Royal Gazette Feature: Kennette’s entrepreneurial drive
Pictured Bermuda brand: Kennette Burgess in clothes from her empowerment brand, Distinct Apparel
Heather Wood, Lifestyle Editor
Kennette Burgess will tell you ... she had no choice but to start her own business.
Entrepreneurship was something she had learnt as a child through her parents Lovette Burgess-Pemberton and Kenneth “Pop” Simmons Jr.
At the Berkeley Institute and then at Winston-Salem State University, an historically black school in North Carolina, she learnt of some of the challenges she might face as a black female running her own business — they were nothing she felt she couldn’t overcome.
Roughly three years ago, with a master’s degree from High Point University and nearly a decade of work experience behind her, she started her own company in Bermuda, Focus Marketing&Development Solutions, Inc.
About two months ago, she established an arm in North Carolina, the place she now calls home.
Her “empowerment brand”, Distinct Apparel, was born in response to the demands of Focus’ clients.
Comprising her own designs as well as those of her clients, it is geared specifically towards the things important to Ms Burgess: Bermudians, black people, women and Christians.
“It’s not a fashion brand like Louis Vuitton or Nike, it’s not [specifically] sports-centred or high end or whatever, it’s geared to empowering people,” she said. “It could be in the form of general T-shirts, it could be sports apparel, it could be high fashion, it could be bathing suits ... I have pretty much a whole range of things that I have and am also currently working on.”
A line of her PPE masks is available at Caesar’s Pharmacy, Lindo’s grocery stores and North Shore Medical&Aesthetics Centre.
“I would love to partner with local stores if anyone is interested in selling my clothing items to promote Bermuda, black people, women’s empowerment or if they are faith-based stores,” Ms Burgess said.
She runs the three companies despite working full-time with shop.com, the global internet company she joined in 2011, and the responsibility that comes with managing five non-profit agencies.
“That’s how I was raised,” said Ms Burgess, who admits that being single without children and “an excellent multitasker” gives her the time to get things done.
“My mom, my dad, my grandparents raised me to make sure that I’m financially independent.
“Black economics is to make sure that you have as many income streams as possible.
“You’re not relying on just your one employer, who could fire you the next day.
“When other people were doing other activities I was using my social time to focus on things that are going to set out my financial future. But if you want to take the money part away, I would still be doing what I’m doing as far as my businesses because that’s what I love to do.
“It’s my calling and something that helps people. You make the time for what you want.”
A team of social media and marketing staff and designers she employs or contracts have helped make her firms a success and enabled her to fulfil her “mission” of donating to “youth and senior citizen events and sports teams” in Bermuda.
She has carried that same spirit of charity over to the United States where her personality has worked to her benefit.
“As far as operating and having clients here, that came easily because I’m Bermudian — we speak to everybody, we network, we socialise.
“A lot of my clients are referrals from friends and family and other businesses; people that I went to school with; people that I met at networking at events. Being black in business, for me, has been an easy transition, to be honest.”
With an upcoming election, people are reaching out to Distinct Apparel for branded masks; there’s also interest in items for weddings, birthday parties and other events.
“I branched off to Distinct Apparel because I got requests from my marketing clients to design their lines and whatnot,” Ms Burgess said. “My focus for Distinct Apparel, and even for Focus, is to make sure that I’m always bettering myself and bettering my island and everything that I do.”
Raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she remains in the US because she feels it’s where God wants her to be, even though her heart is here.
“I’m a spiritual person. That’s my lifestyle. My plan after going to college was to work out here for a few years, get that international experience to build my résumé and to make sure that I’m qualified — and then return back home.
“However, that wasn’t the plan that my Creator had for me.
“So I’m out here because of that, but my passion and my heart are still in Bermuda. My family’s there, my friends are there, everything is back home.”
She is grateful for the grounding she received here, first from her family and later at the Berkeley Institute.
It prepared her for college internships and taught her how to negotiate, network and develop her business skills “as a black person, as a woman, as a black woman”.
“I knew that whether it was in America or Bermuda my business would have the same challenge.
“You have to know yourself, you have to know your product and you have to market it that way.
“As a marketer it comes easy for me to have a business, but the challenges of course are standard: growing outside, how many clientele can I have that are non-black?
“Right now my focus is the small to medium-sized business owner, the new business owner, minorities and women business owners.
“My focus is people that are more like me because I know the challenges that we face. It’s been easy for me because I know what I had to do and I coach my clients on how to do that.”