To stay in the loop with the latest features, news and interviews from the creative community around licensing, sign up to our weekly newsletter here
“I went to find a unicorn emoji that represented me… And I couldn’t.” April Showers on Afro Unicorn
April, you’re the founder of Afro Unicorn. I understand this brand came about from a chance remark by a close friend… Tell us about it!
Back in 2018, I was repeatedly referred to as a unicorn by a friend because I was doing it all at an extraordinary level… Running my businesses, taking care of my boys as a single mom, and enjoying a bustling social life.
That comment was enough to make me curious! I researched these magical creatures to learn more and found that all unicorns were white. Unicorns are magical, mythical, unique, and a good representation of myself, so I set out to find a unicorn emoji that represented me better… When I couldn’t find one, I hired an illustrator, who also happens to be my cousin, to create it myself.
To create a more representative unicorn emoji?
Right. I was inspired to create a more inclusive brand for children of colour to celebrate how magical, unique, and divine they truly are. That image would eventually become a fully licensed character and a visual representation of my empowerment brand. Today, I am living the dream!
Wow. So, tell me, April, what’s your background?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I was born and raised in South Central, Los Angeles, and attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where my creativity and business acumen blossomed. I started my first business at the age of 19 and have continued on a successful journey as a multi-business owner ever since.
What was that first business?
It was a personal-assistant agency to connect celebrities with personal assistants. By my mid-20s, I went on to have an insurance agency and became a licensed real-estate broker. Both of these businesses are still going strong.
Founding Afro Unicorn is another leg of my business marathon to uplift and impact women and children. By doing so, I’m creating a movement, striving to be the change that I want to see.
What did you learn from your other businesses that helps you today?
My early challenges taught me many valuable lessons that still help me. I’ve also imparted those lessons to other entrepreneurs, and to business students too. I’ve made it my mission to empower and elevate emerging entrepreneurs…
I like to say that anything is possible. And the possibilities are endless! My mantra is to help people get to where they want to be so I can get to where I need to be. I’m really proud to say that my vision – and my ideas – directly and positively impact others.
To what do you attribute that positivity, April?
I attribute it to the right mindset. I really believe that mindset is everything! After you develop the right mindset, which I describe as “All gas, no brakes” you become unstoppable. But you have to program your mind; you have to condition yourself to believe you can achieve anything… You can achieve whatever you set out to accomplish. Because it’s one thing to think you can do something, but a whole other concept to believe that you will. And I always believe that I will.
Fantastic. So after you realised there was room for greater inclusivity with unicorns, how did it become a brand?
Well, the goal from the get-go was to normalise Black Beauty… To give our black and brown girls a unicorn; one that represents them, one that encourages them to love the skin they’re in and one that lets them embrace the crown on their heads.
So Afro Unicorn is a conscious brand with a mission. And I believe it upholds its mission: to uplift and impact women and children of colour. The brand also represents the beauty and uniqueness of vanilla, caramel and mocha complexions. In terms of building the brand, Afro Unicorn started in the e-commerce industry.
“The name is very important. It signifies two ideas…”
This is back in 2019?
Right. Back then, it was an organic, grassroots brand. Believe it or not, I was hand-pressing shirts and selling them through my eCommerce store! I was adding logos to T-shirts and bags by customer request… But Afro Unicorn burst onto the scene as real brand, I would say, in August 2021. It happened in the most amazing way: a video of a little girl wearing an Afro Unicorn shirt went viral! Soon after that, I got an email from Walmart with the subject line ‘Afro Unicorn x Walmart’ collaboration. And that marked the start of things with Walmart.
And still with that name?
Yes, because the name is very important. It signifies two ideas. First, it empowers and elevates emerging entrepreneurs. Second, it’s an homage to Africa – and a promise! It’s a promise to amplify representation through my fully licensed character brand. Today, we’re the fastest-growing black lifestyle brand in America. Shattering the glass ceiling, I’m proud to say I was one of the first black women to enter the party supplies/celebration category. Afro Unicorn won prime shelf placement next to Marvel characters and Disney Princesses in May 2022.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
A couple of things come to mind. One challenge is competing against Disney, Marvel, and Nickelodeon… As we all know, they have billion-dollar budgets and their brands are fuelled by masses and masses of content. Another challenging aspect has been the daily management of our releases.
In what way?
I still make sure that every partner and every product gets the love and care they deserve. It always feels to me like I have tons of kids! And I want to make sure everyone gets treated equally and with the utmost respect. So that care is there, and that takes time and it takes passion. Even as the brand continues to grow, Afro Unicorn stays true to its organic, grassroots origins. As we push forward and we position ourselves for the future, campaigns will be behind every product and partner. We’ve become a household name – with plans to surpass Hello Kitty!
And in regard to that, April, how many products do you now have? And at which stores?
This has been a breakthrough year for creativity and authentic representation. Today, we have a strong market presence… We’re in 25 categories and have 500 products in 40,000 stores. They include Target, Walmart, Kohls, amazon, HomeGoods, JCPenney and CVS. We’re all over the US and Canada. Currently, we have the number-one luggage brand at Walmart, surpassing industry giants!
In terms of the product range, we now have over 45 licensee partners worldwide. We offer party goods, backpacks, bandages, collectibles, consumables, costumes, luggage, and toys – all allowing kids to live and play in the world of Afronia.
Afronia being the land of the Afro Unicorn… What’s next for you, April?
Yes – and to help children to experience Afronia, we want to create location-based experiences – activity centres, hotels, amusement parks… My vision is an empowering, impactful physical space for authentic representation where children can be their authentic selves and get over that European standard of beauty. There are no spaces that currently exist with this type of representation. So, yes, in the near future, I want to create a family-activity centre. I envision a place where you can spend time together as a family: a fun, supervised place to play, create, or relax. Kids can be themselves, bringing self-esteem and motivating them positively.
I also plan to expand Afro Unicorn beyond the US and Canada… Out into the European market. To this end, I loved being in London this fall to showcase Afro Unicorn at Brand Licensing Europe! More immediately, I’ve created a new line of original Afro Unicorn books under the Random House Books for Young Readers imprint…
Ah! That’s what you showed me in London?
Right. That particular book is being released widely now – Fall 2023. It features three Afro Unicorn characters, each with their own superpowers! Unique is the problem solver, with the power to heal and protect. Divine champions and uplifts others and possesses super strength. Finally, Magical is the all-knowing one with the power to read minds.
Sounds like Billy, Adam and Sarah. I won’t say which is which! What are the books called?
A Magical Day, and my Little Golden Book is We Are Afro Unicorns. Then – just in time for the holidays – there’s my Christmas-themed hardcover picture book, The Most Magical Time of the Year! All great for the gifting season. I’m also proud of our festive and fun Afro Unicorn Christmas ornament.
“Afro Unicorn’s movement for authentic representation and inclusivity is everything.”
One other thing I want to mention! We also recently launched Afro Unicorn Magical Tresses. This is born out of love and respect for every unique hair texture… It recognises the need for haircare to be inclusive and magical. We were excited to add Magical Beauty as our first black-owned, global licensing partner. This kid-friendly, mom-approved hair-care line debuted in Walmart stores across the US for back-to-school. But now the products are also at CVS – just in time for the holidays.
Brilliant. So how important is this show of inclusivity, do you think?
Afro Unicorn’s movement for authentic representation and inclusivity is everything! Multicultural toys are essential for kids to incorporate into playtime… They learn how to interact with people who look like them. So how do you fit in this world if you only have Barbie and Ken dolls?
As you know, we – as children – emulate adults: we’re all products of our environment. So it’s imperative to value yourself and see yourself as beautiful from an early age. It’s critical to play with dolls that have coarse hair! It’s critical to teach children to love themselves through authentic representation, in everything we do.
And I do see the tide shifting, by the way, along with a positive trend for bigger toy companies to become more inclusive. George Floyd’s death became a catalyst for change, and the world came together to demand it.
We need to wrap this up, April, but just before we do: what’s the one question I could’ve asked you today but didn’t?
What is Afro Unicorn’s social impact strategy?
Okay! And what’s the answer?
Knowing that I have a direct impact on how kids view themselves and that our brand plays a part in elevating their self-esteem and self-love. My brand continues to be a movement with a social impact with the launch of the Afro Unicorn Foundation, led by its extraordinary President, Kenyelle Ash.
Designed to do what?
To make a direct impact on young girls by helping them discover and uncover what makes them unique, divine and magical; by nurturing them to become confident leaders of tomorrow. Is it okay to give a website address?
Of course! Where do people find out more?
They can find out more on our website: www.afrounicornfoundation.org.
Great stuff. Thanks April.
Enter your details to receive Brands Untapped updates & news.