Jasmin Foster From Be Rooted
Jasmin Foster is the founder of Be Rooted, an inclusive stationery brand. We were lucky enough to talk to Jasmin in the days following her launch in Target stores nationwide, and she shared with us how she conceptualized this brand and how Be Rooted landed in one of the largest retailers in the country--all in the first year of her business.
Listen in as Jasmin shares how her company has grown and how stickers are a part of her story.
Below is an edited transcript from our conversation with Jasmin.
[00:00:04] Hey, everybody, and welcome back to Stickers on the Mic. It is March 18th. Andrew here with you once again. I'm very fortunate to be dialing in Jasmin Foster from Charlotte, North Carolina, and Be Rooted. Jasmin, thank you so much for joining us.
[00:00:52] Jasmin Foster: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here today.
[00:00:56] Andrew: This is great. I found Jasmin's story on our sticker wall coming through the shop, and it jumped off the screen at me. I gave her a call. I am just so excited to share the story with everyone today. Jasmin, tell us a little bit about Be Rooted and how it came to be.
[00:01:18] Jasmin: I have always been a lover of stationery, I was that little girl that would get super excited about buying school supplies when school started. Every time I started a new job, I'd buy a new planner but I always felt a bit disconnected from the category. I never really felt like it was designed with women of color in mind. I wanted to change that.
After many years waiting for a brand to come in and to help me feel seen, I wanted to create Be Rooted so that it could be an inclusively designed stationery brand for women of color so that they felt seen and felt like they belong there. That's a little bit of the background of why I started the brand.
[00:01:57] Andrew: Obviously, we printed up a sticker sheet but developing this product, how did you design it or conceptualize or do all of that process?
[00:02:10] Jasmin: I've been really a fan of illustrations for the last couple of years. One thing that I love about illustrations is that you can really do ones that are different types of people. I had a vision of what I wanted the brand to be. I wanted it to be fun, I wanted it to be in a wave of positive messaging, and I wanted to be reflective of my community. I am not creative by hand, I always say that I am creative-adjacent. I've been working with some amazing black and brown designers to help bring my vision to life, who we create mood boards together, get really down and dirty, and figure out what we want the brand ethos to look like, and then they help me illustrate out my designs or design, what we now have selling on the website.
[00:02:55] Andrew: They're very strong, right? These are very iconic designs, in my opinion.
[00:03:02] Jasmin: Thank you for saying that. I wanted them to be bold, I wanted them to feel very different than what you would normally see in the aisle. I wanted to create a brand that had a very clear point of view of who it was and not something that was trying to appeal to everyone. I think when you come to my site, you get a very clear idea of the woman that I'm trying to appeal to, and I'm not afraid of showing that.
[00:03:28] Andrew: Oh, absolutely, and speaking of the site, it's berootedco.com, we'll mention that again, folks. You're right, you come to the homepage, and it's apparent who your customer is and that's, I think, really great for your focus. I also think the way you even title your products, I think, is really cool because it's not just a journal, you know what I mean?
[00:03:55] Jasmin: I think every journal has a vibe. That's why we had the Act Up Sis girl because that's Act Up Sis, that's the whole vibe, and we want women to protect their energy or to trust the journey, I think that's one thing that I wanted to make sure that my brand had was that we're not only giving you really awesome designs, but we're interweaving a really cool messaging into it and making that a big part of what's on the journal but also in the title so that when you come to our website, you know if you're that girl, you can find that journal that looks specifically for you, based off of how it's titled as well.
[00:04:29] Andrew: I love it. Speaking of being in the aisle, we are burying the lede here as we go in, I could have been so hyped just to start the show, but you have this amazing growth story that is what really brought me to our conversation today. I'm not going steal your thunder. Can you tell us what like is the most recent thing?
[00:04:56] Jasmin: [laughs] Yes. I'm super geeked to share that my brand just launched at Target this past Sunday, nationwide. You can find our journals in every single Target store, and this is to your point of a growth story, it's beyond my wildest dreams because this is all happening within my first year of business. We're so excited that our vision of bringing inclusivity into stationery is something that a major retailer like Target wanted to get behind so soon.
When we got the opportunity, though, I didn't have it all figured out, I was like, "Yes, yes, yes and then I'll work on the back-end to get it all together." It means the world to me that they believed in my vision, and we're here, we're here now.
[00:05:38] Andrew: Unbelievable. Just incredible, just when you--
[00:05:42] Jasmin: Thank you.
[00:05:44] Andrew: Oh, it's bringing tears to my eyes, it's just so inspiring because, especially the last year with the pandemic and everything going on in our country and the conversations that we had, for you to bubble up, it's pretty special.
[00:05:59] Jasmin: I always say that I think part of your success is having a good product, having people believe in you, but a lot of it is timing. I couldn't have planned the timing of it at all. I started with journals because part of me when I started in January, just was like I feel like people need to recenter back on self-care. I had no clue that, insert pandemic, insert racial tension in June, that would lead to companies really looking at how they supported diverse own brands. A part of my success is like, "Yes, it's a product that people are into and that they love, but a part of it is just time that you can't plan for that," but it's been amazing. I'm just so glad that it's all coming together at the same time and bubbling up at the same time.
[00:06:53] Andrew: Really incredible. You were saying, "I'll figure it out" once you inked the deal. I'm sure there's a moment of panic where you have to scale outside of your original plans. To rewind a little bit, you said in January of 2020, you were like, "I'm going to do this thing." A couple of months later, we're in the pandemic. How was just physically producing-- You say you work with a team of designers, and I can't wait for you to have a whole company of designers, but how do you get the thing printed and shipped out right now? Before the Target thing happened, how did you get this stuff in people's hands?
[00:07:34] Jasmin: Once we get the design, the design part, I would say, is not the easy part but is the fun part. Then it's like, "Okay, well, how do you operationally get this made?" Pre-Target, I was working with a domestic factory based in New York. I really wanted to work with someone domestic because it gave me a lot of flexibility, I wasn't really sure, would I need 50 units or 1000 units? Working with someone domestically allowed you to ebb and flow with your minimum order quantities. It was on who can react a lot quicker. As I was selling out, I could get back in within two weeks. It was really partnering with a lot of US-based companies like StickerGiant, like my printing company in New York that helped me make different piece types, but when I got the Target opportunity, and you need to scale to 10,000-plus units, the capabilities look a little bit different. There's someone who needs to be able to talks to the client, someone who used to have experience shipping to retail. I had to very quickly, within two months, find different capabilities to support that type of an opportunity.
[00:08:50] Andrew: What kind of experiences did you rely on to figure that out, or was there a lot of just making it up as you go along? It's established, paper has been bound for centuries. That's not the thing, but it's more in your own head because you have to organize, luckily, you have [crosstalk] do that. As someone who has too many journals in his own life, I've got three on my desk for parts of my life, that means that not enough things are ever getting done in the right order, how did you make sure you were able? Clearly, you're an organized, driven person, but how did you help create a system for you as an entrepreneur?
[00:09:24] Jasmin: Really building on some past experiences. One is I was a retail buyer, and I was leading the multicultural beauty strategy at Target, and what helped me is that that particular category, you're working with a lot of small brands, a lot of small black-owned brands, who are also trying to figure it out. I was able to build up a good network of multicultural beauty founders, and they had shared their experiences with me over the last three years of how they were scaling. Though I had never done it myself, I had a peripheral view of what they had to do to go from sometimes making their product in their kitchen to being able to sell it at mass retail chains. I was able to tap into my network and get some advice from some of those people within my network who were able to guide me, but no one was in stationery. I am in a sorority, and I, by chance, have a sorority sister who had been in the stationery industry. I asked her, "Hey, had there been any factories that you had worked with that you thought were amazing?" She was able to put me in touch with the factory. I had a couple of conversations. I felt like the relationship was good. That's how I was, honestly, able to make the Target opportunity happen. You can Google and all you want, but there is no trade shows to go to. There's nowhere for you to find sourcing in the US like you normally would be able to if there wasn't a pandemic. Again, timing, network, support, my story will continue to have those things continuing to be said because that's really been what has helped grow my business.
[00:11:05] Andrew: Wow. That's cool. We're talking a little bit when we were chatting, I feel like a month ago, we're talking a little bit about the sticker and the design there. The sticker is just a product for sale on the site, but you have this sticker not just available on your website. How are you finding these other distribution and access points for people to find your products, not just on the Be Rooted website, for instance?
[00:11:33] Jasmin: Yes, word of mouth. People have been sharing my brand to other people and other friends, so much so that the stickers are being sold right now in the National Museum of African-American Music that just opened up in Nashville, Tennessee. When I started my work, I would've never guessed that I would be in a gift shop of a museum, a national museum, what? The stickers are some of their bestsellers. You would be surprised, the orders I'm getting on them because I think that it's such a quick and accessible way for people to showcase art that they love. You can stick it on anything from water bottles to their laptop. People love them. A lot of people sharing my brand and then people reaching out to me. I haven't, to this date, because I'm still trying to scale and keep up with the opportunities I have, so I haven't been doing a lot of pushing for opportunities yet. Things like that and other gift shops also carry the stickers in my journals, which has been awesome, who have reached out to the brand and said, "We love what you're doing, we would love to carry this."
[00:12:41] Andrew: What was I going to say? You got the gift shops and you're fulfilling orders that way. When it comes to advertising, that's what I meant to say, you're not doing a lot of ad spend, then, necessarily, to promote, other than natural, organic, whatever you're doing, is that what you're saying?
[00:13:05] Jasmin: Yes. So far today, I haven't done any paid media spend. Everything has been organic, organic outreach, organic influencers posting. I know there's lots of schools of thought, right? You can definitely, in the beginning, throw a lot of money at it and get super-rapid growth. I really wanted to try to build my platform as organically as possible upfront and then make sure that I'm operationally sound before I start doing all of the paid stuff because you have to be ready for that. If you have all this traffic but your supply chains aren't in order, your backend is not in order, your email capabilities are not in order, then you're driving traffic to an empty site. As I'm growing, I'm trying to make sure that I'm doing it in a way that is a little bit methodical. I haven't done the paid route, and I'm just so, through the moon, happy that my supporters have helped, through word of mouth, grow the brand to where it's at now.
[00:13:59] Andrew: That's awesome. On your site, you got this in the media, you're in Seventeen, Marie Claire, Observer, AspireTV, PopSugar, and probably more since it's hard to keep a website updated. You know what I mean because I presume you're doing all of that to yourself, by and large, right?
[00:14:16] Jasmin: Yes. I'm definitely the updater of my website. I cannot wait until one day I have someone who can really come in and design me an amazing website. I think it looks pretty decently, from my non-website design skills. Again, the PR was through a network of a good friend of mine in college, who I haven't talked to in three to four years, started her own PR agency. She's a VP of a big PR agency, but she wanted to help small brands because she saw that they weren't getting the same attention at those big PR firms, so she launched Disrupt. Left her big corporate job to launch Disrupt PR agency. She's been on with the brand for the past three months, and she's been giving me all these opportunities. A lot of it is because it's a White space out there and these editors are loving what I'm doing, but it's just the power of a network. Again, you'll hear me say that a lot. It's people that are within your orbit that get behind you and support you and believe in what you're doing.
[00:15:17] Andrew: Look at how happy you are in Target holding your book. I just found out on Instagram, through the viewers here, from two days ago. This is amazing to see
[00:15:27] Jasmin: That's genuine.
[00:15:29] Andrew: It is.
[00:15:29] Jasmin: that photoshoot originally was supposed to announce the launch, but then I just had a friend take me to a Target store, and we just took a couple of photos. I always say the smile that I have in that picture is true joy because that was me seeing my product on-shelf. You can't replicate that just being in the studio trying to do a photo shoot. That was the first time I saw my product on-shelf, and you can't replicate that feeling. I know people, say for a woman, your wedding day is your happiest day of your life, but I haven't had that yet. I'll say that that moment, for sure, has been the happiest day of my life.
[00:16:10] Andrew: I just celebrated, we just celebrated our oldest's birthday yesterday and St. Patrick's Day. The way you're looking at that book, I saw a photo of myself from 11 years ago. That's your baby right there. It happened fast, too. I've talked to folks where it's like, "Oh, I've been wanting to do this since I was in high school." It's this journey of years. You have experiences like you said, and you've talked to a lot of people, so it's probably been germinating. Certainly, when you don't see yourself in the world, you want to put yourself in the world. It's not like you just were like, "Oh, I'm going to make this up and go with it." It was intentional. You look so happy and so fulfilled, that just means the world to me and to all of us. Of course, that's why this is so cool.
[00:16:52] Jasmin: The passion behind inclusivity has always been there. It's something that has been ingrained through every job I've had, any organization that I've given my time to. I'll be lying to say that I dreamt at 13 I would own a stationery company. That's not the thing. I always knew. I'd be doing work with inclusivity. The product is a vessel for that, but the passion has always been there.
[00:17:18] Andrew: Totally. That's a great sound bite, good for you. You nailed it. You said it way better than I did. A little bit about the Instagram feed that you have going because it's very clean, and you got the topography. How are you coming up with all these little phrases? What's your plan to create this schedule for content on here?
[00:17:41] Jasmin: It's honestly just the two things that my brand ethos is putting positivity into the world and celebrating Black women and women of color through either designs or words that we use. Everything that's on my page, everything that is on my journals, those are all common lingos and words and phrases that me and my friends say. It's just really elevating that. I think that's why it's connecting with people because they're seeing that Act Up Sis Journal and they're like, "Yes, I tell my friends that. I want to give my friend that because I would tell her that" or my posts where I'm like, "Gas yourself." That's something that me and my friends would say, so it's getting high engagement and shares because it's really innate to our culture, and it feels familiar. I'm really just pulling from my experiences and my friends' experiences to make sure that it's coming from that tone and voice.
[00:18:43] Andrew: Then you have just really a great color palette that you're working with and then the typography as well. How did you come to those choices? Those are very important design choices, right?
[00:18:54] Jasmin: Yes. Like I told you, I'm design-adjacent right now, all my social media content. Actually, my designer's focused on the illustrations for my artwork, but I do all of the design work for my page. Again, because my journals are so colorful, I really want to make sure that the page feels a little bit more tonal but that the font and when I'm telling stories, that they're really bold so that those messages really come through. I'm honestly learning as I go what's resonating the most. It's really wanting to make sure that the journals get to stay front and center. I'm making sure that the background is tonal but making sure the messaging is really bold and bright as much as the journals are.
[00:19:37] Andrew: Totally. It's funny actually, I see one of my friends from high school follows you, which is really amazing.
[00:19:44] Jasmin: Oh, look at that.
[00:19:44] Andrew: I just saw her name pop up in there, which she's a really cool person. It just popped up as I was scrolling. She liked one of your posts, so that's a beautiful small world that we live in. Speaking of that engagement with people, how are you seeing your hashtag and just getting tagged out there? Is that something that you're not necessarily reaching for but now that you're in the Target space, I assume? You're so new, this is this week. We're right here on the cusp of it, is there a relationship with them? How are you trying to cultivate this following at this point now? [unintelligible 00:20:23] my guess is what I'm thinking, you know what I mean, or maybe it will, hopefully, right?
[00:20:29] Jasmin: Yes, it's a lot of push and pull. I've done so much to support this launch from being on podcasts like this, trying to just get the word out, but then also hosting editor parties so that I can get them excited about it and trying to get my friends who are influencers to post it. The more that I show Target, here's the things that I'm doing to support their brand, the more love that they'll give me. I'm super excited because my brand was actually featured for Women's History Month on the website. They also did a post on Target's page showing my brand, one of the few brands, I think there were six brands they highlighted for Women's History Month. A lot of it is me continuing to try to create engaging content that people share, that people love, and then hopefully come back to my page but then also trying to come up with cool ways to get Target to be excited about the brand and for them to love us, continue to share, then partner with the other dope, Indie brands, small brands, women-owned brands, and Black-owned brands I just recently launched at Target as well and see how we can come together and share audiences with each other.
I think there's so much power in collaboration that sometimes gets untapped, but I'm all for it. I'm like, "Look, we all are trying to make our things work in retail, let's leverage each other's networks to continue to elevate each other."
[00:21:57] Andrew: Excellent. Now to the name, Be Rooted, I went on the About page and your story page, you've got these three taglines: Be Rooted in Culture, Be Rooted in Reflection, and Be Rooted in Who You Are. I understand the backstory with roots and being rooted in plants and fertile ground and all that, but what made you want to go with that, I guess? What were you working with at the time to think through your brand name?
[00:22:28] Jasmin: I think when you think about the word "rooted," it means to be firmly planted, it means to feel confident within, it means that you are standing on solid ground. When I talk about the fact that I feel like this category has often left my community felt unseen, I wanted to be the brand that made my customers feel rooted within the category. The things that I want to always be true is that my brand is rooting my customers in their culture, it is rooting them in reflection through the product types and the messaging that we have and rooting them in who they are so that they can see reflective designs back to them. When you're coming up with a brand name, it's so hard. You can go a thousand different ways. You can make something super out there that has nothing to do with your brand, or you can make something literal. I went the literal route because I truly wanted my customers to feel like they were firmly planted and had a right to be seen in this category.
[00:23:33] Andrew: Yes, for sure. No, absolutely. Especially when you say it that way, it's a right. You should feel represented, and that's a whole other podcast. I'm sure you've had those conversations. I'm trying to elevate these conversations myself, especially through what we do here, but when it comes to entrepreneurs like yourself, it probably, up until this Target thing, felt like a little bit of an uphill battle at times, even when you're feeling good about it, right?
[00:24:06] Jasmin: Yes.
[00:24:08] Andrew: That's not necessarily a fun headspace to be in, but at the same time, clearly, your goal is to put in positivity out into the world, right? That's what you said.
[00:24:19] Jasmin: Yes.
[00:24:20] Andrew: I think it's right there on the homepage. [laughter]
[00:24:24] Andrew: You got the journals, you got the stickers, you got this-- it's sold out right now folks, but the Slim Travel Journal set. You're productizing other stuff, even the pencils, which really look fun, even though they're sold out, too.
[00:24:39] Jasmin: We had a big week, okay? [laughter]
[00:24:44] Andrew: I know. I'm not trying to say you're selling out. This is a good problem to have at this point, right? This is a cool little pencil, too, the Keep Killin It. How do you continue to productize off of this stuff because right now it's paper and pencils and stickers, right? What are you thinking about?
[00:25:03] Jasmin: I really want to be that go-to destination for all, mainly office supplies and other paper goods. I started with journals because I had this something that my soul told me in January that we would need to be focused on self-care. I had a desire to expand into other categories really quickly. What happened was, as the Target opportunity came, as anyone who knows has gotten into retail, that's a big cash flow suck. I was like I had to put pause onto the other categories I wanted to expand into so that I can support, from a cash flow standpoint, the Target opportunity, but you will see, from a brand like mine, by the end of this year, going into Q1 2022, other categories like planners, sticky notes, sticky note pads, tear-off sheets, pins, bookmarks. I really want to be able to bring the positivity and the inclusive designs into other categories within stationery. I had to just take a little bit of a pause so that I can make sure that I was operationally sound and cash-flow-efficient for the Target opportunity and then I can move full-steam ahead. Yes, by 2022, we will be a go-to destination across many categories within office supplies and paper goods.
[00:26:22] Andrew: The way you put that vision out in the world and then the way you phrased that, too, it's like, "We will be." You will be.
[00:26:29] Jasmin: We will be.
[00:26:29] Andrew: Totally. Let me think, what else? We've got the Facebook page, that's Be Rooted Co, same thing with Instagram and Twitter as well. This has probably taken over your life quite a bit, and you're right in the moment. How are you tracking stuff through this Target? How does that work? Would they report back to you on a monthly basis? Do you have a little dashboard? This is the fascinating part for me, as a numbers geek and a business nerd. What is that like? What's that all about?
[00:27:02] Jasmin: When you work with a retailer, most brands work with what's called a sales broker. A sales broker is the person that is the conduit between you and the buyer. They help pull your weekly sales. They help translate what Target is thinking into what would make sense for you as a brand. Upfront, I had really candid conversations with the buying team and with my broker about, "This is the first time that a brand of my size is in this category, A, the first time there's an inclusive brand in this category, B. Let's have honest conversations around what success looks like." We put out some success metrics, since I am in all stores, what does that look like in all stores? What would that look like in maybe the stores where my core demographic is a little bit more heavily populated, right, because if you look at the US, there are some areas, some cities, and states where there's a little bit more of a diverse population. Now it's go-time, we're out there and we'll be tracking, every week, how are we hitting, hopefully exceeding, those sales targets that we talked about back in November, December of last year? Then I'm really glad that Target's super willing to have a conversation around, "We can adjust it if needed, based off of how some of the initial reads are coming in." It's go-time now. It's time to sell and to hopefully hit all the expectations so that we can talk about expansion for next year.
[00:28:31] Andrew: That's right. You'll be able to, as you go, figure out the flow like, "We're big here but less here, but we don't want to pull out because then we're not serving," your goal is to be serving your audience, but you might have to just tweak the numbers and whatever stock [crosstalk]
[00:28:53] Jasmin: Yes. There's two things that you're trying to manage, one is that there's women of color everywhere. You want to make sure that you're all fair in inclusive products everywhere so that no matter if there's 1 woman or if there's 100 women walking into the store, they have an option. What that might look like is, for example, Charlotte, North Carolina is a heavily diverse city, and it's also one of my largest bases for my website consumers as well.
If we look at expansion, you might want to expand in cities like Charlotte, North Carolina more heavily than where you might expand-- I will just throw out Utah because I don't have a large Utah-based following right now on my website. We're able to pull sales by store, by state, by city, get a good understanding of like, "Where are people loving Be Rooted?" Then you might think about differently your product assortment strategy in different markets to make sure that you're really serving them in the proper way.
[00:29:50] Andrew: Right on. You can do that dynamically. Goodness gracious, again, my excitement has yet to wane on this. I'm just so thankful for you and your vision and also what you're trying to put out in the world. I think that we all need that right now. There is no question about it. What else should we know, what else should our audience know about Be Rooted, and like we said, what's next? We covered that a little bit but right now is the now. Now is what's next. You are rooted in the now. [laughs]
[00:30:26] Jasmin: We are excited. We're one year not even yet but almost one year in, and there's so much more to come from us. I love hearing feedback, I think feedback is what makes the world go round. It only makes me better so if you're listening, if you checked out the website, if you checked out Instagram, and if you have any feedback, we'd love to hear it. Shoot me an email or DM me all of that's on Instagram, you can see how to do that. Lastly, if you love what we're doing, go to Target. We are available now. It's the critical moment to show them that there's a demand here for what I'm doing, so even though I love all of the traffic on my site, let's show Target some love and get them to see that representation and inclusion matters everywhere.
[00:31:12] Andrew: Let's not just have Target, let's have everybody, right? [laughter] I'm with you on that, but I just want to take it one step further, and it's like this conversation's important, it's long overdue, and yet there's so much work to be done, right? That's the thing that I think you're committed to, and you're doing that by spreading joy and creating community, which is right there on your titles on your Instagram. You're putting it out there. That's pretty impressive. I'm sure there's moments where it's hard, especially when you're following the news, there's--
[00:31:49] Jasmin: All of the things.
[00:31:50] Andrew: Yes, staying positive
[00:31:51] Jasmin: There's all of the things that are going to happen, and I just really liked for my brand to be that positive light. I would hope to love to say that we wake up on Monday and there's never going to be a new story on the news that was going to disappoint me, but I don't think that's realistic. I can't change that and then business a long time ago, I learned the message of "Control the controllables." I can't control that, but what I can control is what I put out into the world. Be Rooted will continuously stay focused on being able to spread joy, spreading positivity, and celebrating and lifting women of color.
[00:32:31] Andrew: Absolutely. Well, thank you for sharing your story today with all of us, Jasmin. This is an exciting moment in the history of your company and, in a way, a cool moment in the history of our company because I think it's pretty cool to know that one of our amazing customers is activating a dream in a way, which is what it's all about, right?
[00:32:53] Jasmin: Yes.
[00:32:53] Andrew: That's pretty cool. Thank you for joining us today.
[00:32:58] Jasmin: Thank you for having me.
[00:33:00] Andrew: Everybody out there, if you're listening, which I hope you are, if you want to be a part of this fairy story, you can head to the stationery island in Target, and pick up a journal. If you want to share your story with our audience, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love hearing stories like this, and we're trying to get as many amazing voices out into the world as possible, so thank you for joining us, as always. Jasmin, best of luck as you go. We are rooting for you, of course, and we will see all of you all next time for Stickers on the Mic. As always, it's my pleasure to say every sticker has a story. Today, it is the Be Rooted story, and it is quite a wonderful story of growth and positivity. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you next time.