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Black women forge path in ‘traditional’ male professions

Felecia Fisher-Shamu

Felecia Fisher-Shamu breaks barriers

African-American women are the most forceful entrepreneurs in the nation. A number of studies prove that. Despite th3e fact, however, that these job creators of color generally outnumber their White colleagues–17% compared to 10% of White women and 15% of White men according to research conducted two years ago by the Harvard Business Review–systemic discrimination is deeply rooted in the professional fields and there are difficult barriers to overcome.

An unsettling truth was unearthed in the Harvard study in that Black women’s businesses earn less revenue and remain smaller than their White peers. Institutional biases, credit market challenges, liquidity constraints etc. tend to limit a Black woman entrepreneur’s potential.

While opportunities for Black women to thrive in male-dominated industries are rare and often difficult to come by, some women remain undaunted in the face of hurdles. Felecia Fisher-Shamu is one of those women. She broke through gender and racial barriers in the furniture manufacturing industry by creating exceptional furniture–ironically often for influential male movers and shakers. 

Fisher-Shamu is the CEO of Vitality Furniture Vitality Furniture Casegoods, Restoration & Furniture Manufacturing, an African American company operating a 20,000-square-foot warehouse in downtown Los Angeles filled with a menagerie of antique and modern furniture. Fisher-Shamu’s remarkable progress did not come overnight. This year, Vitality celebrates its 21st anniversary. 

“When I started years ago, corporations were not looking for Black furniture manufacturers back then, “ said Fisher-Shamu.  “And there weren’t many women-owned companies either, but women are beginning to play a bigger role in the construction and the manufacturing sectors,” she said, highlighting that this is Women In Construction Week.   Fisher-Shamu was a panelist at the  Western States Regional Council of Carpenter luncheon held on March 8 in Sylmar.

Over the years, Fisher-Shamu has built an impressive portfolio of high-profile clients and has a reputation for elegant craftsmanship. Her clients include SoFi Stadium, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel lobby, the Fairmount Century Plaza, homes for actresses Kim Whitley and Vanessa Bell Calloway, as well as manufactured furnishings at the late Norman Lear’s home and also at comedian Kevin Hart’s Heartbeat Productions in Hollywood. Other clients have included the Intuit Dome in Inglewood (new home of the Los Angeles Clippers, JW Marriott in Chicago, and the Four Seasons Resort in Anguilla.

A 2018 Forbes Magazine study found that nearly 20% of small businesses fail within the first year. Why? A lack of equity–the capital necessary to start a business. Capital is critical to starting a new business. Entrepreneurs need money to invest in their ideas, expand operations and bring their dreams to fruition. Black women face a disproportionate lack of access to capital.

The aforementioned Harvard study found that 61% of Black women self-fund their total start-up, even though only 29% of Black women entrepreneurs live in a household with an annual income over $75,000 (compared to 52% of White men). Women like Fisher-shamuhave demonstrated an impressive ability to self-fund (to the degree possible) which speaks authoritatively to the high level of entrepreneurial acumen Black women display.

Fisher-Shamu was recently selected as the featured business spotlight before more than 22,000 fans at the Los Angeles Football Club on opening day recently. 

Often, however, Black women business owners who apply for funding may face up to three times the rejection rate than that of White owners. This finding from a 2021 Goldman Sachs study highlighted the intersectionality of these financial obstacles that make it so much more difficult for Black women to obtain critical funding.

Having a mentor can be as equally important as start-up money. A mentor can help influence an entrepreneur’s success. According to the book “The Startup Brain Trust” (2017) by Arizona State University professor C.J. Cornell, 75% of high-growth entrepreneurs had mentors. Mentored entrepreneurs raised seven times more capital and had 3.5 times more user growth than unmentored entrepreneurs. If their founders were mentored along the way, 70% of small businesses survive longer than five years (double the rate of those who were not mentored).

Fisher-Shamu attributes her success to a combination of perseverance, forward-thinking strategies, diversifying service, and building a winning team, which includes her husband, George, who co-founded the company with her. But clearly, her leadership style must accommodate the male-dominated culture. 

“I think women work well in senior leadership roles because we display more diversity, empathy, and adaptability in our management styles,” said Fisher-Shamu. “I think we nurture talent.”

Fisher-Shamu was inspired by her mother, who had a passion for designing clothes and home décor, igniting Fisher-Shamu’s interest in fashion and furniture manufacturing. There, she would make a lasting impact and break down barriers in the industry.

“Design is the balance between function and living your best life,” she explained. “From the fabric, the colors, the patterns, and the form, furnishing should tell a story about who you are.

“When we designed the chairs for the Owner’s Suite in the Sofi Stadium, we couldn’t use velvet or micro suede. These seats were for the richest 1% of the total. The fabric needed to be durable yet beautiful and comfortable for extended seating. 

“Our chairs for the Intuit Dome had to be sized to fit men like LA Clippers, Moussa Diabate, who stands 6’9 feet, not Kevin Hart. These are custom seats for extraordinary people.”

Fisher-Shamu’s journey could be capsulized in one statement: “Once size does not fit all,”

For more information on Fisher-Shamu and Vitality Furniture, please visit