From couch surfing to island hopping: How technology helped this entrepreneur build her clothing empire

By Trice Smith-Hampton
March 8, 2022
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This story is part of TechConnect, a series about how Meta's tech innovations and investments help people build deeper connections and community.

Caribbean vacations have become my little treat. Last year, I traveled solo to St. Martin and visited Jamaica three times. Right now, I’m planning a trip to St. Lucia. As my plane circles over the tropical rain forest, turquoise sea, and white sand, I often pinch myself: It wasn’t so long ago that I had no home, no job, and no direction. 

Back in 2004, I was studying human development at Auburn University when a series of financial setbacks forced me to leave school and move back to my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. Things got tough. Unable to afford rent, I slept on friends’ couches and even moved back in with Mom for a while, drifting between jobs bartending and waitressing. 

I did some deep thinking and realized that I wanted to start a business where I could be my own boss. Retail was an obvious choice. I had already begun creating apparel for my college friends in Black and Latino fraternities and sororities at Auburn. My designs — which eschewed Greek letters and shields for graphics with insider references to a particular sorority or fraternity — were popular, and it seemed as though there might be a real opportunity to expand. 

Of course, I had my doubts. I worried that a small Black business like mine would never make it. There aren’t many examples of successful entrepreneurs where I come from. 

Finally, I took a leap of faith and got to work. I figured out how to build an e-commerce website, taught myself to use design software, and started advertising my products on my personal Facebook profile. (This was back before Facebook offered business profiles.) 

It wasn’t easy. I’d recently become a mom, so I had to run the business while caring for a young child. That’s when God sent me strength. I reconnected with an old friend, and we ended up dating. A few months later, that man became my husband, business partner, and rock. And together we created Zion’s Greek Boutique.

As word got out via social media, the business began to grow. We had a constant trickle of new customers and plenty of repeat business. When Instagram came along, we threw ourselves onto that platform. Eager to experiment, I offered a free sweatshirt to anyone who shared our post and gathered 100 likes. A couple of days later, I found myself sending out over 100 free sweatshirts — a valuable, if expensive, lesson in the power of the platform.

As satisfying as it was to see Zion’s Greek Boutique find its footing, I harbored ambitions to do something more personal. (I’ve never been in a sorority myself.) As a socially conscious person who cares about her community, I started printing empowering, thought-provoking, and humorous slogans onto T-shirts — like “None of My Business What She Does with Her Body” and “Grinding Until I No Longer Have to Introduce Myself” — eventually launching Unbossed Apparel, which I now run alongside Zion’s Greek Boutique.

Running multiple businesses while raising three children can be stressful. I’m practically a one-woman show: I handprint the customized clothes, and put together and mail the orders, sometimes shipping more than 50 items a day. I also manage around 20 marketing affiliates (all of whom I found on Facebook or Instagram), meeting with them regularly to ensure that they have all the materials they need.

Even with this hard work, we would never have achieved our scale and reach without advertising on Facebook and Instagram. When we started out, only a small percentage of our followers actually saw our posts. But targeted ads helped us to connect with our markets. In 2020, I took a master class in using Facebook ads. It was a game changer. In the first month after the course, I channeled around $2,000 in advertising into approximately $14,000 in revenue.

Today, our marketing strategy relies on Instagram and Facebook Business Pages, on which we tag products with direct links to product pages on our website. We also rely on Facebook Business Pages’ features and tools to gain insight into who our customers are — in particular, what attracts them and when they are most active. Recently, I have been using Facebook Reels, which allows me to monetize video ads and gauge what content is most effective.

Topping it all off, I have the honor to be one of 10 Black business owners to be selected by my idol, Ciara, for the new Meta Elevate program, which provides winners with six months of one-on-one mentoring from Meta marketing experts and $100,000 in ad credits. I was already super nervous when the finalists were invited to a videoconference to discuss their applications. When the winners were announced by the program’s surprise celebrity partner Ciara — whom I’ve loved forever — I remember just sitting in my dining room in complete shock. I actually cried.

It’s so important that small Black businesses like ours weather the COVID-19 pandemic to go on to flourish, and participating in this program will allow us to leverage our Facebook ads even further. Plus, it will be a dream come true to meet Ciara. 

Just as soon as I get back from St. Lucia.