Shari Neal

Bon Bon Vie owner Shari Neal. Source: Facebook / Bon Bon Vie

For those unfamiliar with your brand, tell us about Bon Bon Vie.
Back in 2010, I was working at a traditional 9-to-5 job as a web developer and I wasn’t really feeling fulfilled working for someone else. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial itch, but I remember being at work some days like, “Is this it?”

The name Bon Bon Vie comes from a ’70’s song by T.S. Monk (son of jazz legend Thelonious Monk). The lyrics really spoke to me.

Besides the song, “bon vie” is French for “good life,” so the name just kind of fell into place. I decided I had to start a business. I had a lot of interests, so I wasn’t sure exactly what it should be at first but soon the idea came to me to design t-shirts. I had a serious graphic tee habit at the time and some graphic design experience. I felt like I could bring a fresh perspective, especially for women of color.

What are some brands that have served as inspiration for you over the years?
When I started making tees, there weren’t a lot of other black women doing it, so I remember looking at certain websites and thinking I wanted to be like them. There was Chanel Kennebrew from Junkprints (http://www.store.junkprints.com/). Designer Gabrielle Smith in the UK used to have a t-shirt line called G’ology and currently blogs at The NuBlack (http://www.iamthenublack.com/). I’ve always been in awe of the threadless.com crowdsourced T-shirt business model. As far as traditional fashion lines, I absolutely love Rachel Roy (her clothes are amazing for women who have hips, thighs and a behind) and Herve Leger (nothing like an iconic body-con bandage dress).

Shari Neal

Bon Bon Vie owner Shari Neal (far right) and models in Bon Bon Vie shirts. Source: Facebook / Bon Bon Vie

How do you juggle your brand and other responsibilities? How important is time management in maintaining everything?
When I started out, I did absolutely everything myself. The shipping, advertising, vending at events, social media and customer service. It was intense. A lot of small business owners go through that bootstrap phase and it can mean long hours and burnout. Over time I realized if I wanted to be able to sustain working for myself, I’d have to let go of some aspects of the business. I’m engaged and soon to be married and I’m a mom, so I can’t put in the crazy hours I used to. I have to be a lot smarter about my time. Time management is everything. I have to prioritize what’s important so I can attempt to maintain some semblance of work-life balance. I outsource as much work as I can. Ultimately, I just had to accept that my inbox will never be empty and I will never get to the bottom of the pile of things I have to do, so I just do what I can and try not to beat myself up about it. I have a toddler and besides running a business I’m a stay-at-home mom, so sleep is my number one priority these days. Besides time management, organization is key. I use my Google calendar religiously, I carry around a planner, any business planning or ideas go into Evernote.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to young entrepreneurs?
Stay hungry, keep learning, and be consistent.

What’s next for Bon Bon Vie?
We recently started selling sweatshirts due to customer demand. I’d like to branch out and offer more types of apparel and accessories. I just hope to keep expanding.

For more information on Bon Bon Vie please visit www.wearbonbonvie.com

TJ Armour

"I'm not a biter, I'm a writer for myself and others."