Every designer has a vision, but not every designer has a meaningful purpose. Samjah Iman Saulsberry, 34, created her clothing brand Chokolat Creme along side her business partner April Alexander in February 2013. Saulsberry grew up in the small city of Monroe, Louisiana where she met her soon to be business partner Alexander. From a young age, Saulsberry was involved in multiple activities: fashion shows, dance, pageants, sports clubs, debutante balls, etc. Her parents, both hard workers, made sure they exposed her to anything she sought interest in while growing up.
As a child, Saulsberry was involved in her neighborhood rap/dance group they called “Flava.” Saulsberry’s nickname was Chokolat and Alexander’s nickname was Creme. Years later, the two combined their childhood group names to create the name of their clothing brand.
Saulsberry said, “We took that name and brought it together to cover all women of the [color] spectrum – from the chocolate ones to the cream ones.”
When Saulsberry and her partner launched their clothing line, they were focused on making a profit. They sold items they weren’t particularly passionate about but knew were popular within the fashion industry. That didn’t last for long. Saulsberry and her partner spent some time away from designing. When they came back they had new ideas, motivations, and were ready to make a change. They no longer wanted to focus on making a profit, but making a difference. They wanted to create commanding garments that reflected them and what they stood for and valued. The two started by creating T-shirts with powerful images and messages that resonated with them.
“No matter where Chokolat Creme leads us, we are already successful and accomplished because we are no longer bounded by earnings,” Saulsberry said. “We are creating what we want and being authentically us.”
Saulsberry wasn’t always a designer. While in school at Howard University, Saulsberry worked in public relations and interned at a radio station and modeling agency where she was able to assist at concerts, photo shoots, and runway shows. After college, Saulsberry left Washington D.C. and moved to Baton Rouge, LA to be close to home. In Baton Rouge she worked multiple jobs including public relations, event planning, involvement with television shows and magazines, and then began working for the state where she currently works along with managing Chokolat Creme.
Saulsberry said, “Now as a woman my confidence is at a healthy level and I’m not afraid to fail…all because my parents allowed me to be me, make mistakes, and figure it out myself.”
Saulsberry has bigger goals for Chokolat Creme than to be just a clothing brand. She wants to influence young women to be authentic and remain true to themselves. She wants the women who wear her clothes to be leaders. Saulsberry said the media often feeds young girls’ heads with images of how women are supposed to look and be and it can be discouraging and restricting for them.
Saulsberry said, “It’s important to me to continue to lift young girls up and reveal that power in them that some of them have yet to discover and to help them know their worth.”
Chokolat Creme’s primary audience is college girls ages 18-22. Saulsberry said their goal is to have their shirts sold in bookstores on college campuses and trendy boutiques with one-of-a-kind clothing. She described her brand as female empowerment, ambition, and awareness personified through the art of fashion. She wants to not only be a woman who is able to have an impact on young girls, but wants to surround herself with women who also aim to succeed and strive to make a difference.
Elle Marie, former co-worker and friend said, “[Saulsberry’s] character exemplifies passion and persistence to not only her business but to empowering women vocally and creatively.”
Along with managing her clothing brand, Saulsberry also has a fashion blog where she often posts photos of her outfits and gives details about them. Although a busy woman, Saulsberry said she’s quite the introvert. She prefers solitude and being behind the scenes. February 26 and 27, she was able to remain behind the scenes with a few stage appearances. Chokolat Creme made it’s One of a Kind Baton Rouge Fashion Week debut in the BARE and Big Night show.
Bethany Frink, OBRFW audience member said, “After I started to analyze [the designs] I appreciated the fact that I’d never seen something like the sweatpants she had, which is hard in the fashion world because basically everything is out there.”
Most of Saulsberry’s work was done back stage fitting models, creating looks, and making last-minute revisions. At the end of the last show, not only was she pleased with the results, but the audience was filled with intrigued faces and flashing phone cameras.
“‘Wear what you’re feeling’ is the message and evolution that lies behind the Chokolat Creme brand,” Saulsberry said. “We got a lot of exposure [through OBRFW] and networked with a lot of interesting people who were intrigued by our brand.”