Being multiracial, bicultural, and generally different from what the dominant media narrative shows us means that it could be difficult to find books that will help you feel seen, especially as a child. When Stephanie Moran Reed and Muammar Reed became new parents, they encountered the same problem when searching for books for their daughter, Mireya Jamila. Thus, MiJa Books was born. If you’re looking for excellent books for a child in your life, we can’t recommend these enough. In this interview, we got to speak to proud mama Stephanie about how MiJa Books came to be and her experience as a small business owner during a pandemic.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
My name is Stephanie Moran Reed, proud Latina and mompreneur based in Culver City, CA. My husband, Muammar Reed, and I created MiJa Books, an online children’s bookstore and resource that showcases multicultural and diverse children’s books featuring protagonists of color. We offer picture book reviews and proudly carry bilingual (English-Spanish) and Spanish-language books in our store. We’ve also created a platform that is supportive of indie authors and publishers that are creating diverse and inclusive content for kids.
How did you get started and what inspired you to start your business?
Unfortunately, the pandemic greatly affected my primary business, Senior Sensory. I worked directly with older adults, providing purposeful and stimulating activities and 1-on-1 tech support. Due to visitor restrictions on long-term care communities, I lost over 90% of my clients. But, in true entrepreneurial spirit, I decided to pivot and start a new company during the pandemic, MiJa Books.
In building our daughter’s home library, we struggled to find books with characters that looked like her and that were more representative of the world around her. MiJa Books is the result of our (ongoing!) search for books with multicultural and diverse characters that children from all backgrounds can learn from and enjoy.
We want our daughter to have shelves full of inclusive books with relatable and inspirational characters. And we hope MiJa Books helps other parents and educators who are looking to diversify their bookshelves. Seeing my daughter’s face every day gives me the strength and motivation I need to continue our mission-driven work at MiJa Books.
What aspirations or goals do you have for MiJa Books?
I dream of one day opening a brick-and-mortar children’s bookstore where children of all backgrounds can come and feel accepted and celebrated. But, in the face of the ongoing pandemic, we are focusing on building our ecommerce brand. My husband and I have also been brainstorming ideas for children’s books that we’d want to publish.
Tell us more about your products and where you source your materials from.
Some of our books we’ve purchased through traditional publishing houses, and some we’ve purchased from indie authors and publishers. We’re on a constant search for new multicultural and diverse books. Social media has been a fantastic resource for discovering new children’s books. We’ve been able to connect with international indie sellers that would have a tough time getting shelf-space in big box retailers.
What inspires the stories selected for MiJa Books?
We are only interested in books that feature protagonists of color and books that celebrate diverse cultures and heritage. I want to change the book-shopping experience that I feel every single time I walk into a big-box retailer or browse other online stores. The shelves are full of books with either white characters or animals, cars, monsters, etc. If a store does carry titles with protagonists of color, they are often segregated to a separate section away from the primary aisles. Or, online, you have to do a deep-dive search for these books.
When people visit mijabooks.com, they will see nothing but images of Black, Brown, and Asian faces, most of them written by Black, Brown, and Asian authors. Stories by and about people of color deserve equal recognition and promotion. We want MiJa Books to be a primary source for championing and celebrating these types of stories.
What is some advice you can offer aspiring entrepreneurs?
You absolutely need to be passionate about your product or service. Ask yourself, what problem is my product or service trying to solve? If you’ve created a solution to a common problem, then you’re destined for success.
The next step is building a strategy for promotion. It may sound cliché, but the old adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is 100% accurate when it comes to marketing angles. Blast your brand in Facebook groups, across as many social media platforms as you can handle, use yard signs, car magnets, flyers, etc. You never know where your next sale might come from if you’ve blasted your brand as far and wide as your budget allows! I’m also still surprised when I see a small business that doesn’t have a website. A website should be a priority investment you make for your business.
What are some unique challenges that you face as a Latina business owner?
I’ve been a business owner since 2016. Thankfully, most of my experience has been quite fulfilling and gratifying. In my primary business as a Certified Activity Director for older adults, my skills and professional experience speak for themselves. But there is one traumatic moment that I will never forget: an elder client of mine who resides in a retirement community, asked me what ethnicity I was. When I responded that I was Mexican, she whispered, “Oh, make sure you keep that to yourself around here” (meaning in the retirement community). 99.9% of my clients, who are mostly white older adults, love and respect me as a person and the value that my services bring to them and their quality of life.
But it only took one to make me question my worth and identity. I’m sure she won’t be the last. But I now use this experience to power my drive to succeed as a Latinapreneur.
Where can we follow you and your business adventures?
This interview is part of the Luz Collective’s Alpha Latina: Small Business Saturday series. This series highlights the accomplishments of Alpha Latinas making a difference in their communities through their small businesses. Interested in being featured? Email us.
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