How sustainability and a broken shipment inspired one of NYC's only Black-owned packaging companies
A passion for gift-giving and impactful unboxing experiences gave Lillian Elenwoke the spark to create one of NYC's only Black-owned packaging companies, Maison Blanche Packaging—or as locals call it, MB Packaging. Later, she started a second small business, MB Home & Lifestyle, selling handmade (and beautifully packaged) goods like collapsible storage, padfolios, loungewear, and face shields. This is the inspiring story of how it all started.
When Lillian Elenwoke reached out to help organize the inaugural Trade With Africa (TWA) Summit in 2018, she had no idea it would lead her to create her own business, establishing one of the only Black-owned packaging companies in NYC. Tasked with "sourcing and organizing minority brands to showcase their goods at TWA," Elenwoke connected with 10 small businesses and coordinated to have them ship their goods to her in NYC so she could transport them down to the event in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Unfortunately, the majority of items she received were badly packaged and broken—so, she was forced to be resourceful. "I had to improvise for the shabby-looking packaging by offering complimentary gift-wrapping for the goods that were purchased at the event," she recalls. Using her impeccable wrapping ability, she turned a messy situation into something that showcased her unique skills. More than that, the event inspired her and got her thinking in a new direction.
"At the summit, there was a lot of conversation around the opportunities with trade between the United States and Africa, through the African Growth Opportunity Act," she recalls. The act was just beginning to increase trade between the United States and Africa, and many businesses were "leaving money on the table by not understanding the importance of packaging. I left the summit knowing I had to pivot and fill that gap."
Elenwoke returned to NYC "inspired by purpose to give hope, make an impact, and solve a problem." She founded Maison Blanche Packaging, or MB Packaging, to "help emerging brands understand the importance of packaging and, especially, to get packaging right."
On top of packaging consulting and design, MB Packaging provides an array of marketing options for small businesses so that they can better compete with large suppliers. Elenwoke's services include packaging assessment/analysis, product packaging, branding/re-branding services, labeling, group trainings, and connecting sellers with companies that manufacture packaging materials. "I am offering a turnkey solution for emerging brands through my network of vendors," she explains.
To make a mark on her community, Elenwoke offers her expertise to local NYC and New Jersey businesses by providing free packaging assessment sessions. A business that specializes in packaging is still a novelty where she lives and works. "Being a business owner and resident in my neighborhood means a lot to me because I've taken the time to look around and I haven't found any businesses offering the same dynamic service," she says.
As if being the founder of one of NYC's only Black-owned packaging companies isn't enough, Elenwoke founded a second business in 2020. During the pandemic, she made a strategic pivot and created the MB Home & Lifestyle line, which offers unique, affordable, and relevant consumer goods. "I started with handmade, collapsible storage and padfolios, then added loungewear," she explains. "Now, we've added face shields to our list of products [and they've] become bestsellers. We have sold over 160 pieces in less than 30 days."
Elenwoke has even started hosting webinars with local companies, including Global Connections for Women, BellAfricana, StyleProEnterprise, and Nest, on the importance of proper packaging. "To be honest, I was suffering from a severe case of imposter syndrome and didn't think I was ready to teach or host webinars," she reminisces. "I started my journey by helping create timeless gift-giving experiences, and now I am helping brands create memorable unboxing experiences for their customers by showing them how to package their goods better and more sustainably—that is definitely priceless for me."
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