Featured photo: In 2020, Whitney Middlebrooks started the Black Luxe Expo, an annual event that brings together more than 100 Black businesses to High Point. This year’s festival takes place on Saturday.
Whitney Middlebrooks is the CEO and founder of Black Luxe and Company, a marketing studio based in High Point. As a High Point native, Middlebrooks has often wondered about the lack of Black businesses downtown, which continues to be dominated by furniture showrooms throughout the year. To change that, she started the Black Luxe Expo in 2020 that brings Black businesses from across the country together to share their goods and network. This year’s expo takes place on Saturday at the High Point Theater and is free to the public. Learn more at blackluxeco.com/expo or follow Black Luxe on social media @blackluxeco.
Tell me how your business got started.
I founded the company in January 2020, right before the pandemic. I have a history in marketing, communications and I’ve done some freelance writing before too. I also had a blog years ago that had some relatively good traction that focuses mostly on celebrity gossip. I’ve always been deeply rooted in cultural things that I can relate to. I’m also passionate about racism, sexism and police brutality and all those things that have impacted me as a Black woman, so I wanted to use the blog as an outlet.
I was writing about things from a Black perspective like George Floyd and also highlighting local Black businesses. Due to my passion, people started asking me to create them a logo or a website and suddenly, now I’m an entrepreneur. So, I thought, let me offer something to people at a good rate.
How did the first Black Luxe Expo become a reality?
After I was connected to all of the businesses, I created an introductory directory. I thought, I have all these connections, let me put them out there. There were a lot of businesses and a lot of really good businesses. And I started thinking, Maybe I should introduce my business in High Point. So in October 2020, we had our first expo. We were still in the pandemic and it was a confusing time but I was trying to get out of that space and interact as much as I could. That first one I wasn’t really thinking about it in a large way, it was like, Let’s see how we can connect. I was shocked at the response. I had about 50 businesses.
Before I could finish the night, people were asking me about the next one. I had no inclination of doing this again the next year but I knew that nobody was doing this in High Point so in September 2021, we had our second expo and this time we had over 80 businesses with people coming from Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina.
Now we’re in year three and we have over 100 businesses with people from Florida and Maryland.
Why was starting the expo important to you?
It’s changing because people want to come here. That’s traditionally not what High Point has been set up to be. It’s been isolated to be a design furniture space that really doesn’t have anything to do with the people who live here. The people here don’t go to Furniture Market. I specifically mean people that look like me, there’s no real connection to it.
Now people are looking forward to the expo. To see people travel from all over to come here for this is amazing. People want to be in this space and this energy and it’s in High Point. High Point has never been on the radar for anything like that.
What’s your connection to the city?
I am originally from High Point, born and raised. I graduated from Andrews High School and then went to Winston-Salem State. Then I graduated from High Point University with my second masters. I’ve never in my life looked at High Point as a space to do anything. There’s no nightlife; nothing can keep you here. No one ever thinks about downtown.
When I came back a few years ago, I noticed the huge presence of High Point University; that was major. I personally think that seeing the school highly represent and brand the city is a plus. A lot of people don’t like that. But to me, it can put us on the map like Raleigh and NC State or Greensboro and A&T. It can put us on other people’s radar.
In the last couple of years I’ve seen a little bit of growth downtown like the Gallery on Main and Unwind, a Black-owned wine bar. But I feel like there’s still not a lot downtown; there’s too much emptiness. I think the Furniture Market is a little deceiving as to what’s actually happening. If you’re not from High Point, do designers believe that’s what the city looks like all the time?
I went to Winston-Salem State and Winston grew so much, it’s insane. And I’m thinking, what’s stopping High Point?
What effect do you think having the expo downtown has on the city?
The expo in general is putting High Point on more people’s radar, in terms of people who look like me. They’re thinking about High Point in a different capacity. I’m hoping that it shows the city of High Point that there’s all these great businesses. There are people who can have shops; they are here. You don’t have to go outside to find that. I have a large database of businesses. I’ve been cultivating that list and some are new while some have been doing it for 10 plus years. My goal is that the expo helps people tap into who they are and is a space to create. A lot of people in High Point are looking for opportunities but don’t feel like those opportunities are afforded to them.
How has the expo impacted the businesses that have participated?
There are so many businesses that are doing great. I know someone who has a boutique now. Her parents were in the expo but she opened up her own business afterwards. I know of businesses who have expanded and I think the expo is a connecting piece. I’m not saying the expo created that but it created the confidence to put yourself out there.
What do you want the future of your business to look like?
My goal is to keep doing this annually and maybe have some other odd things that I do throughout the year. Moving forward, maybe we’ll do themes or something like that. This year we have more experiences like a live band, more giveaways, a poet, a cash bar, a play area for kids and free health screenings.
I just want people to enjoy the space. The incredibly important thing is that everything that I’m doing is rooted in authenticity. I want people to feel food and feel good in the city of High Point. That they don’t have to leave High Point to have a good community festival. I want this space to be a space of good energy, of Black excellence.
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