5436_web.jpgPALM BEACH – Karine Melissa Purchas, chief executive officer of Fashion Designers Expo of Miami, had already made an impact in the fashion industry when she received a big break recently.

Purchas was able to showcase her company at the National Black Chamber of Commerce’s three-day convention held in Palm Beach. Hundreds of business people took part in the business expo from all parts of the country.

“That’s just a huge opportunity to be seen by everyone at the convention,” Purchas, who is known in the industry as Karine Melissa, said in an interview following the conference. “The audience at the National Black Chamber of Commerce is different than audiences we’re used to. These are business people from all over the world. It’s a different audience. It was amazing.”

It’s all about growth and development, she said. “I wanted to take part because I wanted people to see what I do, but to also soak up all the knowledge possible in order to grow my company,” she said.  Eugene Franklin, president/CEO of the Florida Black Chamber of Commerce, works directly with Harry Alford, head of the national chamber, on networking and economic development.

“I’m always pushing them to do the conference here,” Franklin said in a telephone interview. “I think the attendees got vital information. It gives them visibility. Most of them got awareness. A lot of business people don’t know about the chamber. We are about promoting the needs of black business. We’re about jobs and opportunities,” he said.

Another objective of the conference is to provide successful entrepreneurs with an opportunity to share their knowledge with up-and-coming black business owners.

Special guests included Bernard Bronner, president/CEO of Bronner Brothers, a billion dollar hair care corporation; Everett Hall, a fashion designer who has outfitted famous people such as Nelson Mandela, Tyler Perry, Danny Glover and Charles Barkley; and J. Alexander Martin, co-founder of FUBU.

Bronner, whose company has been the top vendor at Wal-Mart, is also founder and publisher of Upscale magazine. As a business owner, he said, you also have to be about the community, besides turning a profit.

“My father always believed that the community was no better than the people in it. My mission was to get our people high school diplomas and get them jobs,” Bronner told the audience. As for  advice for entrepreneurs: “You have to take something small and successful, and then duplicate it. Get the product right on a small scale.”

Hall’s firm was the first black company to sell tailored clothing in Neiman Marcus. He advises would-be designers to soak up everything in their respective industries. “I loved fabric. I loved sewing. But I knew I had to manage people – the dynamics of business,” he said. “You’ve got to learn the business. Study. Learn it. I went through the fashion bibles. I worked hard at it.”

Passion is key to success, he said. “For ten years I’ll bet I never went five miles from my sewing machine.” Martin, who led a panel on the business of fashion, also offered advice. A lot of people get caught up in the glamour side of the fashion industry and neglect the business side, he said. “It’s called the fashion business and you can’t do without it. In the end, you have to sell something. A lot of people look at the glitz and the glamour.

Martin is now president of afashionmind, a company whose name he created and which is all things fashion. His blog offering fashion advice has more than 56,000 followers and he has also started at television show.
I just keep evolving,” said Martin. “Goals place limits on you.”

Sarita Johnson, an entrepreneur and a councilwoman in Mangonia Park, said the convention provided her the highest level of networking so far. “To have access to this level of black entrepreneurs was awesome. This was an elite group,” said Johnson, CEO of Care Joy Inspirations.

Rita Pinder of Legal Shield in West Palm Beach, came out to support her CEO, Rip Mason, a panelist, but said she got more than she could have expected.

“How else could I have met a J. Alexander Martin or the gentleman from Posner Cosmetics? If you’re a business owner you needed to be here,” she said.

Alford described the convention as a success. “We provide opportunities. That’s how we get billions into the black community,” he said.