LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. — During a trip to the store for some new underwear, 8-year-old Bella Perkins says she had one request as she searched for the right pair.
“I was like ‘Mom. Can you find some Black girls like me that have my skin color or my hair color?’”.
She and her mom, Yolanda Perkins, were not able to find any.
“I’m like….’Why’s none there?’”, the elementary student tells FOX 4.
For Yolanda, a Southwest Florida entrepreneur, a question like that launched her directly into business once again.
Perkins is no stranger to creating a company.
She’s the founder and CEO of Swimmie Caps - a brand that diversifies characters on swim caps in an effort to increase representation for Black and brown children.
A concept - thanks to her daughter - Perkins is now featuring in her latest brand “Undies by Blenditone”.
“The problem is the lack of diversity and inclusion that we see when it comes to kid’s underwear,” she tells FOX 4.
She says addressing that problem helps build confidence in children.
“I want to make sure that little girls like my daughter that have the brown skin and with the natural curly hair feel just as beautiful and empowered beyond Princess Tiana or Doc McStuffins,” Perkins says.
The Undies by Blenditone brand launched in March of 2019.
It was immediately Bella approved.
“Examples came, and then we were like ‘oh yeah!’”.
Perkins says she’s constantly looking for ways to expand and market her business.
In connecting with a mentor, she learned about a $10,000 grant through the Bey-GOOD Foundation in partnership with the NAACP.
Perkins applied for the "BeyGOOD Black-Owned Small Business Impact Fund" just before Thanksgiving 2020, in an effort to help sustain and expand her business.
She says recipients were soon announcing that their business had been chosen via social media.
But, she hadn’t received word regarding her application. At one point, Perkins says, she even forgot about it.
Until, she checked her email in January.
She says she couldn’t believe it at first.
“I was like ‘maybe they made a mistake, you know?’”.
But, this was no error.
Perkin’s brand was selected as a 4th round recipient for the grant - a major win for this tight-knit Southwest Florida family of four.
“We all started crying! We were just crying,” she recalls.
Perkins says the grant money will help purchase necessary tools, including a printer for the Lehigh Acres, home-based business. She also says the money will help to market the Undies by Blenditone brand.
In addition, Perkins says a coincidental chat on the app, Clubhouse, led her to meet the founder and CEO of Me Undies, Jonathan Shokrian.
He has volunteered to mentor her at no cost.
“How amazing is that?"
At first glance, you might be inclined to think that Yolanda is just a very, lucky person.
But, she’s quick to remind people that she’s had businesses that failed.
She also say there’s a thought that she’s sometimes unable to shake.
“I can’t belleve that I was in prison. Like wow.”
In 2004, Perkins’ life looked very different.
“My inmate number was 25379-018.”
She served time for a crime she committed while in college.
“I made a very, poor choice that landed me in federal prison for three years.”
That poor choice, credit card fraud, led to a very wise decision.
“I knew that I was never going back.”
But, there’s been a slight change in plans.
Perkins’ heading back to prison.
When she goes back, she’ll be armed with a Ph.d., two successful businesses and an additional title.
“This time I’ll be going back in as a speaker - talking to women who are preparing to be released.”
Entering prisons as a speaker is an extension of her current outreach.
Perkins says she keeps up with prison databases, often sending letters to incarcerated women that she’s never met.
“You don’t know me. I just want to encourage you. I send them my inmate number, and a clipping of maybe an article so they know I’m real.”
Perkins says she also co-hosts a chat on the Clubhouse app to help individuals who are returning from prison into society.
As Perkins encourages us all to conquer goals despite setbacks, she says the Bey-Good/NAACP grant funding will help her achieve an even broader goal for her business.
“I can continue and build to scale my brand where I can bring on individuals and hire them. I want to be able to provide that as a resource for individuals that are returning.”
Perkins says she also plans to donate Undies by Blenditone to the Salvation Army - an organization that supported her as she returned from prison.
“There are kids who are not privy, and do not have access to clean underwear, which is a huge challenge that I have been made aware of. My goal is to be a resource to kids in shelters.”