Leah Niara is the owner of GlamHaus Designs, a graphic design company in Baltimore, Maryland that provides consulting and graphic design services to business owners and entrepreneurs. On the surface, it’s that simple: help a client with their identity as a company. However, Leah and her company are more than what they appear to be on the surface. I had the pleasure of learning just how deep and powerful they both are.
Business owner. Mother of two. Self-made. Self-taught.
Aaliyah McCoy goes by Leah Niara, a nickname endearingly given to her by her grandmother. Only a couple of year ago, Leah was working in corporate, helping to accelerate someone else’s bottom line. She taught herself graphic design while working as an office manager. She was handed the responsibility of creating letterheads, business cards and other graphics for the company. But when she realized she was capable of creating her own company that could simultaneously improve local businesses, encourage Black ownership, and help the community at large, remaining tethered to the corporate ladder was no longer an option. The final straw was the moment the very company she had supported in her position scoffed at the idea she was capable of stepping out on her own and creating a business. So she stepped out and did exactly that.
“I shot this business idea to them. I told them, ‘I want to start this company, you guys can be my investors’, and they basically kind of laughed at me.” Now, only a year after starting her own company, Leah has been able to begin building a team and make strategic partnerships with like-minded people to continue seeing growth. GlamHaus Designs as a company provides graphic design services and consultations to business owners and entrepreneurs. Yet, it also serves as a source of inspiration and hope for many in the Baltimore area and beyond. After all, what’s a company without branding? How can anyone feel like their dream of working for themselves is truly off the ground when there’s no front door (i.e. a website, marketing of their services, etc)?
Portrait by Leah Niara
When we spoke about what drives her, she thematically referred to community and wealth, but not at all in a way I expected.“I define community as everything. Community is people, plants, animals…For me community is the world.”
For Leah, it’s not solely about helping your immediate community – the city you’re in or your block. It’s about helping people anywhere so they too can help other people. Most of us are familiar with the crabs-in-a-bucket imagery. As one crab struggles to climb its way up and out, another crabs yanks it down to stand in its place. The problem with just trying to get ahead for yourself is, in the end, there’s limited progress for all, even the person trying to get ahead. Leah wants to change that and create impact that lasts generations.
“I don’t really see my success for me. I don’t want it to be for me. I don’t want to be one of those people [who] become successful or they’re trying to get successful, it’s just for them, you know, so they can buy their home, so they can get their car, they can get all the things that they dream about getting.” For her, seeking after the materialistic is limiting. “I like nice things but it’s not really that big of a deal for me because I used to be homeless.” She used to live in shelters. For Leah, success and wealth are meant to be shared, to bring people out of situations where most might flat-line in despair. “I really want to help the community. If I was to make a million dollars you know half of that [would] go into investing it into my company, hiring more people.” The goal being to generate jobs and create generational wealth.
The world at large isn’t the only piece to the end-game. Leah is a single mother with two sons. She wants her success to become an overflow in her family as well.“My plan is not for me while I’m on this earth, my plan is for when I’m no longer on this earth. When my kids are still here, how would they be able to cope?”
Graphic design by Leah Niara
Leah Niara went from a corporate position to fully financing her own company, while also mothering two sons – one actively learning to develop games not just play them, and the other writing a book to nurture other young Black children who may not have a father figure. I was curious about how she was able to connect with entrepreneurs and local business owners to develop a client base. Outside of talking with people, she had to get creative.
Leah turned to Facebook, community boards and business cards. “I used to work for Potbelly.” For those unfamiliar, it’s a sandwich shop. In quick service restaurants or coffee shops, you can typically find a cork board where people have pinned up ads or flyers about their business, services, or local events. “So I would print out my flyers, and then I would ask them [if I could put it on] their community board.” She has also left business cards in any hair or nail salons she’s visited, because you just never know. “But most of my clients come from social media. More than 90% [of them are] from Facebook. I go viral a few times on Facebook, oddly.” Despite the loyal following and growth on Facebook, she has entered into Instagram territory recently and is actively learning to navigate that channel to reach more people. So far, it’s working.
Graphic design by Leah Niara
Finding creative ways to promote and market herself was one part of the challenge. As stated earlier, Leah has built her company with her own funding, however, she realized this was unsustainable. She had to get a financial adviser. I asked her at what point did she realize this was something she needed, and more importantly, that this resource was even available to her.
“…I didn’t know that know that [it was] possible, but you need it so that you can learn how to correctly invest, how to correctly utilize your money.” She was able to shadow the president of her previous company while working as the office manager, along with gaining exposure to the various financial resources out there to help businesses. “[If] you’re making a profit but you’re only taking that profit to take care of yourself, you won’t build your way up to where you want to be. I see my company growing. I want my company to be like Amazon so I have to think smart like Amazon. I had to get me a financial adviser.”“…A smart man is only smart for himself, but a wise man listens to other people so that way he can become smarter.”
Leah Niara is in it for the long haul, not just today but for a future where one day, someone will consider her an ancestor. And as for what’s in Leah’s future, well, she has plans to bring more business owners and entrepreneurs together by hosting a women’s event in partnership with a fellow friend and business owner. She also has plans to bring more art related opportunities to children in Baltimore, giving them the chance to explore art and express themselves. As always, I love hearing the advice others have to give. Here’s what Leah had to say to fellow ground breakers:
Write down your plan. “… what you want to accomplish, how you’re going to accomplish [it], how much it’s going to cost. [Kind of] like a business plan. That way whenever you get lost or whenever you get frustrated or overwhelmed, you can go back to that plan. You can look at it so that way you can get back on track. Consistency.”
Set daily goals. She writes it all down, and uses the Done app to set reminders. “I set small goals, big goals and daily goals…”
“Believe in yourself more, because I really didn’t believe in myself when I was a kid.”
CHECK OUT MORE WORKS BY Leah:
Graphic design by Leah Niara