Sisters Omi Ogunwale El and Viara Iyadunni, longtime entrepreneurs and Memphis natives, are opening up their first retail locations side-by-side in Binghampton. Ogunwale employs women who are leaving sex trafficking to create and package popcorn delicacies at her business, Green Goddess Gourmet. The youngest family members have an important role to play as well as Iyadunni's two daughters are the founders of the Angels and Tomboys skincare line, which will be located next door.
The building, located at 3078 Summer Avenue, is currently being renovated and will be split into two separate retail bays. The sisters will celebrate a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 18 and the grand opening on May 19.
This achievement is due in part to loans the sisters received through River City Capital, an affiliate of the nonprofit Community LIFT, which is dedicated to revitalizing the Memphis neighborhoods of Binghampton, Upper South Memphis, Frayser and the Medical District.
Part of the loan will allow Green Goddess Gourmet to have a production kitchen on site, which is a cost-saving improvement from having to rent a commercial kitchen in Arkansas.
“You see so many of your dollars going out the door when you have to rent these kitchens out and get U-Haul trucks and be able to move production back and forth,” Ogunwale El said. “So now we will truly be able to see growth within the business.”
Anthony Young, economic development director for River City Capital, believes the addition of these two businesses will have a positive impact on the Binghampton neighborhood because they will be renovating and occupying a long-vacant building.
“Their story may inspire other minority and women-owned businesses to target Binghampton as the location to operate their business,” Young said. “Moreover, Green Goddess Gourmet and Angels and Tomboys are both businesses that have the potential to grow and scale, which could add jobs to the neighborhood.”
Both businesses have five part-time employees, and the owners expect future expansion in Memphis.
Ogunwale El’s Green Goddess Popcorn and Tea Lounge will feature her line of gourmet vegan popcorn flavors infused with superfood ingredients such as spirulina and kale as well a selection of international teas. Ogunwale is also an herbalist and will offer custom herbal teas and essential oil supplement shots to treat different ailments. The popcorn has been sold in Whole Foods since her company’s founding in 2009. The growth plan includes expanding into additional national retail chains, with Sprouts already in the works.
Omi Ogunwale El poses with Green Goddess Gourmet popcorn. (Submitted)The 4,700-square-foot location will give Ogunawale El the opportunity to manufacture product and personally connect with her customers. The space will have a relaxing atmosphere and will also offer community classes and workshops geared towards healthy living.
“It is actually a health hub and a lounge for the Memphis community,” Ogunawale El said.
Iyadunni will be opening up Angels and Tomboys, a company founded in 2016 by her two daughters, Madison and Mallory. The company manufactures vegan-friendly, all natural body sprays and lotions for tween girls.
Both she and her daughters pitched their concept to investors on the ABC television show Shark Tank and secured a deal with two business moguls, Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban and FUBU founder Daymond John. Both investors are still closely involved with the development of the business and support the 1,800-square-foot retail location.
The concept is the only one of its kind in Memphis, Iyadunni said. Girls will be able to come into the store and create their own products, including sugar scrubs, lip balm, and lip gloss. She says it will be a lab set up where customers will don lab coats and aprons and follow formulas to make beauty products.
The Iyadunni sisters specifically developed these types of products because they couldn’t find anything else like it in the marketplace. The products have milder scents and ingredients than may be found in products targeted adults.
Shatrina Taylor is mother to two fans of the Angels and Tomboys products.
“Young ladies can have their sweet-smelling fragrances that they can call their own,” Taylor said. “One of my daughters has bad eczema and has to watch what she uses, but we're comfortable with her using Angels and Tomboys products.”
The sisters come from a long line of entrepreneurs in their family. Ogunwale El’s mother and grandmother taught her that owning a business is a way to give back to the community. Iyadunni learned from her father that entrepreneurship is a way to be self-sufficient and manage and invest money to provide for the family.
“From a very young age my mother has always instilled entrepreneurship,” Ogunwale El said. “She said 'Hey, you go to school, you get your degrees, however, once you get those degrees come back and open up businesses that can actually help the community.'”
Both businesses have sister nonprofit organizations missions dedicated to improving the Memphis community. Green Goddess Global focuses on empowering disenfranchised women who are victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and substance abuse. These women become Green Goddess employees and the nonprofit takes them through a nine-week course teaching self-care, healthy living and entrepreneurship skills.
“These are the women who are actually bagging, seasoning, and popping the popcorn,” Ogunwale El said. “So every time you purchase a bag, whether it’s in a store or here, five cents of whatever you purchase goes back to the nonprofit. That’s going to help us make these women better and turn them back over to the community.”
Angels and Tomboys’ nonprofit, Girlhood Academy, focuses on personal hygiene care and empowerment of girls. The nonprofit provides baskets of their hygiene products to girls in underserved areas in order to foster greater self-esteem, something many tween girls struggle with Iyadunni says. The nonprofit also sends out positive message campaigns targeted to tween girls via texts, pamphlets, and soon even billboards.
“We want to make certain girls feel empowered and are raising their vibrations and being the best versions of themselves,” Iyadunni said. “And if you’re not feeling good about yourself you’re not going to perform well anywhere.”