Black Ink Crew: Chicago's Charmaine Walker Talks Entrepreneurship and Gig That Changed Her Life - Black Enterprise

Black Ink Crew: Chicago’s Charmaine Walker Talks Entrepreneurship and Gig That Changed Her Life

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Many may know her as the dramatic, loud-mouthed party girl, and manager on VH1’s Black Ink Crew: Chicago, but there’s much more to Charmaine Walker than what’s captured in a reality TV episode. The sassy 28-year-old, Howard University graduate has a speech pathology degree under her belt, has transitioned into the world of radio as a personality on WGCI-FM, launched a popular line of aprons that showcase Black Girl Magic at its finest, and started a brand expansion that includes an upcoming lifestyle app and cookbooks deliciously highlighting her Midwestern and Southern roots. She grew up in Louisiana raised by parents who hail from Chicago and Milwaukee.

BLACK ENTERPRISE caught up with Walker to talk about her new career in radio and why she chose to add to her brand by becoming an entrepreneur:

BE: Aprons often bring up thoughts of a Granny in the kitchen, or a dad at the grill on holidays, but your line is a fun, stylish way to represent black pop culture that is relatable to today’s young chefs. I mean, you have aprons. How did the idea come about?

Charmaine Walker: My father would be grilling or cooking meats on the smoker for three days. The gumbo, crawfish, softshell crabs, po’boys — it was just always being made in my house. I grew up with a love of cooking, and when I’m in the kitchen I’m always messing up my clothes; [launching the apron line] made so much sense. I felt like nobody was doing it like I could do it. I wanted something perfect to tell the story of cooking, food, and why I love them so much.

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BE: Describe the process of launching the line? How did it go from idea to product?

Walker: My boyfriend, Nick Bey, is an app and software developer, and I told him my idea. I was fortunate to have him [as a resource]. I gave him the designs and he gave me examples and even better ideas. Everything I use for my branding, he has created for me. He helped me look for the best vendor to get the fabric, and we did our own research to find the best. I had to have money to invest — pay Bey and his company, purchase aprons, pay someone to print the designs. I think it’s important to know what styles my customer likes and so I keep those in stock — like the Wakanda Forever or Black Girl Magic apron — and I’m at conventions and events with my line.

I also had to build a team. I have a great assistant, business manager, and a team of interns — awesome men and women — who I trust when I’m not available to be at events or who help me with the [running of the brand.]

BE: You’re an entrepreneur, but also entertain audiences as a host on WGCI-FM in Chicago. How did you end up transitioning to radio and what’s a day like in terms of balancing reality TV shooting and being a radio personality?

Walker: Because of Black Ink, I was able to land a job with WGCI. It was God looking out. I work out in the morning, which has helped me focus more in balancing everything. Then I get to work. Usually, I film Black Ink around 2:30 in the morning. [Morning time] is also about going through my to-do list and getting things done. On the weekends, I host on WGCI, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. [For me] it’s about being on point — for me, that’s starting with the work out, taking time out for myself, and tackling that to-do list. My mom always told me to write a to-do list and put the hardest thing at the top of the list. Once you get that done, you can easily get through everything else on the list. Once you get through, you realize it probably wasn’t that hard in the first place.

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BE: Where do you see yourself in the next five years in terms of your business and brand?

I have an app coming out under Bey’s company, Relevant Systems, called All Things Charmaine, which will feature [multimedia content] including cooking videos, personal things like my natural hair journey, and behind-the-scenes content from my events, interviews, and shoots. It will also feature special promos for my merchandise. I’m really excited about that.

Five years ago, I would have never thought what’s happening to me right now would be happening, so that’s a hard one, but I’d really like to be a mogul. I admire women like LaLa Anthony, Angela Yee, Nessa “NessNitty” Diab, Angie Martinez — they’re amazing women who [had their start in] radio and media. I just want to build a great legacy.