Women’s History Month

Black Girls in Trader Joe’s Normalizes Shopping In Niche Grocery Stores

‘Never should — in 2021 — a Black woman ever feel uncomfortable going to a store that provides a service or a product that is essential’

Photo courtesy of the author.

Cleveland-based esthetician and food blogger Mercedes “Dee” Davis created the Black Girls in Trader Joe’s Instagram account last May, just after the pandemic-related shutdown of her beauty shop. Within two days, her following jumped to 10,000. In less than a year, it jumped to 150,000.

Davis launched the brand because she knew that she couldn’t possibly be the only Black woman who shopped at the California-born grocer known for its unique and affordable foods and also known for its affluent locations.

Since then, Davis’s brand has taken off, amassing followers and posts tagged #BGITJ by the hour, landing her a monthly column with The Kitchn, and becoming her full-time job. In honor of Women’s History Month, Davis talks to ZORA about the inspiration behind the brand and how she’s using it to hold predominately-White spaces accountable while also empowering Black women.

ZORA: How did you get the idea of Black Girls in Trader Joe’s?

Davis: Social unrest and the Black Lives Matter movement — all those things kind of fueled it. I think people were looking for Black creators, but also Black Girls in Trader Joe’s was giving voice to Black women who just love Trader Joe’s or love food and love the community that it created. People were like, “We want merch, we want bags. This is how we want to identify ourselves when we go shopping.” That created the business for me, essentially.

We love the brand’s tagline: “We in this thang.” What inspired that?

Being in predominantly White spaces, and being faced with race issues and questioning White people and their Whiteness, was nothing I was unfamiliar with doing. I would get looks (while shopping) like, “Who does she think she is?” It’s a grocery store. To buy food. People are thinking that Trader Joe’s is not attainable or somewhere that they can’t shop. We need to get rid of this misconception because whatever Trader Joe’s is doing is not correct in that aspect. So let’s debunk that. I, as a Black woman, want other Black women to be able to feed their family healthy options, affordable options, and good options no matter where you’re shopping.

Why is it important for Black women to feel confident and comfortable being in these spaces?
It’s important because we don’t live in a segregated America. Never should — in 2021 — a Black woman, a Black man, or a Brown person ever feel uncomfortable going to a store that provides a service or a product that is essential. It’s so important to just feel like I can go anywhere, and I shouldn’t have to second guess or feel unsafe or feel questioned because of what I look like.

What do you say to someone who thinks your brand is driving Black women to White spaces that may be toxic?

I will not attach my name, as a Black woman who is very pro-Black, to something that I don’t feel is beneficial for Black people. I got into this knowing that Trader Joe’s will probably never reach out to Black Girls at Trader Joe’s. All the civil unrest of George Floyd happened, and people were calling on these companies. Black Girls in Trader Joe’s penned a letter to Trader Joe’s saying we need to know where you stand, not just for us, but for the other Black women and men that work there.

Three or four days after, they wrote a letter saying they stand with the Black community, and they’ve made strides since then. Trader Joe’s hired a workforce diversity inclusion officer, they also have what’s called a tasting table, which is how they get new products in their store. Now, they’ve made it so that 15% of their tasting-table products need to be from Black-owned businesses. (McBride Sisters, Snoop Dogg’s 19 Crimes, Partake Cookies). Me, at Black Girls at Trader Joe’s, will keep my foot on their neck, proverbially, to say, “So, what are they doing?” So I do think good things are happening.

What has been a defining moment for the brand so far?

A woman had written a thank you saying “I had no idea, I was always afraid to shop there. I didn’t know that it was for us.” It was one of those kinds of moments that was like, I guess some change is happening and women are feeling more comfortable going to a place that they may not have before. We (Black women) have to think about those things so much — something so small as a grocery store. She realized, I don’t have to stop myself or not go somewhere because I’m Black.

Black Girls in Trader Joe’s is still growing. Do you plan to take it to the next level?

I’m gonna always take it to the next level. I birthed my other business because I started Black Girls in Trader Joe’s. Do Life Decadently. “DLD” are my father’s initials. People are asking for cookware and kitchen gadgets so those things will be included in there.

What’s your philosophy on Black Girls in Trader Joe’s and lifestyle?
If I want to have a beautiful charcuterie board on a Tuesday, I can do that. If I want to wear this outfit to go to Trader Joe’s because it makes me feel good, I can do that. It’s not about how expensive it is. If I love this little $8 lamp from World Market or HomeGoods, I love that lamp because it makes my home feel good. There’s a saying going around: normalizing Black women and luxury and whatever that means for you. Do Life Decadently is exactly that.

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I love words, music and jokes. I write. @clutchmagazine, @EBONYMag, @xojanedotcom & others. PR pro by day, writer always. Reach me at Alisha.Tillery@Gmail.com

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