Tones of Melanin, a Black-owned company that creates clothes and promotional goods for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), was founded by Ashley Jones, a graduate of an HBCU.
The business creates apparel with the intention of raising awareness of HBCUs, both as a modern-day ally and a revenue-generating marketing tool for these underrepresented colleges.
Jones began her company as a side job while she was a student at Norfolk State University. She remembers creating designs for each college organization before realizing there was a gap in HBCU fashion. This served as the impetus for her 2017 launch of Tones of Melanin, which has generated $3.3 million to date. The company generated $1.4 million in sales in 2022 and $330,000 in revenue thus far in 2023.
According to Sportskeeda, she recently made an appearance on Shark Tank to pitch her company in exchange for an equity share. She told the investors that all proceeds from the brand go toward production, marketing, and other costs.
She wants to promote diversity representation in the fashion business and create a strong HBCU presence in the competitive collegiate fashion market that includes prestigious universities like Duke, Harvard, and Yale, among others.
Tones of Melanin currently has 40 HBCU licenses and sells its products in well-known stores like Belk and Follett College Bookstores.
On Shark Tank, Jones demanded $300,000 for 5% of the company. One of the investors on the show, Mark Cuban, offered $300,000 for 15%; however, after some haggling, both parties agreed on 12% and swiftly closed the purchase.
“I think that everyone who attended an HBCU will benefit from my appearance on national television, which will show that we can thrive anywhere. Never give up on yourself or your dreams, regardless of what anyone else says, Jones told AfroTech.
“Understand what your purpose is along with your vision and that no one can ever discredit you because of where your degree may come from. HBCU graduates are thriving everywhere!”
Jones spent over a year as a research assistant at Norfolk State University, where she graduated with a bachelor of science in business administration and management, before starting Tones of Melanin.
She managed BBUB Greek Gifts and worked part-time at her design firm, Ashley Designs, in addition to being a research assistant.