“Enjoy yourself, despite the rain.” -Shinese Brathwaite
Shinese Brathwaite is an event planner, blogger, creator, and owner of BK Girls Night Out, LLC – a Brooklyn Lifestyle Influence brand. At just 5 years old, she emigrated from Guyana, South America to Brooklyn, NY, residing in Crown Heights, Flatbush, and now Bushwick.
As she explored her new city, Shinese felt compelled to narrate Brooklyn living, bring women together, and celebrate all things Brooklyn. With years of experience in fashion, retail, sales, and marketing, she used her knowledge to launch her business, BK Girls Night Out, in 2014. Since then, she has worked with over 100 female businesses and counting.
Shinese is also passionate about hosting parties with a purpose; seeking a way to educate, enlighten, or inform women about health issues that affect them. Her annual “Think Pink Event” celebrates breast cancer survivors or those working towards decreasing and eradicating the disease.
Shinese has been recognized on a variety of platforms, but most recently in “Caribbean Life”, New York’s local newspaper for Caribbean news, where she received the Caribbean Impact award. She was also featured for hosting her noteworthy event, Runway from the Coast, where she aims to showcase the connection in African and Caribbean cultures.
Who is Shinese Brathwaite, and what was your motivation for starting your brand?
I am a girl from Guyana that was raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I’ve been here since the age of five, and I have a love for this borough because essentially it is all that I know. I am a mother, nine-to-fiver, and I am in a healthy relationship. I am a girl who is following my dreams, showcasing my lifestyle, what I am passionate about, and what I love about Brooklyn, while finding ways to connect women. Although I used the term “night out”, I am never out into the wee hours of the morning. I used this term specifically because I wanted to bring women together outside of just going to the club, and find ways for us to socialize in safe environments, allowing us to feel comfortable when walking through the door. I saw change happening, and I wanted to ensure that the original elements of Brooklyn would still be known.
How did you discover your purpose?
I was always the person people reached out to for the best restaurants, fun activities, or information on how to start a business. I became the voice for the people, and found pleasure in connecting them to resources. In 2013, I started hosting pop up shops in my apartment, because I was looking for a way to connect with people outside of the “nightlife” atmosphere. I was having a conversation with one of my girlfriends about clothing swaps, and she was telling me about one that she’d attended. The idea stuck with me and I decided to put one together. I had that conversation in September 2012 and by February 2013, I said, “I am going to do this”. I launched a Facebook invite, explained in full detail what a clothing swap was, and invited friends and family. March 1, 2013, I hosted my first clothing swap. The idea of including vendors came about because my sister was in a salon talking about the event and met a MAC distributor who agreed to come and sell products. It was a great turn out! Later on, I found out that they were not real MAC products, causing me to do a lot of damage control. Thankfully, it was only friends and family and they were very understanding.
What were the main challenges you faced?
The first time I did it, it was fresh, exciting, and new; the next time, not so much. I tried to plan for March because I assumed people would be changing over their clothing due to the change of season, but ended up doing it in the fall. Planning did not work out because no one was available and could not follow through with it. In 2014, I was completing my Masters degree in Organizational Management, which focused on understanding how to run a business from the ground up. This influenced me to do the event on a bigger scale. Pop up shops were not common at that time, so I had to explain what it was in great detail. I also did not charge vendors because I did not know what people were going to make as far as profit. Instead, I bartered with vendors, booked a venue for $400, and had my mother cater the food. It worked out well. I got back the money that I paid for the venue. The challenge has always been how to get people to understand what a pop up shop was, and how to market it.
Is this also a challenge with your other events as well?
Usually, I have challenges with business owners. I partner with business owners to showcase Brooklyn’s culture – Where are we going? Where are we eating? And, What are we wearing? Not necessarily whom we are hanging out with. Telling people they will be able to go out and experience a full course meal for $45 is a little easier because they see it as a savings. For the business owner, it is a challenge because they don’t see the savings. Because of that, I am always selling my goal to the business owner to encourage them to buy into my vision. Some are okay with it and some decide to go in a different direction.
My goal is to highlight their brand and have a nice evening. I do not require a deposit. This is all done with trust and integrity, and sometimes people call me crazy for that. Sometimes, I get 40 people to show up and sometimes I get 15. However, I am honest with the businesses and let them know that although those will be the figures, they can wholeheartedly believe that they will get residual business from this initiative.
What is your role as a “nine- to- fiver” and how do you manage both?
I began as a team leader in marketing which took away from what I really wanted to do. So, I gave it up and focused on my brand. I am now a Health Insurance Enroller, educating people on health insurance options and policies. My job allowed me to build connections in the political world so that I can work with them to make an impactful change in my community, which ties into my goal of connecting people to resources.
Name a few of your accomplishments, and tell us which one you are most proud of.
Honestly, I’ve gotten awards and it has been nice to receive them. However, my major accomplishments come from people I am able to work with. I have honored incredible women who are breast cancer survivors and have been selfless in helping other women. I work with non-profits frequently, contributing to their baskets that they donate to families who are impacted by breast cancer.
I hosted an event called the “Shades of Beauty” where we discuss how to feel beautiful despite what we may be facing in life. In attendance were a few lupus warriors, some participated on the panel. One in particular was very engaged, asked questions, and contributed to the discussion. She felt very good about having a place where she felt comfortable to express her ideas. She looked so nice, but you could see the pain she was going through. She was actually fighting for her life at that time and passed away this summer. I was told that in her last week of living, she expressed how good she felt at the “Shades of Beauty” event. That is a major accomplishment for me because I am doing what a part of my mission sets out to do.
How did you get the motivation to host events such as the Think Pink Event? Is that something that hits close to home for you?
Yes. My mom is a breast cancer survivor. One reason some of my events were delayed was because my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I was running back and forth to doctor’s appointments with her. That’s an ordeal for the person going through it and the family and friends going through it with them. It’s very emotional and your mental state is all over the place. They are pushing to lower the age limit for breast cancer because we have people as young as 17 being affected. For me, anytime I host an event, I want to bring people into a room so that we can have these tough conversations.
In addition, my mom is such a humanitarian. She has always taught me to recognize others – encouraging me to interact with a diverse set of people. Growing up, she often hosted dinners at home with a diverse group of friends and coworkers and I was able to interact with them over a meal. Her non-profit organization, The Association for Stewartville Affairs, Inc. (ASA) was formed in 2011, in efforts to substantially improve the quality of life for the residents of Stewartville, WCD, Guyana, through charitable endeavors such as educational aide, support for social programs, and financial assistance to improve the health and well being of residents. They host curry ques’ , masquerade balls, and host health fairs in Guyana where they gather doctors and nurses, who fly out with them to conduct health screenings in the Guyanese community. These are the things that I have been exposed to forever.
Are there any other goals that you would like to accomplish?
My 2019 goal is to do a girls trip. I am speaking to someone to try to host the trip in Bermuda. I am also in the process of writing a book to discuss my brand. It will serve as an autobiography surrounding my brand. It will be about my business, but it will go through the different stages in my life from when I started to being lost in the wilderness, to when I finally figured out what I wanted to do, and what was happening in my life at that time. People often ask me how I maintain my relationship while running my business, so I will discuss that as well. I don’t like to paint the picture that everything is always good. I hope that when people read the book, they will be inspired by my story and realize that things can change and may look a little different. I wholeheartedly believe that life is about enjoying the moments and if you enjoy the moments, it will add up to more than the grief and pain.
For the end of the year, I am hosting my annual “Think Pink” event which includes a pop up shop. This year, I am doing things a bit differently. I want to focus on the state of mind to not only the person, but also the caregiver and what they may be going through. For me, my mother was sick. But, I was still a mother, starting out school, and ending a horrible relationship. All of those things were going on at that time so I want to capture how to cope when life is happening. I have invited a therapist, social worker, and wellness professional to join the panel.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, and resources?
- Entrepreneur Magazine
- Oprah Magazine
- Essence Magazine
- “Switch Pivot or Quit” podcast with Ahyiana Angel
- “Magical Mess” podcast by Mirielle Edouard aka The Hazy Unicorn
What advice would you give to individuals considering following in your footsteps and starting a brand like BKGNO?
Always focus on your why and remain humble. Do what Beyoncé did: Stay with the people you came in with unless they are no good. If you have friends that will hold you down, people rooting for you who want to see you win, stay with those people. Keep great people around you and do not make people feel like just a number.
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When Shinese is not building her brand, you can find her cooking her cultural foods from Guyana, traveling with loved ones, or spending time with girlfriends. Connect with Shinese Brathwaite at www.bkgirlsnightout.com and @bkgirlsnightout on Instagram for inspiration and information on the hottest events in Brooklyn.