April 17, 2020
Born and raised in West Philadelphia, Hanifah Samad is the owner of online boutique Fason De Viv, meaning “lifestyle” in Haitian Creole. Inspired by Hanifah’s Haitian roots, Fason De Viv is a curated marketplace selling women’s clothing, accessories, and beauty and wellness products from small, independent brands. Hanifah also helps out with her family’s 51-year-old community-based manufacturing business African Cultural Art Forum (ACAF)—all while raising her 13-year-old son.
1. Why did you start Fason De Viv?
My journey to becoming an entrepreneur started with my curiosity for retail—how to open and operate a retail store and finding out where the products come from.
After starting to research the industry and becoming a New York buyer, I learned the retail trade in 2012 by helping a friend with visual merchandising, inventory purchasing, and management for a t-shirt store. Then in 2014, I opened my own women’s apparel boutique.
2. What business challenges are you facing with the COVID-19 pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed our online sales by 60 percent.
We are facing challenges with payroll, keeping up with bills for our online systems, and customers are not buying clothes due to the economic downturn. We’ve had to cut back hours for our one full-time employee and our 1099 contractors.
We’re also challenged with shipping delays since shipping services are overwhelmed. In addition, I usually package items for shipping at my family’s store, but I can’t use the space now that the building is closed due to COVID-19.
Buying from our vendors is another challenge. For example, a popular candlemaker whose products sold out at Fason De Viv has stopped production so I can’t replace her inventory.
3. What resources are you seeking now to overcome COVID-19 challenges?
I have an existing business loan through The Enterprise Center Capital Corporation and they recently sent additional COVID-19 funding opportunities, including the Philadelphia COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund. So far I’ve applied for the microenterprise grant.*
Fason De Viv is also supported by the Circle of Aunts & Uncles, a project started by entrepreneur and activist Judy Wicks to provide low-interest loans and social capital to entrepreneurs who lack access to these resources. As the project’s fund manager, The Enterprise Center first connected me to the Circle when it launched in 2015.
The Circle of Aunts & Uncles has now set up a GoFundMe campaign to provide emergency funds to its entrepreneurs who need assistance paying employees, rent, utilities, and other basic expenses. I also have an existing microloan from the Circle of Aunts & Uncles, and they are deferring all loan payments until July 1, or later if necessary.
I’ve applied for a Red Backpack Fund grant too, which is offered through Spanx founder Sara Blakely’s foundation.
*The Enterprise Center Capital Corporation is a CDFI based in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund is offered by the City of Philadelphia in partnership with PIDC, another CDFI.
4. What challenges are your fellow entrepreneurs facing? What can help them get through this crisis?
A lot of entrepreneurs don’t have constant cash flow. Some have a retail store without a strong online presence. It’s hard having to change their normal routines and learn to sell online.
Struggling businesses should research financial assistance that may be available to them, such as local funders like The Enterprise Center and other community development financial institutions (CDFIs).
All of us can help support small business owners too. Some of the best ways are to:
• Buy gift cards that do not expire and that can be used at any location when the business reopens.
• Order pickup from local cafes and restaurants.
• Follow businesses on social media and help promote them to new customers.
• Make a small “social donation” to your favorite small businesses.
Fason De Viv is also supporting nonprofit organizations providing COVID-19 relief to local communities. We’ve made donations to two organizations to help feed four families in need.
5. Any other advice for small business owners dealing with COVID-19’s impact?
My advice for small business owners is to reevaluate their business models and focus on building a stronger online presence. For my business, it’s easier to reach more customers online and gain global exposure while also cutting overhead costs significantly.
We have to be strong, knowing this shall pass soon. And when it does, I hope all business owners and consumers come out as better humans, taking our customers and community economics more seriously.
Small businesses not only provide so many jobs in communities, but also so much hope. Through this crisis, I hope that our customers and communities become even more conscious of their buying power.
Photo credit: Rashiid Marcell