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How The Walker Brothers Built a Business Celebrating Black Culture, Storytelling, and Art in Just Four Months

In late May 2020, Gemille Walker was on a phone call with his brothers Shaquille and Zarrius. Somewhere along the way, the conversation turned to the afro pick and how it was not only a practical tool but an item that connected the Black community. 

From that conversation, an idea was born, and within months the three brothers launched AfroPick, an online store selling afro picks with beautiful custom designs.

Not only do AfroPick’s products look beautiful, but each design has a powerful story behind it as well. These picks aren’t just practical hair care tools; they’re also statement accessories and unique pieces of art.

With Afropick picks now available in a handful of retail stores, the Walkers are looking to expand as the business moves towards its first birthday. If you’re interested in purchasing AfroPick’s products wholesale, check out their Handshake profile.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Handshake: It would be great to hear a little bit about you and your brothers and why you decided to start AfroPick?

Gemille: So my name is Gemille Walker, I’m one of the three co-founders of AfroPick, LLC. The whole meaning behind AfroPick for us is a lot about self-identity.

Being one of the three founders I share the company with my identical twin brother Shaquille Walker and then our younger brother Zarrius Walker. I know a lot of twins can be the same, but being our own person and having our own identities has always been something that’s really important to us. So we basically carry that inward belief and feeling outward into the company because our entire family is very diverse, and we always like to push community and self-identity. We think that those two things are really important in life, especially as you get older, you start to realize this is important, so that’s something we wanted to push in our community – in the Black community specifically – and that’s led to the founding of AfroPick.

This past summer, 2020, we were all on a phone call just talking, and somehow we just got on the idea of how the afro pick is such an important cultural tool, something that connects the entire community. Everyone uses it, everyone knows what it is, and we realized that it had the potential to tell a much more powerful message when coupled with messages through design, essentially. So we like to look at ourselves as a cultural brand that is a unity between art, culture, and storytelling.

AfroPick marketing images

Handshake: And you’re based in California, but are your brothers based elsewhere?

Gemille: Yeah, so I’m in San Francisco. Shaquille is in Dallas, but he’ll be relocating in a month, so he’ll be in Boston. And our youngest brother Zarrius is in Salt Lake City. We’re all spread out.

Handshake: Have you had any entrepreneurial experience before?

Gemille: So I had not, Shaquille had. He started a company with a group while he was at Brigham Young University, so that was his first venture into entrepreneurship. And then my younger brother also joined that team. We did come into it with a little bit of background, but it was in a completely different market and a completely different product. [Shaquille’s company] was in athletics, so we didn’t really have any idea what the clear steps were [for AfroPick].

I know sometimes when you’re forming a company, a lot of people might think that it’s, “Do this and then this, and then this,” but in actuality, it’s “Do whatever you can, whenever you can because there’s always going to be stuff to do.” You bring up that roadmap as you go, which for us has been challenging but extremely fun.

Handshake: So you got started last summer, which is not even a year ago. How long did it take from the initial conversation to holding a physical product in your hand?

Gemille: We built it pretty quickly. We had the initial conversation in late May, so it was kind of like a “What if?” and we started loosely looking into the things needed to get it off the ground. The first week of June, we really decided like, “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s start looking up, collecting things.” Late June is when we had started our social media pages so that we could start building our audience and our customer base, and in September, we launched with our products. So pretty quickly. I guess [laughs]

Handshake: Wow! You just launched straight in like, “Yeah, I got an idea. Oh, we’ll think about it for a week or two, and then let’s just go?”

Gemille: Yeah. A lot of people have asked at times, “How did you make that happen so quickly?” And I think it happened very naturally because we had such a clear vision of what we wanted to put out and what we wanted to help elevate, and what we wanted to help raise. The process step by step – I couldn’t tell you what step by step was, but I can say we had this big goal in mind, and we oriented ourselves towards that to make it happen.

Handshake: Did you decide to sell wholesale as soon as you launched?

Gemille: So when we first launched, we weren’t planning to. We knew eventually we would, but within the first week, we had multiple inquiries into our wholesale, so we said, “Okay, let’s figure this out. There’s a need for this as well.” And I just looked through a lot of different wholesale options available to us, which is how I came across Handshake actually. It popped up and it hadn’t even launched yet, but you could sign up for it. So I was like, “This is perfect. We already use Shopify. This is brand new. We love Shopify, so let’s just go ahead and hop on this,” and we were approved. And as soon as [Handshake] launched, [AfroPick was] launching with it, which was super cool. Again, we got some orders come through Handshake as well, which has been amazing because it’s so streamlined, it makes it so much easier than having to do our own wholesale form, which requires us to reach out to people, and it just slows down the process.

Handshake: Are you selling most of your products direct-to-consumer right now?

Gemille: We are. We do have some shops that we’re in, as well as some online retailers that we’re in, but a large majority of our sales are directly from the website.

Handshake: And you’re probably looking in 2021 to expand more retailers?

Gemille: We are, yeah, so we’re looking at a few big ones both here in the U.S. and abroad, so hopefully, those can pan out, and we can really start amping up so that we can bring even more to the forefront.

Handshake: With wholesale, do you have any sort of advice for people jumping into that world?

Gemille: I’m still pretty new to it, but I know that for a lot of markets sending out a line sheet is something that’s really important. We’ve done a little bit of testing in that because when we first started, our line sheet was pretty standard, pretty straightforward. Easy to read, but kind of bland, so we wanted to mix in some elements of our marketing into our line sheet. For a lot of people, that’s the first thing they’re really seeing, they see your home page and they say, “Oh, we like it, let’s ask if they do wholesale,” so that line sheet should be just as important. And I really didn’t find a lot about including [marketing and lifestyle images] in your line sheet, but that’s something that has, I think, converted our wholesales a lot better because people just get a better idea of what they’re buying just by looking at the line sheets. I’m still pretty new at wholesale, so we don’t have a ton of data on that yet, but that’s something I would say we’ve already seen a positive change in.

Handshake: Do you have any sort of other advice that you would give people looking to start up [a business]?

Gemille: I would say you have to be – this is so cliché, but it’s also very true – you have to be willing to take calculated risks, not just risks, but calculated risks. I think it’s a part of making a business. I know for a lot of people that’s the cause of anxiety, and I’m saying there are many unknowns, but as long as there’s a calculated plan of what you want to get out of a set amount of time, I think it makes it a lot easier. A lot easier. And if you really just believe in your vision, I think that is the number one. It’s believing your vision and really having a clear idea of what you want to present from the beginning.

Handshake: If you’re willing to take the risk and you know where you’re going, a lot of the other stuff falls away, right?

Gemille: Exactly. I feel for me, at least, it’s been just getting over that mindset of thinking that it’s just almost impossible. But as soon as you get past that, you start to realize that really, anything is possible with the work.

The Walker brothers as kids

Handshake: Any last things you’d like to share about AfroPick, or you and your brothers?

Yeah, I would say, I think it’s really important that people know, we are just regular people. Sometimes a lot of people will see a brand and forget the faces behind it are just regular people. So that’s why we think it’s important that we reach out to make connections to our customer base and our audience so that they know we really do understand and we really do share in your stories, and we really are here to amplify them. We’re just regular people.

AfroPicks products are available for wholesale purchase from $250. Find the whole range of available products on their profile page.

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