LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A new group is launching a free program to help Black entrepreneurs breaking into the fashion industry in Louisville.

It’s called the Black Fashion Exchange, and it’s Tawana Bain’s creation. Bain has poured blood, sweat and tears into building multiple small businesses from the ground up, including a clothing store called AFM Threads in the Oxmoor Center. She’s using her knowledge and her store now to help others succeed.

“We expect this to have a much bigger impact on the community than we ever really thought about when we first got started,” Bain said.

Along with owning AFM Threads, Bain recently started a nonprofit called the Global Economic Diversity Development Initiative, or GEDDI. The group’s goal is to serve as a perpetual funding source for racial equity. It’s out of this organization that the Black Fashion Exchange was born.

Bain said she challenges people that suggest there are not a lot of Black businesses in Louisville.

“I ask them to think about it a little differently,” she said. “I think we have a lot of Black businesses in Louisville. The question is do they have the resources to be legitimate. Like do they have their website, a logo, business insurance, business plan, those things?”

The business incubator, to which Churchill Downs pledged $20,000, will help Black entrepreneurs break into the cutthroat fashion industry. Participants will walk away with a new logo, website, branding kit, marketing plan, business plan, merchandising equipment and a business banking account.

“So this program invests in you, and you walk away with those items," Bain said. "I mean, that’s over $10,000 to $15,000 before you even get started. So that’s not an inhibitor to being legit anymore."

Ebony Campbell and Tiffany Beard are both applying to the program for different reasons. Campbell is trying to launch a children’s clothing line, inspired by her newborn son, but she doesn’t have any experience in the fashion industry.

“I mean, who could pass this up? I think this is awesome," Campbell said. "What excited me is they take you from beginning to finish. To me, it’s fantastic, and it’s definitely a blessing."

Beard recently started an online clothing boutique for women’s fashion. She hopes the program will help launch her to that next level in a highly competitive market.

“It could prevent me from making mistakes that could hinder me," Beard said. "I would encourage anyone, if you have the dream and you have the goal, then chase it."

Along with the tools to start a business, students like Campbell and Beard will have mentors available for career development and leadership training. Bain said the business mentors are eager to share their knowledge to help possibly prevent anyone from making the same mistakes they made.

There will also be hands-on training to learn how to do things like open and close, source, merchandise and market their products. And there will be virtual classes, a pop-up shop and retail space opportunities available as part of the program.

"This is so important, because the economy has been severely impacted by COVID-19," said Dominique Churchill, the program director. "And we've seen in the Black community, specifically, those businesses have been disproportionately impacted. So we wanted to do something that would help support the economic development of Black entrepreneurs in Louisville.” 

Students will graduate from the Black Fashion Exchange with a fashion show hosted at AFM Threads.

“When it comes to fashion, the Black community has always been in that industry," Churchill said. "However, with ownership of stores, you don’t see a lot of that. So we want to be owners, not just known for our fashion and setting fashion trends."

Once someone is accepted into the program, there is no cost for any of the training. Applications are being accepted through the end of the year. Click here to apply.

“I hope that people get to walk through Oxmoor Mall, St. Matthews mall, downtown corridor, and begin to see these amazing retailers someday and say, ‘Oh my God, I remember when they were in the Black Fashion Exchange program!’" Bain said. "I think that's going to be huge."

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