‘The Best Thing’: Adrian Octavius Walker captures Chicago’s rising stars

A black and white portrait of a woman in side profile

The award-winning photographer celebrates the work of four inspiring women entrepreneurs in this photo essay, shot at Soho House Chicago

Photos by Adrian Octavius Walker  Text by Corinna Burford 

Inspired by a quote from Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel, Beloved, Adrian Octavius Walker’s ‘The Best Thing’ celebrates the work of four Black women entrepreneurs from the Chicago area: Karen Spears, the founder of Kareracter; IB Majekodunmi, the founder of Refinecltv; Karlie Thornton, the founder of FroSkate, and Abena Boamah-Acheampong, the founder of Hanahana Beauty. 

‘For me, it’s important to put Black women forward, especially in the workplace, because they are often downplayed for who they are and what they do,’ says Walker. ‘I want this work to educate other people on what they could be doing in their lives and careers, no matter what age they are,’ he says. ‘Toni Morrison, for example, didn’t publish her first book until she was in her late thirties, so it’s all possible.’ 
A black and white portrait of a woman's hair
A black and white portrait of a woman looking to the camera sat on a sofa

Karen Spears: hand lettering artist, brand architect and founder of Kareracter, a company that helps clients to establish their own brand using mind-mapping techniques

‘A small part of me felt I could be happy working for a reputable agency – a “stable job” as my parents liked to call it. And at a certain point, I did. I took an internship at a big-name agency with aspirations of being a “full-time” creative. Yet with all my dreams and talents, I didn’t feel heard. It was as if I had to spend more time defending my ideas as a Black woman than collaborating. And, like many great women before me, I ain’t got time for all that. As someone who was beginning to develop a more intimate approach to design, I knew I couldn’t flourish at the more factory-style approach of big agencies. What I wanted was personal, and nothing was more personal than having my own business with an approach I believed wholeheartedly in.’
A black and white photo of a woman sat on a couch

IB Majekodunmi: founder of Refinecltv, a digital community that supports and celebrates women and minority-owned businesses

‘Every day, I watched my neighbours choose Starbucks over a local Black and gay-owned cafe and got curious about why we make the decisions that we make with our purchasing power. There were a ton of super-dope businesses and freelancers, specifically woman and minority-owned, who were not getting the visibility they deserved. I wanted to make space for them to be supported and celebrated. Refinecltv started as a hobby to create a directory. The further I got into the process of building, I realised that a directory alone won’t sustain the vision, but community could.’
A black and white portrait of a woman looking to the camera
A black and white portrait of a woman looking to the camera sitting on the floor

Karlie Thornton: art director, event producer and founder of FroSkate, a collective that centers BIPOC skateboarders in the femme, queer, and trans communities

‘I could see that Chicago really needed something like this – a space for women and people in the LGBTQIA communities to get together and have our own skate crew. It was getting more and more popular, and that made me want to keep going and make FroSkate official. I saw so many opportunities for fun things that we could do in the future; ways that we could expand, help the community, and ultimately help people feel amplified and seen within their own skate experience.’ 
Black and white portrait of a woman sitting on a chair

Abena Boamah-Acheampong: founder and CEO of Hanahana Beauty, a clean skincare and wellbeing brand that supports women of colour

‘I’m a former teacher and therapist, and I love to curate learning experiences in everything I do – especially when it comes to sharing stories about Black women, and skincare and wellness. I was inspired to start Hanahana through a curiosity about skincare, and also being Ghanaian and my connection to shea butter. I started making shea as a self-care act and to learn more about my skin. Then, I looked more into the sustainability aspect and really got to understand the process and where it comes from.’ 
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