NEW SARPY — Mother-daughter duo Ardean Miller-Marbley and Syreniti Marbley won the golden ticket at the ninth annual Walmart Open Call event, paving the way for their products to be featured online and in-store at select Walmart and Sam’s Club locations.
Growing up in parishes on the river, Ardean and Syreniti saw the need for positive representation for people of color. Their business, Mah Melanin, is focused on empowering the world one person at a time while building positive self-esteem.
From gift wrap to backpacks, purses, t-shirts and more, every Mah Melanin product features beautiful characters in color.
“A lot of people around me grew up with negative self-esteem, and that’s what we’re trying to change. Not only are we targeting children, but we are also targeting adults who have grown up with a negative self-perception. You’re beautiful, you’re important, you’re somebody and you can do anything possible,” Ardean said.
The Open Call event was held June 28-29 at Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. More than 13,000 products were presented by around 4,000 suppliers. The first day was filled with conferences, motivational speakers and informative sessions on finance and marketing. On the 29thth, it was time to meet with the retailers to present the products. The Mah Melanin team was among the lucky few who secured four matches and walked away with the golden ticket.
The Mah Melanin gift wrap will be available in Louisiana stores in 2023. The gift wrap is already available online at Walmart, and bulk orders will be available online through Sam’s by Fall 2022.
Ardean was surprised to learn that Walmart is not a cold, corporate entity, but a business run by warm and welcoming people who are eager to hear your story.
“Everyone wanted to see you win,” Ardean said.
The Walmart Open Call is not the only success that Mah Melanin has experienced in less than two years of business. The homegrown company also won a Making It With Lowe’s award, in addition to receiving a $10,000 grant from Fast Break for Small Businesses.
Ardean and Syreniti also pitched their products virtually to QVC and the Home Shopping Network. Although they didn’t get a “yes” then, the experience prepared them to stand up to Walmart and Sam’s representatives with confidence.
Mah Melanin began in the summer of 2020 with the creation of a Santa figure wearing a gold chain and shoes with an “S” instead of traditional boots. In November 2020, Ardean and the Syrenites were shocked to see more than 300 orders come in for their Santa wrapping paper, and orders have been flying out the door ever since.
“Everyone fell in love with him because they could relate to him. He looks like a Santa who might come into your home,” Ardean said. “When it started, the concept was to create a Black Santa, but I realized he was much more than that. We all know we are unique, but only a few of us are brave enough to step outside the box and embrace that uniqueness. That’s what he represents.”
Mah Melanin has expanded to include more characters, aiming for an accurate representation that everyone can relate to. One grandmother even reached out to Ardean on Etsy and asked if she had met her grandson before because one of the characters looked like him.
Building a successful business requires hard work, persistence and strong family support. Ardean is immensely proud of her daughter Syreniti, a 16-year-old student at St. Mary’s Catholic High School. Charles. While balancing cheerleading and other school responsibilities, Syreniti grew into a wonderful project manager and shipping manager for Mah Melanin.
As the orders became more frequent, she came up with a plan to pre-pack the boxes to make shipping easier. She knows how to keep her mother organized and helps decorate tables during vendor events. During the June 19 event and the Memphis Vegan Festival, Syreniti had the idea to attract customers with a bubble machine.
For Ardean, the highlight of the trip to Arkansas was seeing her daughter, who is typically very cool and composed, hold back tears of pride and joy during the Open Call.
Syreniti said she felt famous, especially when she was taken to photo and video shoots after receiving the golden ticket. The experience made her feel like she had grown up and become a “proper business woman” overnight. She believes that Mah Melanin products can affect others as they have affected her.
“It’s amazing to see people who look like me,” Syreniti said.
Ardean said Maha Melanin’s message of empowerment transcends neighborhoods and ethnic groups.
“I’m just a girl from the floor with a dream that turned it into reality. Join me,” she said. “That message is to tell people that no matter where you’re from, you can do whatever your heart and mind set your mind to. You are not a product of your environment. You are a product of your will, your thoughts and your mind.”
Ardean encourages the community to continue to engage on social media and share posts from the Mah Melanin Facebook page as this does not go unnoticed by retailers.
To see more products including gift wrap, Santa bags, backpacks, coffee mugs, clutch bags, t-shirts, wall art, blankets, weekend bags and more, visit mahmelanin.com. Gift wrapping will be available this Christmas season online through Walmart and Sam’s.