In 2020, driven by a desire to make a tangible positive difference to the inequalities faced by the Black community, Funmi Scott launched a platform connecting emerging Black creative businesses with premium retailers and organisations. Untapped Creatives was born and already Scott’s work has paid off – in May, Selfridges paired up with the initiative and introduced 10 Black-owned businesses to its stores.
Here, she writes for us about the roadblocks that stop Black businesses from reaching luxury stockists, and why her work as a conduit is crucial in elevating underrepresented voices and talents.
Historically, there has been a single story about Black representation – one intermingled with poverty, pain or trauma. It certainly can miss stories of Black creativity, internationalism, success, and connection. When people only see a community through a narrow prism, they begin to view them only in that way. For example, there is an idea that luxury consumers are only white or not Black. These narrow depictions are inaccurate and a barrier to inclusivity.
In summer last year, there was a widespread recognition of inequities in the way in which Black people are treated. A lot of retailers expressed a desire to change how they were working, and it felt like a good time to add to that conversation and make a tangible positive difference. I came up with the idea of Untapped Creatives, a platform that would elevate Black creative businesses in the luxury space by acting as a conduit between the label and luxury stockists like Selfridges through our Afro-Luxe Concepts.
I coined the term ‘Afro-Luxe’ to tell a different kind of narrative, one that highlights the craftsmanship, luxury, and creativity of African culture. A lot of the struggles that Black creatives have are well documented, but what we want to do with Afro-Luxe is communicate the successes, heritage, and achievements.
I am a finance lawyer and chartered accountant, but I’m also a luxury shopper – I like things that are interesting and different. I came across a fine jewellery brand called Aymer Maria, created by independent designer Ruth Aymer. The pieces are ornate sustainable jewellery, honouring ancient architecture and tribal art, like the Yoruba tribe (a Nigerian tribe). Ruth’s first collection of 18k gold handcrafted rings are beautiful pieces with an illustrious charm, but - like many other brands - was limited to a small platform. As now part of Untapped Creatives’ collective, our aim is to give Aymer Maria the bigger platform it deserves, and in turn we believe that the consumer will connect with and appreciate their pieces.
We also have more brands in our curated portfolio across different categories, including beauty, art, home, and fashion and accessories. These Black-owned brands are making luxury products, but are yet to work in the luxury sphere. We hope to change that.
One of the main reasons why connecting independent Black-owned labels to premium retailers is important is the long-term economic benefit for the Black-owned business. We know that having a premium retailer stockist can make a huge impact to a business’ growth, not just in terms of capital but also because of the social capital the association brings.
Another is about equity. We want to provide equitable solutions to imbalances Black labels face with respect to inequality of finance and underrepresentation. Black-owned businesses are less likely to have access to finance than their white counterparts. In the last 10 years – from 2009 to 2019 - of the private equity investments in the UK only 3% went to female founders, of that only 0.02% went to Black British female founders. These are difficult statistics to work with. What we hope through Untapped Creatives is that, by our brands having the backing of a significant retailer, investors will be able to see the potential of these Black labels and challenge preconceptions that they may have had.
There is also inequity in terms of representation. Black creatives are underrepresented in the luxury world, a matter that has thankfully been highlighted of late. Our work at Untapped Creatives is to elevate Black-owned brands and help provide the visibility in this space that they both need and deserve.
Elevating African and Black diaspora craftsmanship is another key reason for the connection. Very few people know about Nigerian and Malian leather expertise, with luxury goods handmade through thousands year old traditional techniques. For example, one of our partner brands Maison Eli produces beautiful luxury leather bags and shoes, handcrafted by a traditional Nigerian craftsman. These artisans and techniques are yet to be seen nor elevated in the same way that say, Italian leather workmanship has been. We want to celebrate and elevate African craftsmanship within the luxury market. When the processes of African artisans are appreciated and understood, then products can be priced appropriately.
I am drawn to Black-owned labels based on their creativity and commitment to sustainability. We look for brands that have great assets, a strong point of view and reinterpret luxury in using their cultural heritage. There also has to be a strong creative and business element, as well as a great collaborative spirit because working together is important. Brands that want to do things alone would be less suited to us.
In curating the brands we work with, we send out a questionnaire and speak with labels we’re interested in to find out more about their values, product, and goals. Where we take on a brand, we work closely with them to ensure preparedness to work with a premium retailer. We acknowledge that a lot of businesses are run by very small teams, or just one creative, so trying to navigate a stockist relationship of this magnitude can be difficult. For example, the standard terms of premium retailers can be more easily absorbed for bigger brands. We work hard to negotiate preferential terms for our brands to allow them to maximise the economic benefits of a premium stockist.
Addressing underrepresentation and inequities that face Black labels in this space not only benefits the creative, but also benefits the fashion industry because it means there’s a greater pool of talent for customers and buyers to draw from. The collaboration with Selfridges is proof, showing how much these Black-owned businesses thrive once they’re given the platform and also how luxury customers are excited by interesting and dynamic products with a voice.
At Untapped we make a conscious decision not to lean into tragedy of George Floyd's death. It’s really important to use that that has its reverence in stories examining it. We instead choose to lean into stories of Black creativity and joy.
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