How This Founder Built a Brand By Supporting Diversity In the Wine Industry

If you’re like me, I love a glass of wine after a long day of entrepreneurship.

It’s a moment to “unwine” and reflect on my day. Now think about your favorite wine.

Who’s the winemaker? Would you be surprised if it was a winemaker of color?

For many years, the wine industry has been seen as an industry for the elite and not always inclusive and diverse. The reality is there are several professionals of color in the wine industry as sommeliers, wine business owners, winery owners and winemakers but they are still considered a minority in the industry. Shayla Varnado saw this need and decided to take her passion for wine and change the narrative.

Insert Black Girls Wine, a community that celebrates diversity through wine by giving Black women amazing wine experiences, a safe space for networking, and meeting new wine friends. Outside of that, it’s also an incredible platform discussing all things life, learning about the wine industry, and even helping women develop new wine skills. Overall, it’s a space to celebrate Black excellence!

Meet Shayla Varnado, the vivacious founder and owner behind Black Girls Wine (BGW)! We recently met to discuss why she created BGW, why it’s necessary for Black women, and her journey through entrepreneurship.

Tell us about yourself

I am originally from Richmond VA tri-city area. Believe it or not I studied fashion in school! I liiiivveee for all the classic fashion houses and really enjoy being creative with my wardrobe. After graduating college I went into corporate America as an insurance adjuster while simultaneously launching my consulting business for style & business strategy. I quit my job in 2014 to be a solopreneur but ended up back in corporate by 2016 so I could pay for my wedding!

You made the change from styling to the wine industry. Were both your passion and if so, how did you choose?

Both were my passion but in a different way. I’m a girls girl! I love having a girls night, hanging out with friends, spa dates, everything! I also love adding value to the lives of women I meet. The impact was always my goal. So transitioning into the wine industry allowed me to tap into my greater purpose which was serving women. With styling, I was doing it but on a much smaller scale (1-on-1 customers vs. groups at a time).

What was your inspiration behind your business?

In 2016, I started looking around the wine industry and noticed that we (African-Americans) needed an online platform for wine lovers and people doing BIG things in the wine industry. There wasn’t one that was doing what I wanted to do so I launched Black Girls Wine. The Society was born a few years later when I finally figured out how to share this space with women around the world.

What inspired you to become a full-time entrepreneur? Did you make a plan to leave the corporate world or did it come suddenly?

I knew when I graduated from college that I would eventually work for myself. I didn’t know how God was going to do it but I knew that He would. I kept pushing it off until I won the scholarship for the Women in Wine conference in Napa. That came just after my nomination for Community Influencer by the Richmond Chamber. I couldn’t turn these opportunities down so I bought my plane ticket, put in my two-week notice, and walked out the door with a single box from my business in my hands. It was semi-planned but had God not forced me out I probably would’ve dragged my feet another month or so.

Why is building bonds and relationships amongst women of color important to you and how does Black Girls Wine curate those experiences?

Sisterhood is important to me because in today’s climate I feel like women have more pressure than ever before. We have pressure from our families, our significant others, our jobs, and our own passions. Women need a break, we need support, and we need to treat ourselves.

By creating the Society I’m providing a luxurious place of refuge for Black women that combines all three. Now they have a space where they feel safe, let their hair down, and actually build that connection with like-minded women.

What is the biggest barrier for women, especially Black women, in the wine industry?

Opportunity. Whether you’re looking to get into the industry or looking to experience what the industry has to offer as a consumer. We need more opportunities to sit at the table.

How do you get clients for your business? Do you use social media as a way to promote for new clients?

Social media and word of mouth. The Society is growing exponentially and it’s women telling their friends and family about this new and exciting sisterhood.

What has been your biggest win in business?

Launching The Society! I’m so proud of this accomplishment and of my team of wine ambassadors are kicking butt already and we aren’t even a month in!

What’s next for Black Girls Wine?

The Women, Wellness, & Wine Retreat this October in Atlanta GA! Then we are planning a FULL schedule for the Society in 2020-2021 including a yacht party, Italy, + Napa trip!

Keep up with Shayla and all things Black Girls Wine on Facebook and Instagram!

Written by Chronda Higgins

Chronda Higgins, owner and principal consultant of Forever Changed Consulting Agency, has been a freelance writer for several years, blogging for a variety of clients. She got her start as a grant writer for nonprofit organizations. She offers public relations, blogging, social media management and ghostwriting services. She works directly with nonprofits, businesses of all sizes and entrepreneurs. Follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.