Grit and Grace: How Black Entrepreneurs Are Finding Success in Pittsburgh

March 12, 2021 | By Victoria Snyder, M.Ed, MSLPA

"Our ecosystem here in Pittsburgh is unique, and the stories of small business owners and entrepreneurs deserve to be heard. Small businesses need your support and that means that we need the urgency to shop small, and shop local."

Victoria Snyder

Editor's Note: In this featured article, E3 Pittsburgh Navigator, Victoria Snyder shares the stories of two local small business owners who had to pivot during the pandemic and makes a compelling motion to encourage us all to shop local and shop small.

In the City of Bridges it is espoused how Pittsburgh is a connecting city. Our bridges create opportunities for neighborhoods, tech and innovation, and now, more than ever, small businesses. The pandemic has taught us many lessons during the last year, among them resilience, persistence, faith and grit —lessons that foster growth in our communities and schools. That grit is what runs through the veins of two Pittsburgh entrepreneurs, who against all odds, started a business during the pandemic and are flourishing. 

Danya’le Northern
Founder, Northern Scents Candle Company 

Photo of Founder Danya’le Northern

Danya’le Northern

There is a sentiment we hear often: a mother’s love, and to some it can mean something different, but a mother’s love to Danya’le Northern was to sacrifice. When Covid-19 hit, this mother for five had to sacrifice everything for her children. Having a typical 9-to-5 job became out of the question when her children had to abruptly begin virtual learning. As a single mom, she had to be home with her children to ensure not only their safety and wellbeing and to support their online learning, but also to protect themselves from the virus. And on top of not only being a mother of five, but two of her children have chronic health issues; one child requires her to spend one weekend a month in Children’s Hospital. You can understand a glimpse of the strength it takes for this mother to persist.  

How does someone survive without a job, during a pandemic, and with a brood of children at home? Resilience! Danya’le is enterprising and knew she needed to find a means to put food on her table. Having always been somewhat of a maker and a hobbyist, she and one of her daughters would spend time together making candles. Before the pandemic Danya’le would sell a few as a side hustle to some friends, but never imagined that she would make it a full time gig.  

And a full time gig it has become! Danyale was brave and stepped out in faith as she started Northern Scents Candle Company. Selling over 45 different scented candles, in a variety of vessels, as well as room sprays and reed diffusers, Danya’le has merged her passion of crafting with her daughter, to meld into a full-fledged business. 

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With support from Forward Cities through their local business navigation services, Danya’le was connected to Riverside Center for Innovation and joined their Biz Fit Program. She was also accepted into Catapult Greater Pittsburgh’s Hill District Cohort. While the path has not been easy, learning how to balance motherhood, starting a business, and surviving during a pandemic, Danya’le has done so and done it with grace.

To purchase some candles and home scents, please visit her facebook page at Northern Scents Candle Co.

Eric Walker
Founder, Hyght Apparel 

Eric Walker

Just as a mother’s love is strong and sustaining, a father’s love is one of sacrifice and rebirth. Eric Walker, Founder of Hyght Apparel is a pandemic small business success story. Walker, known to many in the Pittsburgh area as a stand-out football player for Woodland Hills High School, is a devoted father of two, and you can add successful startup entrepreneur and fashion designer to that resume as well. He’s known for running up the football field and for the fast breaks, but in his current life, he’s scoring all the touchdowns.  

Like most during the pandemic, Walker had to pivot. With two young sons unexpectedly having to be home and virtually taught, Walker had to make a decision; his kids could fall by the wayside, or he could leave a long-standing job at FedEx to take care of his kids. Leaving his job and becoming unemployed, Walker decided to live out a dream that had always tickled in the back of his head: designing clothes for everyday people. That’s where Hyght Apparel started—launched in May of 2020, right in the midst of the pandemic. With no help, just grit and patience, Walker launched his small startup clothing company on his own back. And it’s paid off.  

By making and designing clothes for men, Walker has found that his clientele is all around him, and Pittsburgh is loving his style. Having sold out each time a new line debuts, Walker realizes how fortunate he is to have the clientele that is as supportive of him as his new concepts for leisurewear. With a spring line in the works, and a fall line in contemplation, Walker is set to take his fashion style to the main stage. 

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Through his time with Forward Cities Walker was accepted into Catapult Great Pittsburgh’s Hill District Cohort, as well as Bridgeway Capitals Creative Accelerator program. As he transcends the startup world in Pittsburgh, he is staying true to his Braddock roots — ensuring that all people can have access to fashion, that is comfortable and fits them well.  

To purchase items from Hyght Apparel, please visit his Facebook page at Hyght Apparel

Resilience. Grit. Grace. It’s the precipice of what our Steel City was founded on. Grit and determination to provide for our families and communities. The grace to know when we need help so we can bloom, and the resilience to wade through the tough times. Our ecosystem here in Pittsburgh is unique, and the stories of small business owners and entrepreneurs deserve to be heard. Small businesses need your support and that means that we need the urgency to shop small, and shop local. If you are a Black or Brown owned business in the Greater Pittsburgh area and in need of support and connecting to resources, please reach out to Victoria Snyder, Pittsburgh Ecosystem Navigator for an intake appointment.

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