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Phoenix business owner reflects on the challenges and hopes of being a young, Black entrepreneur

This story originally aired on “Marketplace” on May 27.

On a sunny Sunday in late February, about a dozen wedding vendors — photographers, florists, musicians, and event planners — gathered at Changing Rivers Ranch in north Phoenix.

The “Bridal Fair + Boho Picnic” was aimed at introducing vendors to potential customers and showing off the micro-wedding/event space. Just before 11 a.m., one more vendor showed up.

“Sorry it took us so long,” said Taylor Nesiah Jenkins, who goes by Nessie. She was wearing a white satin dress, pink lip gloss and big gold earrings, and carrying a bag full of formalwear.

“I only brought my bridal stuff today,” she said. Jenkins is 24 years old and started her secondhand boutique, Haus of Vestige, a few months ago.

Entrepreneurship exploded during the first year of the pandemic. But what initially looked like a pandemic-related surge has been sustained. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that a record-breaking 5.5 million people filed applications for new businesses last year.

Jenkins is now one of those millions of entrepreneurs trying to launch new businesses across the U.S.

While she and her boyfriend, Chandler, hung up skirts and dresses on mismatched hangers, she explained that most of her inventory cost her less than $80.

“It’s all secondhand,” she said. “I use eBay a lot, I also love Depop, Poshmark, I go to thrift stores, Goodwill.”

Jenkins moved to Arizona about three years ago, after leaving the Bay Area, where she grew up, in search of more affordable housing.

“I knew nothing about Arizona, but just knew [that] what I wanted, I wouldn’t be able to get in California, so I packed up my stuff and moved,” she said.

She’s worked in restaurants, the office of an acupuncture clinic, the Maricopa County School District, and as a nanny.

“It’s been a lot of different jobs,” she said.

While we waited for customers to start arriving, Jenkins talked about her reasons for trying to create a business of her own.

Years into her career, she’s still trying to find her place in the economy.

“Every Black woman that I know, their struggle with the workforce is exhausting,” she said. “If someone is in a disagreement with you or someone else that you say something that someone doesn't like, is you will be called aggressive or you will be made out to be an aggressor… So you literally go about the world in such a different way.”

Black business ownership is growing faster than it has in 30 years. According to the Small Business Administration, the share of Black households owning a business more than doubled between 2019 and 2022.

But entrepreneurship is hard — government data shows that roughly one in five new businesses do not survive their first year.

Jenkins is still just getting started. She’s spent about $1,500 and countless hours trying to get this boutique off the ground, sourcing inventory, setting up a website, and coordinating photo shoots.

She’s been to a handful of events like this one where, two and a half hours in, there are still no customers. “It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” she said.

Jenkins said the only reason she’s even able to explore entrepreneurship is because her boyfriend, who’s a project manager for a painting company, helps support her financially.

“If my partner wasn't making as much as he does at his job, I wouldn't be able to,” she said. “So it’s a privilege to be able to say that.”

The event at Changing Rivers Ranch lasted four hours and not a single customer came. Jenkins bought something though — a few champagne glasses from another vendor, to use in photo shoots.

That was in late February. In the two months since, Jenkins has gone to a few more events. She attempted to hold a fashion show, but reframed it as a photo shoot when not enough people came.

She’s still hoping to make this business work, but in the meantime, she’s keeping her day job as a nanny.