Shopping Site Brings ‘Colore’ to the Mix

Luxe Colore founders Sunny Newsome (left) and Tanya Sotillo (center) at the Luxe Colore one-year anniversary celebration, hosted by Cedric Gray (r.). (Photo by Sierra Leone Starks)

Shopping website Luxe Colore, which means “colorful luxury” in French, is approaching the retail experience in a different way – and incorporating a little color in the process.

Launched a year ago by Sunny Newsome, 36, and Tanya Sotillo, 35, Luxe Colore is dedicated to promoting brands and businesses owned by people of color.  The two women, who are of African-American and Latino background respectively and have known each other since their high school days on Staten Island where they competed in track and field, created the portal in response to the challenges minority brands face in the industry.

“The idea came from two venues,” said Sotillo, citing an article (“Where is Our Valentino?”) by Robin Givhan in Essence magazine and the 2009 documentary “Good Hair” in which comedian Chris Rock delves into issues about minorities and the retail industry.

“Minorities don’t own products, they just use them,” Sotillo said, making a point from the film. “We want to be that resource where people can find those minority-owned businesses.”

Some of the products featured on LuxeColore.com were showcased at the company’s one-year anniversary event in SoHo. (Photo by Sierra Leone Starks)

Luxe Colore doesn’t just house the brands and their products on its site, it also serves as a marketing tool to build the brands’ following in order to gain more customers. This marketing includes social media blasts via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and blogs housed on the Luxe Colore site, whose posts are written by minority bloggers.

Sotillo listed networking and funding as the biggest concern among up-and-coming minority entrepreneurs. She said the two are dependent upon each other. Forming essential networks within the industry when a business is still working to receive financing from lenders proves to be a daunting task. The same goes for applying for loans when a business doesn’t have the network to prove its worth.

“As a designer, you can be as brilliant as you want to be,” said Sotillo, who is of Panamanian heritage, “but banks want to see that you have a following before they invest in your business.”

According to the United States Census Bureau, the number of small business administration loans issued to minority-owned businesses dropped over 50 percent – from 24,995 to 10,882 – between 2008 and 2009, the outset of the recession. The same report shows a slight uptick in 2010 to 11,244.

Though minority-owned businesses have been growing in number at a faster pace than non-minority firms, the latter continue to dominate access to capital in terms of likeliness to receive loans, loan amounts and lower interest rates, according to the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Purses and bags from LuxeColore.com (Photo by Sierra Leone Starks)

The number of loans acquired by minority-owned small business is significantly lower than those received by non-minority-owned businesses, a representative for the MBDA said, noting that this especially applies to women of color.

Nicoli Sinclair is one of the minority business owners whose online boutique, Nicolye, is featured on Luxe Colore’s site. Sinclair said her original goal to have a storefront boutique in New York City was deterred by a lack of funding.

“Getting credit for minority businesses in general is a huge problem,” said Sinclair, who added that going to family members and friends, a strategy common among aspiring entrepreneurs, is not an option among many minorities. Instead, Sinclair’s online boutique is funded by her full-time job as a corporate paralegal at a financial firm.

Sinclair said that the women of Luxe Colore have made it their mission to get her boutique off the ground. For the fee that she pays to be featured on LuxeColore.com, Sinclair said Sotillo and Newsome have not only served as her brand’s marketing consultants and business advisers, helping her to rethink her long-term goals and strategize to compete in a field with powerhouses like Amazon.com. The relationship, she said, has led to more exposure and, ultimately, more customers.

Sotillo said it is feedback from clients like Sinclair that reinforces the Luxe Colore business model, which she says differs from other online portals in three ways: their use of social media marketing techniques, their dedication to minority-owned businesses and the absence of a shopping cart.

E-commerce is not enabled on the site. Customers begin their shopping experience at LuxeColore.com, browse the products from different retailers and end their experience at the site of the brand of their choice.

“We didn’t want to be a boutique,” Sotillo said. “We wanted to be a portal.”

Luxe Colore founders Sunny Newsome (l.) and Tanya Sotillo are all smiles as they mark the company’s first birthday. (Photo by Sierra Leone Starks)

This decision enabled Luxe Colore to carry products ranging from clothes, accessories and beauty products to art and photography. The site, which began with 10 brands, now houses around 30, said Sotillo and Newsome, adding that they have their eyes set on expanding to the food industry.

Luxe Colore recently celebrated its one-year anniversary with a trunk show in SoHo in which customers were able to meet the faces behind their favorite brands and hopefully get them energized for the holidays.

“In a changing economy, it’s important to support brands that you believe in,” said Newsome, who is Black and Italian. “Shopping Luxe Colore for the holidays season goes beyond gifts. It’s insuring that reputable emerging brands will be around for years to come.”

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