EAST LASING — Frustrated by a lack of shops for Black women in East Lansing — and by unreliable online retailers — a Michigan State University student is taking fashion into her own hands.
After months of renovations on a M.A.C. Avenue office space, Onylah Taggart opened the doors last week at DBN Boutique, which offers a mix of styles catering to young Black women.
“We need more clothing stores,” said Taggart, a junior advertising management student. “We shouldn’t have to sit (at home) right there and order things online and cross our fingers to make sure it comes in time.”
Taggart said most students can shop for clothes in downtown East Lansing and around MSU’s campus, but Black women have to leave the city to find a store that suits them. Already, she’s running low on what she calls DBN’s “Kim K” sets — a crop top and leggings.
Fatoumata Barry, a nursing student, met Taggart through MAGIC, a summer transitional program for first-year Black students at MSU. She’s had trouble finding clothes in East Lansing, and does most of her shopping in Detroit or online. Sometimes those online purchases come in too small, too big or simply flimsy.
“I think that’s for all of the Black girls on campus: We shop online and we dress from whatever we have in our closets,” she said. “Having this here is nice because we could come and get a quick and cute outfit for tailgates and homecoming.”
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The store at 301 M.A.C. Avenue is a full-time job for Taggart, who takes classes during the day and opens the shop from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. A small staff of friends helps out, and she keeps up with homework in downtime at the store. She’s also raising a 2-month-old, Zhiare.
Taggart started dabbling in fashion in 2017 by bedazzling shoes. The name of her boutique comes from that old upstart, Dazzle By Ny. She later began sourcing her own accessories through the business.
She moved into apparel last year, working with vendors to build up stock while she was home in Detroit for her sophomore year due to the pandemic. She applied for licensing and a seller’s permit and launched a website, DBNBoutique.com.
When she got back to campus, she worked to renovate a basement space between July and September. The flooring was bare cement, a brick wall needed repainting and the drop ceiling needed improvements. Friends and family from Detroit visited to lend a hand with both the store and Zhaire.
Today, the store features floor-to-ceiling mirrors, a photoshoot space, bright purple paint and a section for a friend’s lash extension and lip filler business, Klashed.
Rakala Todd, also an MSU nursing student, relocated Klashed to DBN’s space after getting certified as a lash technician at age 16 in Lathrup Village, a suburb of Detroit. She sees roughly three clients a day while managing her class schedule.
The pair of 20 year olds decided to operate their businesses in tandem when they learned MSU would allow students back to campus this year.
“I like being across the street from Michigan State and (people) being able to walk in and get their lashes done,” Todd said.
Taggart and Todd expect to hire more employees when they graduate in 2023 so they can tend to day jobs or more education. Taggart wants to expand the business to several stores and attract more Black-owned shops to downtown East Lansing.
“I hope we get more salons, more boutique stores, everything. I hope people follow my footsteps. I want to have jobs for people and sit here and make my mark.”