Knoxville Black Business Directory helps clients find entrepreneurs to support

Caring for people’s skin is not easy in times of a pandemic.

“It’s been a crazy, weird ride,” said Sybil Bailey, a licensed esthetician who founded her company, Afro Mermaid Skincare, in January.

It’s the fulfillment of a 30-year passion for 50-year-old Bailey.

So far, the first year, she has focused on survival. She faced mandatory closures and took extra precautions during the pandemic.

What she and so many entrepreneurs need now is trust and more customers.

“I need my community and my clients to believe in the service I provide and to uplift me by spreading the word,” Bailey said.

Afro Mermaid Skincare is one of more than 60 companies featured in Knoxville’s Black Business Directory, which launched Oct. 1.

Created by Knoxville entrepreneur Damon Rawls, the directory is a free way for black business owners to market their businesses and for consumers to find new businesses to support.

“A lot of people say they support diversity, but they don’t necessarily do it with their money,” Bailey said. “And for people who wanted it, I wanted to make myself available.”

30 years of passion for skin care

Bailey, who studied at the Tennessee School of Beauty, is located inside MBK Wellness at 5816 Kingston Pike in Bearden. MBK Wellness, owned by Kenneth Robinson, is a recipient of a Knoxville Chamber Pinnacle Award for Business Excellence.

Afro Mermaid offers services such as facials, “Gen Z” facials for young clients, back treatments, and dermaplaning, which removes dead skin cells.

Growing up in Knoxville, Bailey said she learned to deal with her own skin issues through trial and error. There were no black dermatologists around who understood her skin’s needs, she said.

She wants to be that resource for others, regardless of their skin color.

“I’ve had several people say to me when I was getting ready to open, are you sure your business name won’t alienate people who aren’t black? And I thought, well, if so, they’re probably people I don’t need to get my hands on anyway.

“Because there’s nothing wrong with afros or mermaids or being black or owning a business.”

Highlighting local businesses

Rawls, senior strategist at Damon Rawls Consulting Group, said he wanted to increase the visibility of black-owned businesses in the digital sphere and create a central place for consumers to find businesses to support.

The directory can be found at

“I wanted to stabilize the community,” Rawls said. “I want to shine a light on black businesses, to increase their marketing here in the city, so that’s what I’m hoping to get out of it. I hope everyone in Knoxville increases their shopping with black-owned businesses .”

Rawls, whose digital marketing company specializes in helping nonprofits connect with voters, volunteers and donors, spread the word about joining the directory via social media and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, which is a project partner with the Knoxville Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma.

Continued:Supporting Black-Owned Businesses in Knoxville | Brandon Bruce

“We’re not just hair salons and beauty salons,” Rawls said. “And that’s what I want people to see.”

The directory includes companies like GratitudeSpeak, a customer experience consultancy; Knox Upholstery, a bespoke furniture company; Dream Worthy Vacations full-service travel agency; and the logistics company VETsmart Logistics.

It is free for everyone and is often updated.

Visibility seems even more critical in the context of 2020, in which black-owned businesses have closed at a high rate.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that the number of black-owned businesses fell 41% from February to April.

During this same period, the study found that the total number of active business owners fell by 22%; Among white-owned businesses, the decline was 17%.

The study concluded that there is a disparity and highlighted several factors: many areas with high levels of black entrepreneurship were also the most affected by COVID-19; Black-owned businesses already lacked access to capital and banking relationships compared to their white counterparts and therefore had less of a financial cushion; and the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program had significant funding gaps for the hardest-hit communities.

“The statistics show that we’re going to lose about half of the black businesses that exist today to COVID,” Rawls said. “And so here’s an opportunity that we can shine a light on black businesses in Knoxville (and help) stabilize (Knoxville’s economy).”

People need to be cared for

As so many entrepreneurs have experienced, friends and family have come forward to support Bailey on her journey over the past year, from the friend who designed her logo to colleagues and family members who came in for facials while she pursued her license. She wants to pass on that support.

“People contact me and say, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know we had a black beautician in town.’ And to other black beauticians, I would say, go for it,” Bailey said. “Because people are looking for someone to take care of them who looks like them.”

Bailey said clients often feel waves of emotion when under her care: sometimes joy, sometimes pain and tears.

Touch heals, says Bailey. And that’s more important than ever.

“Right now people really need to be touched and cared for and told they matter,” Bailey said. “Because they do.”

Business reporter Brenna McDermott can be reached at [email protected] Follow his work on Twitter @_BrennaMcD. Support our local news efforts by becoming a Knox News subscriber.

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