My mom, Aron Chang, came to Philly from Jamaica as a teenager. Here, she got her high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s. She also raised a family, taught us to give back to our community — and always had a side hustle. Her nickname, “Skilli,” is patois for skillful. She’s my Black-owned business inspiration.
Skilli is both a masterful baker and a shapewear entrepreneur. She is also way more than skilled. Her big heart compels her to give back to her community every chance she gets. And, having taught herself almost everything she knows, she makes it a habit to teach others as well, giving guidance, and mentorship opportunities.
To me, she’s one-of-a-kind. But in reality, my mom is not unlike hundreds of other Black business owners in Philly who work harder than most to build their own dreams … while paving the way for others to experience success.
Here are 10 examples of Black-owned businesses in Philadelphia that, for the most part, fly under the radar — and whose goods and services you’ll love (and feel good about buying).
Black-Owned Fashion Brands
Adriana Williams, a seamstress who hand makes the majority of her pieces — and teaches others how to do the same — has been killing the scene since her college days at Howard. Williams grew up in Kensington; her desire to make the clothes she didn’t have access to inspired her to sew.
In 2015, Williams’ mom helped her buy her first sewing machine. Soon, the self-taught seamstress turned simple patterns into body-con dresses that she wore around campus and sold to classmates. Today, ADW has evolved into a full line of intricately stitched handbags, curve-accentuating bathing suits, puffer jackets and bucket hats — all made with locally sourced materials.
Paying it forward, Williams has made it a part of her mission to teach other city kids to sew. Sew With W, a subsidiary of ADW, provides sewing classes and small business classes — not only teaching others how to sew fabrics, but also to sow into themselves. Finding her success in inspiring others, ADW hosts frequent giveaways for free lessons, and free sewing machines! In the future she hopes to focus more on youth lessons.
Myles Nicholls — Malo — is the CEO and founder of Emotional Therapy, a line of sweatsuits and T-shirts first created a time when that’s all anyone was wearing: Covid quarantine. In isolation, Nicholls realized the significance of mental health, found strength in starting therapy, discovered inspiration in healing — and named his business to represent growth, vulnerability and expression.
Growing up in Colwyn, PA, Miles was known for his swag, his skating skills — and the Air Force 1s he painted over with acrylics and Sharpies. Nowadays, his most popular line is MADGRILLZ, a rainbow-hued collection of angry bear-looking beanies. (Cardi B is a fan.)
Malo has a heart for the youth, and, for the second year in a row, is teaming up with Footlocker and InHousedesignNY for a workshop teaching students under 18 how to design their own pair of sneakers — all for free. But wait, there’s more! In 2021, Malo, who describes himself as “dedicated to delivery and process,” spent 72 hours battling sun, rain and wind while hand painting the new Mastery Charter Pickett Campus’ outdoor basketball court. Talk about art making an impact!
Shaelia Dawkins migrated from Kingston, Jamaica to Philly at the age of 12. Back then, she’d make jewelry out of whatever materials she could find. A few years later, she customized her first pair of jeans. Then, after encouragement from friends and lessons from “Youtube university,” Dawkins purchased a sewing machine. Today, she designs dream-come-true prom gowns — and a wearable work of art for Mrs. Juliet Holmes, the Most Honorable First Lady of Jamaica — along with a line of on-point tracksuits, KRF t-shirts, and more pieces that boost her brand.
Dawkins named her business after her inspiration, her 11-year-old daughter, whom she says gives her courage. Her talents have landed her on Fox29’s Good Day Philadelphia and partnerships with Living Beyond Breast Cancer and the police department in Darby, home of her dress shop. She also organizes annual Christmas basket giveaways and has created dresses for The Empowerment Zone’s $25 prom dress sale. 506 Main Street, Darby
La’vanter CEO Jamil Scurry is a North Philly native who fell for the transformative art of fashion by drawing comics and designing costumes in his youth. After a semester at Philadelphia University, he dropped out to pursue his passion. With the help of his late grandmother Geraldine Sanders, Scurry learned how to sew.
Scurry grew up Black, queer and quiet; he was often isolated and bullied. He founded La’vanter boutique on the principle of perseverance, and taking back your freedom. His ever-evolving line — sequined floral high-rise short shorts, pink metallic blazer, corsets, rompers, parachute pants in colors and textures that seem to exist beyond nature — reflects both his commitment to the future of women’s fashion and his unending fight for visibility and power. Scurry is currently working on a La’vanter boutique-sponsored makeover series, where underprivileged youth and adults will be completely transformed, free of charge. His end goal: promote body positivity, self-esteem and self-love. Liberty Place, 1625 Chestnut Street
Fashion brand StockedUp is founded on the idea of leveling up oneself through hustle, determination and innovation. In 2015, Uptown local Nigre Neal decided that fashion could build more than just your appearance: It could build community.
Neal views fashion as a way to innovate, to create something never seen before. He also encourages the idea of self and wants his clients to stand out in the ways that feel authentic, whether they’re wearing one of his colorful camo rocket jackets, distressed denim, on-trend ts, or his newly released, extra fuzzy Sherpa sweatsuit. StockedUp is big on community engagement: Neal frequently gives away clothes at school events, Philly stash ’n’ dashes, and during visits to his former HBCU, Lincoln University.
On March 25, he will host the StockedUp Market Flea, where he and other Philly makers, designers and vendors will promote and sell their brands, from 4 to 8pm at 1218 Arch Street. 5231 Germantown Avenue
David Johnson and his family moved to North Philadelphia from Greensboro, NC when he was 12. As the eldest child, the young man had to quickly adapt and assume the role of provider. Life wasn’t easy, growing up in an unfamiliar and impoverished community. Johnson found solace in art and animation.
Johnson’s desire to be understood inspired the distinct artwork he now creates, reflecting a unique blend of storytelling and expression that highlight Black and Brown people, cultures, and experiences. He’s into good works too. Johnson partnered with @nogunzone to give away stickers, shirts, and posters to kids in after school programs. In the future, the up-and-coming artist wants to debut his animation Northside, detailing the life experiences of a group of kids growing up in North Philly. You can find his work on Instagram, and request customized works via dm.
Baked Goods and Essential Services from Black Business Owners
So. I’m a little biased about this one, but trust me: I would not steer you wrong. Aron Chang is not just my amazing mama. She is also an entrepreneur of many, many talents. Her nickname, “Skilli,” is patois for skillful.
When Chang isn’t baking or hosting a fish fry; she’s branching out into a new business venture. Originally from Mandeville, Jamaica, Chang migrated to Philadelphia, graduated from Bartram, and obtained both an MBA and RHIA from Eastern University. She’s a masterful baker, and you can order her cakes: carrot, Jamaican rum, fruitcake on Facebook.
(She’s also an inventor of a waistband trainer designed to keep you snatched after all those goodies.)
Chang hosts free events like the post-Christmas drive celebration at MLK Rec on Cecil B. Moore, or and donates baked goods to schools and healthcare organizations. Having taught herself almost everything she knows, she also makes it a habit to teach others as well, giving guidance, and mentorship opportunities.
Safi Brown’s first name means pure and sincere friend in Arabic, and that’s how she approaches her business and career as a licensed aesthetician. The Cobbs Creek local knows firsthand the struggles of acne and the insecurities that it brings — and has the solutions to bumps, discoloration, sagging and more skin complaints. At her by-appointment-only studio just north of Fairmount, she specializes in customizable facials, LED therapy, microdermabrasion, chemical peels, and dermaplaning.
What’s more, Brown understands the significance of self-care, how it impacts both outer and inner beauty. She recognizes the importance of representation when it comes to Black skin care, and has extensive experience working with and specializing in a broader variety of melanated skin tones. (She also knows silence during self-care can be golden; but is a brilliant conversationalist, if that’s your during-treatment jam.) 1517 W. Girard Avenue
West Philly native Tameka Mugin decided to put her artistic vision to the true test in 2016, the first time she was paid to create an event. Although she’s hanging onto her corporate day job, Mugin can’t resist the lure of her fabulous (and thoughtful) moonlighting operation. Every Event by Tameka gets centered around each client’s unique desires and tastes. But no matter what, all Events by Tameka keep the focus on the enjoyment and celebration of family and friends — and creating a moment to always remember. She — and her team of women, all friends and family, including her tablescape artist mom, Donna — have collaborated on weddings, baby showers, and birthdays.
As a member of Delta Sigma Theta, Tameka directly pours back into her community by sponsoring book-bag giveaways and funding private scholarships.
Shelton “TJ” Mercer IV, West Philadelphia born and raised, grew up recording Nerf gun fights with his friends. Now a senior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in film and photography, Mercer proudly spotlights Black culture and stories through his medium. Post-grad, he sees himself opening his own production company, where he’ll experiment with VR videography and cinematography.
For now, he’s got range. He directs short films. He photographs proms and special events. He has filmed and edited basketball games for Friends Central, Bartman, Academy Park, and The City School. Hire Mercer to memorialize your next occasion, and you’ll also be paying it forward. He’s a mentor to other young Black photographers and has donated the proceeds of his film Ransom to the Clean Water Fund in Michigan.
He also makes sure to involve his friends in projects. “You gotta put the homies on. If one wins we all do.” That’s the Black-owned business way.
MORE WAYS TO PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR HEART ISArt by Notorious Art