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Orion Brown Founder and CEO of BlackTravelBox on Breaking Down Boundaries, COVID Adjustments, and Long-Term Retail Strategy

Orion Brown, Founder and CEO of BlackTravelBox, shares her experience breaking racial barriers in the personal care industry and pivoting her travel brand during COVID. She also shares her experience building a community through micro-influencer marketing and community-centric Instagram posts. Read on to learn more about BlackTravelBox’s future plans, successes, and initial challenges.

Who is Orion Brown?

Orion Brown founded BlackTravelBox, a company dedicated to creating high-quality personal care products for travelers of color. Currently, the company’s headquarters is out of Denver, although Orion is originally from Chicago and has lived in a variety of places throughout her lifetime. 

Orion Brown Founder and CEO of BlackTravelBox on Breaking Down Boundaries, COVID Adjustments, and Long-Term Retail Strategy

As a child, Orion was interested in pre-med but ended up landing within the banking and finance space. Since then, she has gotten an MBA and moved on to learning about consumer goods and brand management. 

“I would say the bread and butter of my career really focused in on like brand and business strategy and getting a chance to work with some of the most iconic brands that are sort of out there, and I really fell in love with that.”

This led her to found BlackTravelBox, “And a few years ago, I became an entrepreneur, just as you know, an opportunity to get my hands back on what I love, which is consumer goods, and you know, I saw an opportunity in the marketplace and I thought I’d go for it.”

Orion Brown Founder and CEO of BlackTravelBox on Breaking Down Boundaries, COVID Adjustments, and Long-Term Retail Strategy

What is BlackTravelBox?

When asked about the name, Orion shares, “And really BlackTravelBox was, you know, to me almost a triple entendre. I think people latch onto the black part of it and they’re like, well, obviously it’s about black people… and it’s also about the little black book and the little black dress and those things that you kind of associate with having everything that you need [and] being really versatile.”

BlackTravelBox’s mailers are clean, elegant, and sophisticated little black boxes, which is another element that fits in well with their name. 

Orion Brown Founder and CEO of BlackTravelBox on Breaking Down Boundaries, COVID Adjustments, and Long-Term Retail Strategy

Orion founded BlackTravelBox in 2017 and began with essential hair products, like shampoo and conditioner. Often, the things provided in hotels are inadequate and not high-quality, so Orion wanted to offer TSA-friendly alternatives. She developed two solid bar forms so that customers didn’t have to worry about TSA or running out of liquid products. 

“Our larger bars are about the equivalent of a 16-ounce bottle, so you can just kind of keep that in your travel bag, keep it in your gym bag, and keep using it without having to go “oh crap, I don’t have my stuff and I’m flying out tomorrow.” 

BlackTravelBox quickly expanded into hair care products that allow women to use protective styles when traveling or wash and style on the go, which is especially important for active travelers who may be swimming, diving, or sweating much more while traveling. 

Orion Brown Founder and CEO of BlackTravelBox on Breaking Down Boundaries, COVID Adjustments, and Long-Term Retail Strategy

Other popular Black Travel Box products include, “A nice hair balm to kind of seal in the moisture is great… and then we have a body balm that is a cult favorite. It smells divine [and] it’s anhydrous as well, there’s no water in it and a little bit goes a long way.”

She also shares that they offer a fantastic lip balm to keep your lips hydrated on the go, along with travel accessories, like see-through clutches, so that TSA can look at your products without touching them. 

Product Development for Black Travel Box

“Having a background in consumer goods, I know how to work with co-manufacturers and things like that, but what I found was… it’s hard to get prioritized when you start to talk about people of color as the target.”

Unfortunately, Orion had many disrespectful responses from manufacturers when she pitched developing a product for people of color. 

Orion Brown Founder and CEO of BlackTravelBox on Breaking Down Boundaries, COVID Adjustments, and Long-Term Retail Strategy

She also ran into the problem that there weren’t already a lot of solid bars out there, so “these manufacturers really struggled to create those products in a way that aligns to the quality standard and what we wanted to create.”

So, Orion took it upon herself to develop the products by “using ingenuity and a little bit of my science background and kind of playing around and creating those formulations.”

COVID Adjustments

Unfortunately, travel has been greatly limited throughout the last few years, which has affected many travel-centric companies, including BlackTravelBox. 

However, Orion shares that they created a new collection called the “staycation collection, which includes our candles, which are really, it’s about taking, bringing the vacation to you if you can’t travel. So you have like the London Fog candle … [which gives] you that sense of like that subtle foggy kind of rain. Because it’s always raining there.”

Orion Brown Founder and CEO of BlackTravelBox on Breaking Down Boundaries, COVID Adjustments, and Long-Term Retail Strategy

Now that travel is coming back, Orion has spent a lot of time focusing on long-term retail strategy. She excitedly shares that Macys.com will be selling BlackTravelBox products soon.

“I’m really excited to begin to test the waters in terms of both e-commerce as well as potential brick and mortar opportunities.”

Instagram Strategy

Orion also shares that she’s excited to continue sharing, “Just real people out, living their best life whether they only do it once [travel] a year or whether they do it every weekend.” 

She keeps her company’s Instagram focused on highlighting the black travel community. 

“You know, we don’t spend a lot of time pushing product. We spend a lot of time engaging with the culture and within your brand.” 

Orion Brown Founder and CEO of BlackTravelBox on Breaking Down Boundaries, COVID Adjustments, and Long-Term Retail Strategy

In terms of influencer marketing, Orion talks about working with micro-influencers in the past, primarily influencers with between 25,000 and 50,000 followers. She says this has been a great marketing play for her brand because larger influencers may be less influential at times because it’s “harder to trust that word of mouth.”

Orion’s Mission and Future Plans

Orion shares that she wants to break down the idea of “ethnic” products and how personal care products are frequently separated in stores. 

“I firmly believe we should not have an ethnic aisle… I always invite [all] people to try the products just like they try anything else.”

A future challenge she sees is that “Particularly when we talk about ethnic products, the problem is that we typically don’t get a ton of distribution, so while there may be products out there that could steal this niche to some extent, they’re usually not in the places and spaces that people actually need.”

However, Orion continues to push back against this by getting her products in major department stores and big-box sellers so that people can find them and discover the brand easily. 

Orion Brown Founder and CEO of BlackTravelBox on Breaking Down Boundaries, COVID Adjustments, and Long-Term Retail Strategy

Lastly, she shares, “We know 2022 is going to be a massive travel year, so we’re leaning into creating our … first-ever video campaign… introducing us to the broader world. I’m really excited about that.”

BlackTravelBox’s video campaign will be live within the next four to six weeks. Orion is already looking forward to summer, back to school, and other seasonal campaigns that are in the works for 2022. 

Her ultimate goal is “for BlackTravelBox to be the number one out of home, personal care brand.”

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Amy DeYoung is a freelance blog post writer covering influencer marketing and business topics. As the daughter of two business owners, she's been fascinated by all things business from a young age, which led her to graduate from college with a bachelor's degree in business. When she's not typing away, she spends her time reading nonfiction books and mystery novels, baking scrumptious desserts, and playing with her dog.

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