Interview with Bon Bon Vie

It’s inspiring to see (and know) strong Black women doing awesome work. It was exciting to hear that Shari Neal, owner of Bon Bon Vie, fashion line, agreed to do an interview. Learn about Shari’s growth in business from freelance web design to starting her own company in 2010.

Introduce yourself
My name is Shari Neal and I’m 27 years old. I was born & raised in Chicago to Belizean parents and I recently left my hometown and my job as a web/Flash developer to try things out on the East Coast (Connecticut, on the outskirts of NYC). I’ve been running my t-shirt line Bon Bon Vie since 2010.

How long have you’ve been designing?
Hmmm…it’s hard to say. I’ve never had any official design schooling and I’ve never worked at a design firm, but I first really learned about design in college. Even though I was a Journalism major, I gained a reputation for being good at designing flyers for campus organizations. I also managed to get myself 2 campus jobs through my school (University of Missouri-Columbia) where I was exclusively doing design, despite not having an actual portfolio or completely knowing Illustrator/Photoshop/InDesign…but I learned along the way. But long story short, I’d say about 8 years.

Where does the name Bon Bon Vie come from and what does it mean?
Bon Bon Vie has several meanings. When I was thinking about what to name my company, I remembered a song a friend introduced me to a few years before. That song was “Bon Bon Vie (Gimme The Good Life)” by T.S. Monk. I really liked the song and the lyrics really spoke to me. At the time, I was also thinking a lot about what I wanted to do in life and what made me happy and came to the conclusion that my business, Bon Bon Vie would be my key to the “Good Life”.

Who and/or what inspires you?
I am inspired by everything…other creative people, art, music, design, typography, movies, fashion. But I especially love history, there is a lot to learn from our past. I am especially inspired by old photography, and 60’s & 70’s soul/funk music…vintage things.

What challenges did you face starting your business and how did you learn or improve from those challenges?
Hahaha. Don’t get me started on challenges! Let me first say this…starting a business is not easy. If it were, then everybody would do it. My first challenge was starting a business while having a full-time job. I had a lot of sleepless nights and got sick a lot because I wasn’t taking care of myself. Secondly, money was an issue. I started the business with my own money. No loans, no investors, just me. So I had to be mindful of how I was spending my money and maybe not buy all the things I wanted for my business due to funding limitations.

The last major roadblock was starting a business in an industry I knew little about. I had to learn about screen printing, sales taxes, business plans, wholesale…all types of things that I had only known about in passing. I did a ridiculous amount of research to get up to speed. In my opinion, the only way to learn & improve is to make mistakes. You are going to make mistakes and things will go wrong, and it sucks. But if you can rebound from those mistakes, you can do anything.

Why is it important to promote positive messages of African Americans?
I think it’s important because we are bombarded with so much negativity on a daily basis. Our children need to know there are positive role models and images out there.

What are your goals for your Bon Bon Vie?
I would like Bon Bon Vie to just continue to grow and maybe branch out into other things. The possibilities are limitless, I just hope I can do this forever.

What are 3 – 5 songs that describes who you are?
1. Janet Jackson – Control 2. Erykah Badu – Bag Lady 3. Aretha Franklin – Young, Gifted & Black

What’s the one meal you cannot mess up?
Pasta & shrimp

Do you have advice for individuals starting clothing companies or general advice?
My advice for anyone starting a clothing company is to do your research and ask questions. There is so much information available for anyone wanting to start a business these days, you don’t have to carry the burden of trying to figure out everything yourself. My other advice is to be original. I think it’s ok to be inspired by other designs & fashion out there, but just flat out stealing is wrong. You’re not bringing anything new to the table if you’re not spending time coming up with original ideas.

Any last words?
I enjoyed doing this interview :) Bon Bon Vie’s next collection will be launching this Winter/Spring, so stay tuned!

Connect with Bon Bon Vie: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr | Instagram

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