This one-stop shop in South End supports diversity with local brands

People Style

May 28, 2024

The shop interior of Brown Sugar Collab, which sells jewelry, candles, personal-care products and more

DeAnna Allen’s South End boutique houses more than 20 women- and minority-owned brands under one roof.

by Ebony L. Morman  |  photographs by Poprock Photography

One of the first things you notice when you walk into The Brown Sugar Collab is an oversized image of four melanated women. Framed in gold, they match the cozy South End shop’s neutral aesthetic, along with gold-trimmed furnishings and brown suede chairs. When the weather is nice and the garage door is raised, it’s easy to spot shoppers perusing the shelves, which are lined with everything from body butters and oils to incense and candles. 

It’s a welcoming environment, which was part of DeAnna Allen’s vision when she opened the storefront in fall 2020. She wanted to provide a luxe experience for people to shop local brands and women-led small businesses. “It makes more sense to put multiple brands under one roof,” she says. “This way, you can shop over 20 different BIPOC brands. You don’t have to shop at just one.” 

When guests patronize The Brown Sugar Collab, they aren’t limited to a single brand’s vision. They can purchase body butters from Bee Rich Butters and Nafeesa’s Organics, then add candles from Bèl Flame Candles and White Island Studio to their baskets. Within minutes, they’ve supported four women-owned small businesses that are more than likely local, as 75% of the shop’s products are Charlotte-area brands. “If I can support local businesswomen and put money directly into their pockets, and say, ‘I’m investing in you, I believe in you, I want you in my store,’ that’s a direct impact,” Allen says.

DeAnna Allen’s Brown Sugar Collab sells jewelry, candles, personal-care products and more.

For Allen, impact is key. Through her business, she aims to elevate demographics who are underrepresented, especially in retail. This passion was amplified following the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in 2020, the same year Allen opened The Brown Sugar Collab. At the time, there was an influx of support for Black businesses, but many of those businesses didn’t have storefronts. Most sold their products via e-commerce or through pop-up markets, Allen says. A one-stop shop such as hers, especially in South End, was rare. 

Her business aims to bridge that gap. While there is an application process for vendors and an emphasis on quality control and product compatibility, Allen focuses more on cultivating relationships and mentoring creators. This is where Allen, who has a degree in educational leadership and administration, leverages her experience: She’s able to offer insights and suggestions to suppliers with the goal of helping them grow their businesses. 

Her own journey can also serve as motivation. Prior to opening The Brown Sugar Collab, Allen took a break from entrepreneurship to work for Delta Air Lines. Before that, she owned a kids’ party-planning business and a women’s-only fitness studio. 

Allen’s proclivity for unity is apparent. In an effort to drive traffic to both her shop and the neighboring businesses, in 2020 she organized a pop-up market, Bop Around the Block. Since then, she’s held multiple markets to extend her shop’s mission of promoting other businesses to a larger clientele. 

In all of her ventures, Allen takes a hands-on approach, and her personal touch is what keeps people coming back. After the third visit, she aims to greet you by name, and she takes the time to craft handwritten thank-you notes for customers, even for online shoppers. 

“I want everyone to feel like they’re important,” she says. “I want them to feel like they’re VIPs.” She relates the experience to having a personal shopper at a high-end department store. “We do the exact same thing.”  SP


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