With every camera flash, the 26-year-old small business owner is empowering herself and her community. “I love being Black, and I love being a woman. I think that comes with a certain strength,” she said.
Nicia Joyner didn’t have a lot growing up as the oldest of nine siblings raised by a single mother. But it turns out– a disposable camera, direction from the TV series America’s Next Top Model, and a vision were all she needed. At just 26 years old, Joyner opened her very own photography business, Shante Studios in Sun Prairie. And she sat down with us for this Small Business Spotlight.
Cherita Booker, UpNorthNews Reporter: When did your passion for photography begin?
Nicia Joyner: I took photography, acting, and business classes in high school. I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to own a business and work for myself, so when I graduated, I started modeling and making funny videos for Facebook. I went viral a few times, which was exciting! I tried the college route, and beauty school as well, but my passion lies in arts & entertainment.
Cherita: When did you switch from being in front of the camera to behind it?
Nicia: When I started comparing myself to others and developed a very unhealthy diet and exercise routine. I didn’t realize until I was older that I was dealing with body dysmorphia. I felt forced to maintain an image that wasn’t exactly me, by agencies and modeling mentors. I stepped back to show more of my creative and business side. I want the world to know Nicia, the woman of many talents, not just a model.
Cherita: Tell us about your business. What is Shante Studios?
Nicia: Shante Studios is a place where I can be creative and do whatever I feel like doing! I wanted to create a business where I could combine all of my passions into one– while still creating space, platforms, and opportunities for others. My business offers photography, classes, and workshops.
Cherita: What has been your favorite photography session so far?
Nicia: My favorite was with my little sister. She never went to prom because of the pandemic, and for years I tried to get her to take pictures in this one particular dress. When she told me she was ready to do it, I was so excited! My sister has struggled with confidence, self-image, and social anxiety for some time, so it was fun watching her come out of her shell.
She actually liked and posted the photos on social media, which was a big deal. She’s usually too shy to show off her curves and her beauty. To see her confidence soar and to take part in that was fulfilling.
Cherita: What’s it like being a Black woman in the photography business?
Nicia: For the most part, it’s great. I receive so much love from my community and my people. I have been fortunate enough to be invited to many Black events. People want to see Black women shine, and the support has been emotional for me. I love being Black, and I love being a woman. I think that comes with a certain strength that only some people understand. But in the same breath, it’s hard to ask for help because people do see me as that strong woman.
Cherita: What’s been the most challenging part?
Nicia: Stereotypical assumptions, unsolicited advice, and backhanded compliments. I am young and I am Black, and that can come with assumptions. People tend to assume I’m a startup, or they don’t take me seriously because I have a goofy personality. But I’m comfortable in my skin and when it comes to business, I’m very serious and know exactly what I want.
Cherita: What have you learned about yourself through owning a business?
Nicia: That I am powerful, and power is not measured by money or materialistic things, but in how you can control your life’s direction. I used to watch women I admired and then look at myself and think, “Well they have money, degrees, positions and upbringings that I just wasn’t blessed with in my life.” Then, I stepped into my power and realized I can do the same thing they do. I look at where I started versus where I am and think, “I did that?!” This journey has validated that I am capable of great things.
Cherita: What do you want people to see when they look at your work?
Nicia: The passion I put into everything I do. I hope my work can inspire others to follow their passion no matter what hand they were dealt in life.