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Fit for an Angel: How Essense Martin built Essential Grillz and made Angel Reese's grill for the WNBA draft

Updated: 6 days ago

Angel Reese poses with Essense Martin, both are holding up peace signs.
Angel Reese poses with Essense Martin of Essential Grillz while preparing for the WNBA draft. Credit: Essential Grillz

The 2024 WNBA draft was the most-watched draft in league history. More than 2.4 million fans tuned in to watch Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Cameron Brink and Kamilla Cardoso hear their names called to enter the professional ranks.

As much as fans get excited about Clark shattering every record in the books and Reese dominating both ends of the court, they also can't wait to see what each of the stars wear as the worlds of basketball and fashion continue to collide. Reese made the announcement that she was entering the WNBA draft not in an Instagram post or an interview with ESPN, but in a story with Vogue.

The LSU star and Reebok athlete did not disappoint with her draft look where she was the No. 7 overall pick to the Chicago Sky. She wore a glitzy floor-length Bronx and Banco gown with an expertly draped hood and a minimalistic grill from Essential Grillz. Reese revealed on Instagram that her inspiration was Rihanna's jaw-dropping sheer sparkle Adam Selman gown from the 2014 CFDA Awards.

"i remember thinking…. she can beat me but she cannot beat my outfit," Reese posted, quoting the music icon.

Essense Martin is the owner of Essential Grillz. Martin founded the brand in 2020 while she was a dental assistant working in orthodontics. Her company carries on the same purpose of helping people feel confident in their smiles. Adding grills to her product offering is what really skyrocketed her business and she's sent a grill as far as Guam to a member of the military. As a Black woman entrepreneur, Martin is motivated to break boundaries and show her nine-year-old daughter that anything is possible.

Kick The Concrete spoke with Martin about connecting with Reese, building her company and her dream collaboration, whom she shares a special connection with via Princess Anne High School.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Kick The Concrete: How did you connect with Angel Reese to make her grill for the WNBA draft?

Essense Martin: A customer of mine DMd me a screenshot that her stylist Maddie Alexandria made a post on Twitter saying that Angel wanted a grill for draft day. But they wanted someone in New York to make it because that’s where the draft was going to be at. I’m located in Virginia, so I wasn’t even gonna reach out since she said she wanted someone in New York, but I’m like let me shoot my shot and see what happens. So I reached out to Maddie and she immediately responded. She said that even though I was in Virginia, that that was fine. I told them in order for the grill to be done by draft day, I would have to mold her literally like the next day. I booked my flight that night at 1:00 in the morning and I flew out to Baton Rouge the next day to mold her for the grill.

KTC: That shows the importance of being ready for the opportunity!

EM: Yes! So when I got to Baton Rouge, I linked up with Angel. She had me come to like the locker room and I molded her there at the school. And then when the grill was finished, I drove to New York from Virginia and came to her hotel room and gave her the grill. Angel was so amazing because she was just so down to earth. I remember when I went to her hotel to give her the grill — you had to use your hotel room key to even come up on the elevator — she came down to get me and when she saw me, she gave me a hug. She was like, “Thank you so much for coming.” Because I did pay for my own flight to go to Baton Rouge and I drove to New York. She wasn’t like stuck up or she didn’t act like that’s what I was supposed to do. She was really grateful that I went out of my way to make it happen. We communicated a lot during the process. She texted me, made sure I made it to my hotel, made sure I got all my content, videos. She didn’t make me feel like I couldn’t record. She made sure I had my content. Very, very nice. I told her, I don’t even watch basketball. But now, I’m a fan for life. I can’t wait to watch. I even bought her Chicago jersey.

Angel Reese wears an LSU Tigers onesie and poses with Essense Martin holding up a peace sign.
Angel Reese gets her WNBA draft grill from Essense Martin of Essential Grillz. Credit: Essential Grillz

KTC: Wow, what a special moment I’m sure that was! I saw your video, you both just looked so happy and living in the moment. What was the design process? Did Angel know what she was looking for or did you collaborate? I saw you ended up making multiple grills for her, but the one she wore for the draft was a little more minimalistic.

EM: She told me from the beginning that she wanted something classy. She didn’t want to do too much, but she definitely wanted something so she looked up just some inspo pictures online, Pinterest and things like that and also looked on my page and saw some designs that she liked and we went off of that. And then the one that I surprised her with that says, “Reese,” I just felt like because her jersey is gonna say “Reese” that it would be really cool if she had a grill that said it too.

KTC: It seems like your designs are very versatile. How have you created your own brand and identity as a jeweler?

EM: I think what really, really helps me dominate and sets me apart is that it is Black woman-owned, which is very rare. Grills is definitely a male-dominated industry. Now, people who wear grills is very diverse. Everybody wears grills. I never know who’s gonna walk in my door to get a grill. But as far as the people who sell them, they don’t normally look like me. So in Virginia, I get a lot of support and it’s just grown tremendously to where I’m doing grills for people all over. They go on my website and they order the mold kit and then I ship them the mold kit and then they send it back and we make the grill. So it’s not just a local thing. It’s just totally worldwide at this point.

KTC: How did you start your business in the first place? What got you interested in having your own business in this industry?

EM: My business is four years old. I started it in 2020 during COVID. Before I had Essential Grillz, I worked as a dental assistant doing braces, doing orthodontics and working in the dentist office for about five years. I started out doing the teeth gems because you put teeth gems on the same way you put on braces. Then I added the teeth whitening and then when I added the grills, it changed my life. I had to quit my job. I didn’t quit my job until I started selling grills.

KTC: That’s amazing. Was the end goal to have a full-time job? Or was it initially just something fun on the side? How did that develop?

EM: Initially, I never planned to quit my job. Dental assistant school was so hard that I felt successful working as a dental assistant. And I loved my job and it was to the point where I was getting in trouble at work because my phone was going crazy with people trying to book. I had to make that choice of doing my business full time or having my job. So at first, it was just something I was doing on the side for like extra money and then now I have a whole storefront location and it’s just going amazing.

KTC: That is so beautiful. I love those stories that are just unexpected. We can only plan so much!

EM: Totally unexpected. I never planned on being an entrepreneur, having a business. I never used to dream big. I just never expected to even work for myself. And now I feel like it’s just the beginning because now we’re doing celebrities.

KTC: What has it been like for you being an entrepreneur? Maybe you weren’t expecting that, but how is that fulfilling for you doing your own thing?

EM: It’s challenging, but very rewarding. I would say the challenging part is I’ve never been a manager at a job. I’ve never held a management position. I’ve always just been an employee. So now, with my store, I have employees who work here and it’s hard learning how to delegate and tell people what to do and have things ran a certain way and keep up with supplies and make sure we don’t run out of things, all of that that goes into running a business. It can be very challenging. But the rewarding part is I feel like I still get to do what I’m passionate about, which is making people feel beautiful with their smile. Because in orthodontics, our main job is changing the way the teeth are aligned. So a lot of people come in feeling insecure about their smile and then they leave with a straight smile. So with the grills, they leave out of here cheesin’, they’re so happy. We’re in here hugging, laughing, it’s just a great vibe. I feel like I get to do what I’m passionate about and still make a living from doing it. It’s hard. It’s a lot of work. I honestly work like 10 times more than I was when I had a job because when you get off work, you don’t got to worry about your job. But I’m constantly working. Even if I’m not physically working, I’m mentally working because I’m trying to prepare for things. I’m trying to upgrade things. Like right now with all of this publicity, I’ve got somebody working on my website to revamp it. I’m trying to just do everything better, better, better. ‘Cause now it’s really important, people looking.

KTC: For you, who are some of your style inspirations or fashion icons that you’ve looked up to and inspire you?

EM: It’s funny you asked that because my dream person to do a grill for is Pharrell. So me and him actually went to the same high school in Virginia Beach. He’s in Virginia quite often, so I feel like it’s possible. But I’m gonna get there. I love seeing someone from my hometown and someone who looks like me doing things on an international level. He just got his line with Louis Vuitton. That’s huge! Who would even think that they could even do something like that. So seeing that and us being from the same place, it just shows me that I could go to just such higher levels than I even imagine. So Pharrell. 

KTC: He is so inspiring how he’s broken so many boundaries. You can’t put a label on him.

EM: Right! It’s not just music. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the festival Something in the Water? 

KTC: Yeah!

EM: He’s been doing that the past five years now and it’s just amazing. It’s something really amazing for our area. So my goal is to be able to sell grills out there at the Something in the Water festival and have like a stand. I just gotta get him to know about me.

KTC: Totally, I haven’t been able to go yet, but the lineup’s always so eclectic.

EM: And it’s on the beach, your feet is in the sand.

KTC: I love that! I know you touched on this a little bit already, but what does it mean to you to be a Black woman entrepreneur? As you said, in your industry it’s rare and in general, there’s a movement to empower Black women in business. What does it mean to you to be a part of that?

EM: I love this question and I don’t know why I start feeling a little emotional. But what makes me feel really good about it is the fact that for me, I never used to dream big. I never used to think that I could even make a lot of money. I just wanted to live a basic life, have a car that works, have my own place and a good job. That’s all I wanted. And I didn’t have people around me who were very successful. So me doing all the things I’m doing and on my page, like my personal page, I’m very transparent with just everything I got going on and I feel like it motivates other people to see that they could do it too. I’m 32 years old and I started my business when I was 29. So to me, that’s fairly older and I feel like it just shows that it’s never too late to start over or to start a new career or it’s never too late to be a millionaire. You could become a millionaire in one year, really. I feel like for other people who look like me, other women, other Black women, I just feel like it’s this stigma that when we’re living a luxurious life, it’s like it’s frowned upon. But when other people do, it’s like it’s normal. So I just to show we can live a good life too. We can have whatever we want. We can go wherever we want. We can be on islands and we can own businesses and still be a mom and still be a wife and still be an entrepreneur.

KTC: That's so inspiring. What does being a mother mean to you and keep you motivated?

EM: It means everything because with me being an entrepreneur now, I have more time to give to her. I never went on a trip growing up. I didn’t go on my first trip ‘til I was 25, so with my daughter, we go on cruises, we go everywhere. So it’s just nice to be able to show her a life that I didn’t have. Not that I grew up in poverty. I had a great life, but it wasn’t glamorous. We didn’t do all the extra things and with my daughter, we’re getting to do that. I’m taking her this weekend to That Girl Lay Lay, I’m taking her to the concert in Raleigh. So I try to do a lot with her. I try to show her you can be whatever you want to be, whatever you want to do, we’re gonna work towards it. I know she knows that she can do whatever she wants to do because she sees me doing it. All I needed, I feel like if I woulda saw it, then I woulda felt like I could do it. So sometimes it just takes for you to see it when it’s close to you, then that makes you feel like you could do it too. So that’s what I love.

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