Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with SaVonne Anderson, Founder of Aya Paper Co., located in Newark, NJ, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Aya Paper Co. proves that sustainable goods don't have to be boring or generic. We fill a huge gap in the market for both people of color who cannot find cards and gifts to celebrate their relationships in beautifully authentic ways and folks who want to reduce their impact on the environment without sacrificing style or quality.

Tell us about yourself

Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, I always knew I wanted to run my own business. My father has been a full-time entrepreneur since I was seven, and I watched him buy homes, travel the world, send my brother and me to college, and create a life he loves on his own terms. He is the reason why entrepreneurship has never felt out of my reach. I didn't know what type of business I wanted to build, so when I went to college, I studied design, digital marketing, and black culture to nurture my existing skills and passions. I also joined teams at small start-up companies to get hands-on experience with building a business from the ground up.

Sending handwritten notes in cards has always been how I show love to my family and friends. I send cards for birthdays, holidays, accomplishments, and for no reason at all. I would look for the cards that reflected our experiences but usually had to settle for less. There weren't cards with black faces. There weren't any messages that reflected my sentiments authentically. And in the event that I did find a card that I loved, it definitely was not made sustainably. Even though stationery is a multi-billion dollar industry with billions of global consumers, women like me were occupying a gap in the market. As an advocate for environmental justice, I also wanted to make sure that my company didn't perpetuate climate change and pollution since these problems disproportionately affect black and brown people. All of our products are made from recycled paper without excess waste or pollution, and we use our platform to make information about sustainability accessible to our audience.

In only a year, we have built a loyal customer base of both women of color who are excited to have products that make them feel seen and eco-friendly folks who want quality products without harming the earth. In recent months, we have also been able to stick with retailers and collaborate with larger brands like Netflix, which are invested in working with eco-friendly companies. Every week I get messages on social media or emails from customers thanking us for providing products that bring them joy and for making a positive social impact. Seeing those tangible results is what inspires me to keep going each day.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Since its founding in 2019, Aya has been featured by Forbes, Allure, Architectural Digest, Time, Black Enterprise, Buzzfeed, CNN, Fenty Beauty, and more! We've been stocked in over 100 small boutiques across the country, as well as shelves at Nordstrom, Macy's, Whole Foods, and Kohls. We've had the pleasure of creating custom products for Netflix, Kickstarter, Louis Vuitton, and many others. All of these accolades really speak to our impact on thousands of people around the world. Knowing that we are helping so many folks spread joy and celebrate is really fulfilling.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

The responsibility of it all. When you work for someone else or as a part of a larger team, the decision-making process is spread out. Big decisions are made by your boss, or you discuss some decisions as a team. But with Aya, I'm the CEO, Creative Director, Customer Service Associate, HR, Marketing Manager, Operations Lead, CFO, and more! It's a lot of responsibility, and I make hundreds of important decisions each day. It's challenging to carry that responsibility, but I'm learning to trust myself more and rely on my advisors, mentors, and team when needed.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Don't let fear stop you from going after your dreams. My dad always says that if your dream doesn't scare you a bit, then it isn't big enough. So learn to get comfortable with fear and work through it. Be okay with the possibility of failure, learn the lesson, and try again.
  2. Find some trusted mentors and advisors to help you along the way. There will be a lot of things you don't know, but there are people who will want to help you figure them out, so lean into that support.
  3. Take breaks and give yourself grace. Running a business is hard work and can be all-consuming if you don't step away sometimes. Make time to take care of yourself and do things that inspire you so that you can bring your best self to work each day.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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