His name is Peter. All the bags are made in Passaic, New Jersey. I make everything there because even if I things could be made cheaper elsewhere, I'd rather spend more money to know where something’s coming from, to know who's making it, and to know somebody I know has a job.
I'm about to spend 100,000 dollars on bags this coming year. We hope to be in Essence Magazine’s holiday gift guide — we've been in BET’s Top 25 Black-Owned Businesses, and BET’s 30 Under 30.
Women have basically been the bedrock and the core of my consulting team of ideas and I think that's pretty natural for me. It's good to accept help from people who want to help you. Who want to invest and grow you. Some of my mentors are white men, some are white women, and they span the spectrum because I'm going to say yes to anyone who wants to invest in my learning.
Everybody around you has a lot to offer if you know how to look for it and how to ask about it. And sometimes your words of encouragement, or your criticisms can help somebody Bloom.
B: YOU SAID THAT ONE OF THE THINGS THAT YOU'RE TRYING TO DO THIS TIME AROUND WITH YOUR BUSINESS IS TO CREATE A LIST OF CORE VALUES THAT YOU DIDN'T REALLY HAVE. WHAT ARE THEY AND WHAT DOES THE 4:7 IN YOUR LOGO MEAN?
The core values are five things: People, passion, service, quality, and style. These values explained mean a restoration and growth of American craftsmanship, passionate sharing of knowledge and the encouragement of dreams, service to the customer and community, and encouragement of a unique style while providing a classic base.
Well, my name is Solomon and my father is a pastor. As a kid, anytime I would do, say, or act stupid, my mother would direct me to the Book of Proverbs, because Solomon supposedly wrote the Book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 4:7 it says that the beginning of all things is wisdom. Therefore, get wisdom, and in all you're getting, get understanding.
This is what I mean by my brand seeking to share knowledge, ideas, and wisdom. That's why quality is important. I saw that quality is longevity and longevity is memories. If this bag lasts two years, I've failed. If it lasts 20 years I've succeeded because some father, some mother is going to pick it up and give it to their son or daughter. They're not going to tell them that they bought this great bag that lasted a long time. They're gonna tell them about the places that they went with it, about the people that they met, how they were late for work one day and scraped the bag against the wall and that's where that big old scrape came from. It's a product that allows people to tell stories.
My most important value is people. You want to get the best people on your team. People you trust, people who support you, and then you want to do your absolute best on the reverse to support them. You don't have to be the best or the smartest person in the room, you have to have the best people in the room working with you. Not necessarily for you but with you. And then you have to let them know, at the same time, that they are the best people in the room.