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Meet Shani Syphrett, The Innovative Strategist Empowering Women of Color

Shani is a smiling young black woman with curly black hair and glasses. She has on a rose patterned dark blue button up.
Source: Shani Syphrett

Even if you’ve never heard of Shani Syphrett, you’ve probably been impacted by her work. She’s the mastermind behind the branding and marketing strategies that keep some of the biggest brands and corporations around the world connected to the public via field-tested brand building, experiential marketing, customer acquisition, and customer retention strategies. In layman’s terms, she’s one of the people responsible for keeping them up to date with their rapidly-growing and ever-changing consumer base.

She’s also the founder of Jamila Studio, a launchpad serving women of color that encourages and empowers them to share their stories and drive themselves forward through accessible one-on-one mentoring, brand coaching, and peer mentoring networks.

Jamila Studio staffers who focus on empowering women are a diverse group of women posing in front of a white brick wall.
Source: Shani Syphrett

We caught up with Syphrett to learn more about her role as a strategist, the influences and impact associated with her work, and what it means for her to empower women of color and drive their success.

You’re a Brand and Marketing Strategist for companies such as Samsung, Nike,  McDonald’s, Refinery29, and Gap. How do you help these well-established companies step into the future of marketing to and serving their customers?

My philosophy around brand and marketing strategy is serving the right customers with the right product at the right time. Much of what I bring to the table for the companies that I work with is getting them to step away from any assumptions they have about the customers they are trying to chase and examine who the qualities of their product or service are uniquely positioned to serve at the moment. Many times that means abandoning putting their customers in demographic boxes and looking at how they actually behave in an internet-connected, barrier-breaking world.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a Brand Strategist?

To me, it’s all human ecology – the relationship between people and their natural, social, and built environments. I would say I fell into strategy because of my innate curiosity and empathy and a few people in my life who entered in at just the right times to advocate for me and push outside of my comfort zone. I’ve always wanted to solve problems and I am lucky to be able to do that every day.

Why do you think it is important to offer support and additional resources to Women of color and intersectional identities, at large. How have you seen intersectional identity groups benefit from tailored support?

I see the work that I do for Women of color as something I am uniquely positioned to do. My experience often puts me in positions where I am the only one who looks, thinks, or acts like me. At first, it depressed me because I felt isolated and misunderstood. Now I see it for what it is: my obligation to open the door and bring others with me. And we all need that. No one succeeds all on their own. We move so much further when there is someone ahead of us, or someone who has access, who is specifically looking to help us. I made a decision to be a resource for Women of color and I see the fruits of that decision both big and small.

In 2015, you founded Jamila Studio as a consulting firm and project studio that helps high-performing women of color to thrive. How have you seen Jamila studio serving and empowering women through these endeavors? How important do you think Jamila studio is in their journey towards success?

I like to think that Jamila Studio provides creative capital and people capital for Women of color and, hopefully, soon, financial capital. What originally was a container for me to house all of my freelance creative work turned into a way for me to provide scalable support for a largely ignored market: innovative women of color. The one-on-one advising, coaching, bootcamp-style teaching, monthly meetup, and digital publication are an ecosystem that helps me reach women at different stages of their journeys. Maybe they’re just starting out and need confidence boosters and general direction. Maybe they are launching something new and need the right strategy behind them. Maybe they’ve already reached a certain milestone and need the co-sign, or connection of their peers to get them to the next step. Maybe they just want to be in the know about the myriad of options and resources out there that they can leverage to be successful. It’s the way that I can help the most people without burning myself out.

Shani is at a Chat & Chew meetup speaking to a group of people sitting in chairs in a circle.
Source: Shani Syphrett

You also started monthly Chat & Chew meetups. Where did the idea to host Chat & Chew meetups come from? How have you seen these monthly meetups impact the attendees both on a personal and professional level?

Selfishly, the Chat & Chew meetups began because I was drowning in “coffee date” requests. Though I wish I could help everyone, I am an introvert who needs a fair amount of downtime. There came a point, I believe it was after about a year of leading workshops for various entrepreneurship programs and conferences and writing for Forbes, where there was a request for a coffee date and pick your brain session every day. I just couldn’t keep up. I was meeting so many new great women, needing to catch up with others, and often wanting to connect women who I thought could benefit from each other. So Chat & Chew was born. It’s invite-only conversation between peers who help each other celebrate wins, get through tricky work-related tasks, and air out the things we don’t feel comfortable doing with just anyone. I could not have imagined the sisterhood and enterprising I’ve seen since it started. It’s warm, validating, and actionable support. It feels like the most significant thing I’ve ever done.

On top of being an active brand strategist and running Jamila Studio, you are also a regular contributor for Forbes. Have you always been interested in writing? How does being a Forbes contributor tie in with your other projects?

Contributing to Forbes came from my passion to be an advocate for women of color. It’s all connected for me. I get to expose the world to dope, innovative women of color who may have been overlooked because they don’t know anyone “in the know”. I get to open that door for them and that makes a difference for them professionally and personally. I get to vouch for these women under the Forbes banner. The writing is just the vehicle.

What is one piece of advice you would give to women of color in any career field?

Clarity comes from engagement and not just thought. You won’t figure out who you are meant to be until you get out there and try to be it.

By: Alla Issa

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