Local entrepreneurs strike deal with Walmart & Sam’s Club

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, July 13, 2022

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NEW SARPY — Mother and daughter duo Ardean Miller-Marbley and Syreniti Marbley earned a 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 the River Parishes, Ardean and Syreniti saw a 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, each Mah Melanin product features beautiful characters of color.

“Many of the people around me grew up with negative self-esteem, and that’s what we’re trying to change. Not only are we targeting kids, but we are targeting the adults that have grown up with a negative perception of themselves. You are beautiful, you matter, you are someone, 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 showcased by approximately 4,000 suppliers. The first day was filled with conferences, motivational speakers and informational sessions on finance and marketing. On the 29th, it was time to meet with the merchants to showcase products. The Mah Melanin team was among the fortunate few to secure four meetings and walk away with a golden ticket.

Mah Melanin gift wrap will be in stores in Louisiana 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 Mah Melanin has experienced in less than two years in business. The homegrown company has also won Making It With Lowe’s 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. While they didn’t receive a “yes” at that time, the experience prepared them to stand before Walmart and Sam’s representatives with confidence.

Mah Melanin began in summer 2020 with the creation of a Santa Claus character who wears a gold chain and “S” shoes rather than the traditional boots. In November 2020, Ardean and Syreniti were shocked to see more than 300 orders come in for their Santa Claus wrapping paper, and the orders have been flying out the door ever since.

“Everyone fell in love with him because they could relate to him. He looks like the Santa that could walk into your home,” Ardean said. “When it started, the concept was creating a Black Santa, but I realized he was so much more than that. We all know we are unique, but only a few of us are brave enough to step out of the box and embrace that uniqueness. That’s what he represents.”

Mah Melanin expanded to include more characters, striving for accurate representation that anyone 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 just like him.

Building a successful business has taken hard work, perseverance and a strong family backing. Ardean is immensely proud of her daughter Syreniti, a 16-year-old student at St. Charles Catholic High School. While balancing cheerleading and other school responsibilities, Syreniti has grown into a wonderful project manager and shipping manager for Mah Melanin.

As orders became more frequent, she devised a plan to prepackage boxes to make shipping more seamless. She knows how to keep her mother organized and assists with decorating tables during vendor events. During a Juneteenth event and Vegan Festival in Memphis, Syreniti had an 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, holding back tears of pride and joy during the Open Call.

Syreniti said she felt famous, especially when she was swept away for photo and video shoots after receiving the golden ticket. The experience made her feel like she grew up and became a “real businesswoman” overnight. She believes the Mah Melanin products can impact others just as they have impacted her.

“It’s amazing to see people that look like me,” Syreniti said.
Ardean said Mah Melanin’s message of empowerment transcends neighborhoods and ethnicities.
“I’m just a girl from the hood with a dream that turned it into a reality. Come join me,” she said. “That message is to tell people that no matter where you are from, you can do whatever you put your heart and mind to. You’re not a product of your environment. You’re 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 because it doesn’t go unnoticed by retailers.

To view more products, including gift wrap, Santa sacks, backpacks, coffee mugs, clutch purses, T-shirts, wall art, blankets, weekend bags and more, visit mahmelanin.com. Gift wrap will be available this Christmas season online through Walmart and Sam’s.