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Brooklyn's Women History Maker: Mandy Bowman

The CEO Who Built an App to 'Buy Black,' and Hired her Mom
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Mandy Bowman. Photo: Supplied.

Every Friday of Women's History Month, the BK Reader will spotlight a brilliant Brooklyn woman making history in the borough.

When Mandy Bowman moved back to her hometown of Brooklyn after college, she was shocked at how many small, Black-owned mom-and-pop shops were closing in the area where she grew up.

Fed up with big chain stores poaching profits from local, small, Black-owned stores, Bowman decided to create a seamless way to encourage consumers to 'buy Black.'

Bowman started Official Black Wall Street in 2015 as a shareable spreadsheet of Black-owned businesses to support longtime neighborhood stores.

Named after Tulsa's prosperous Black business district that was destroyed by a white mob in 1921, OBWS is an ever-growing directory of Black-owned enterprises across 10 different countries on an accessible, user-friendly app.

Later this year, the app will even include geolocation technology and AI to alert shoppers when they are near a Black-owned business tailored to their tastes, to encourage conscientious spending.

Today, the directory lists 5,941 Black-owned businesses across the globe, including nearly 600 enterprises in Brooklyn. And it is only growing larger.

"It seemed like it was kind of overnight that there were so many different Black-owned businesses that were closing down in my neighborhood," Bowman said.

"Around that same time, I was learning about — and experiencing — how difficult it is to make it as a Black entrepreneur. I also was learning about Black Wall Street in Tulsa and how successful that community was. All of those things made me want to go out and patronize the smaller, Black-owned businesses in my community."

Image provided by Mandy Bowman.
Image provided by Mandy Bowman.

The directory includes everything from restaurants and cafés, to doulas, business consultants and purveyors of apparel, fine art, home goods, toys, beauty services and even automobiles.

One of the best things Bowman said she purchased through the app was a clock and a set of coasters, all shaped like the continent of Africa, for her home.

However, it's not just a platform for consumers.

In addition to listing businesses, OBWS also provides crucial resources to Black business owners including access to premium legal counsel, marketing tools and even ad space on Snapchat.

Almost one million people have used her app to spend their dollars at Black businesses, so far.

"Especially after the pandemic, it is so important that we have one central location — that is tech-forward and has a great user experience — which allows people to not just find businesses they're looking for, but also discover new businesses that are worth supporting," Bowman said.

Image provided by Mandy Bowman.
Mandy Bowman. Photo: Supplied.

The app is free for consumers to download and for business owners to list their shops.

"Black owners go through challenges that are even more inflated because of the pandemic, and my goal is to keep them going."

Previous to starting OBWS, Bowman worked as a digital marketer and social media manager for popular magazines and record labels.

One of the most rewarding parts about being a CEO, Bowman said, was picking her own team. Last year, she hired her mom to be the full-time client services manager, and her COO is a good friend.

"It's important to have qualified people who you trust on your team," Bowman said.

"My mom has been OBWS's biggest cheerleader since the beginning. It's surreal to have created something I can use to support my community, and my family. She even works on weekends even though I tell her not to."

Bowman's advice to other Black women entrepreneurs is that life experience and perspective are all assets, and that with enough trial and error, success will come.

"The way that we look at things, the things we consume, our culture — use it to your advantage and show it off," Bowman said.

"The most rewarding thing is when I hear from business owners that are on the platform and they're just so appreciative for the impact its had on their business."