Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are all over America. These communities are filled with culture, talents, and aspirations. As an HBCU graduate, Ashley Jones wanted to encompass all of these aspects in her clothing brand, Tones of Melanin. After getting a deal with Mark Cuban on Shark Tank, Tones of Melanin is worth an estimated $4 million.
Ashley Jones hails from Virginia and has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from Norfolk State University, the institution that helped her realize her purpose.
There, she participated in several volunteering organizations to help those in need. During university she did a lot of side hustles to earn extra money. She worked as a math teacher, research assistant, graphic designer, and creative director.
Founding Tones of Melanin
While in college, Jones noticed there were no apparel lines that represented the style of HBCU students. This inspired her to create and sell her own designs at school. Her goal after graduating was to turn this venture into a full-time job.
She wanted to push for more colorful fashion options for college students. Two years after getting her degree, Ashley launched Tones of Melanin in 2017 and bootstrapped it with her own savings.
Many HBCUs supported Ashley, and she was given permission to put their school and sports team names on her designs. This included bags, basketball shorts, jackets, pullovers, shirts, and more.
Getting on Shark Tank
Apart from selling merchandise, they also focus on philanthropy. Every sale generates much needed income for underrepresented institutions. Currently, their total donations are estimated to be over $50,000.
These values helped the startup close deals with major recreational brands, like Fanatics and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Their products got into Follett Bookstores located at HBCUs.
Many of these deals were closed in 2022 and the business has continued its steady growth. In 2021, Tones of Melanin made $700,000 in revenue and had around 10 employees. To take it to the next level Ashley Jones applied to appear on Shark Tank.
After Shark Tank
More universities are eager to work with Tones of Melanin and they now have 33 HBCU licenses. This number should easily surpass 50 in the next few months. Nation-wide fraternities and sororities are also lending their names to the rising black- and female-owned business.
The biggest obstacle for the apparel brand will be increasing their scale of economy and boosting their margins. Their designs are eye-catching and are affordable for students. They currently sell reversible jackets, basketball shorts, pullovers and board shorts.
If you want to check out Ashley’s designs, visit her website, TonesOfMelanin.com. Alternatively, you can go to your local Dick’s Sporting Goods, Fanatics, Belk Store, or Follett Bookstore.
Their page on Facebook has an average rating of 3.4 from 48 reviews. The company is now planning to work with bigger universities such as Duke, Harvard, and Yale. Its $4 million valuation will take off if they can recruit the bigger universities. The founder has aspirations to reach the level as Nike and Adidas within five years.