Shaneka Willingham is the owner of Little Mavericks, an e-boutique based in Tokyo, Japan. When she’s not creating bodysuit collections, she teaches military-connected students at Yokota Air Base.
We caught up with her to learn more about her business and life abroad.
When and why did you move to Japan?
I moved to Japan in October 2015 while grieving the loss of my mother and accepting a teaching position serving military-connected students. Best move ever!
What inspired you to start your business?
Beyond a passion for teaching, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit since attending an Entrepreneurship Bootcamp in 6th grade. Back then, I sold body creams and soap. Years later, after collaborating with and photographing events for a dear friend with a successful Black-owned cotton candy business, Sugar Shack Tokyo, I was motivated to start my own.
So, I planned for nine months and with the support of friends and other black entrepreneurs in the heart of Tokyo, including owners of Soul Food House and Abundant Hearts Speak, I launched my e-boutique on my late mother’s birthday, January 28, 2020. My business is dedicated to my mother’s memory, how she dressed me in tailored-made garments, swooped my bangs, and called me her Little Lady.
What is the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur?
The most challenging part of being an entrepreneur is having BIG million-dollar ideas and not enough funding to make them happen just YET (Growth Mindset!). Currently, my business is self-funded as I continue to learn other means to gain capital.
What is the most fulfilling part of being an entrepreneur?
The most fulfilling part of being an entrepreneur is the creative outlet and the love I’ve received from the community I continue to build through Little Mavericks. I am detail-oriented and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE creating and curating various products that are stylish, fun, and affordable.
My bestseller is my Express Yo’self Bodysuits which feature expressions of black culture and self-love. I do a little jig when customers express how much they love not only the bodysuits and their expressions, but the quality and aesthetic of my brand.
Describe your experience living and working in Japan.
Living and working in Japan has been a rewarding and culturally rich experience. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d live in a foreign country doing what I love. I’ve been able to explore and see different parts of the world, meet incredible people, and I’ve even gained a Japanese mama-san who loves me like her own.
But, most importantly, I get to serve those who serve us. Impacted by extraordinary sacrifices, sudden changes, and deployments, our military-connected students are beautiful and resilient. I enjoy creating memorable learning experiences for them, and though I’m the teacher, they’ve taught me so much; no matter what, keep going and pressing forward. They do it daily.
What are your future plans for the business?
I want Little Mavericks to make a profound impact somehow, and I continue to build and refine while figuring that part out. My short-term goal is to establish brand partnerships with black-owned brick-and-mortar boutiques so that Little Mavericks can be featured and readily available in major cities.
My long-term goal is to expand my apparel line and eventually walk into major retailers to see Little Mavericks on the racks. My ultimate goal is growth, success, and wealth for my family and I.
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