Last year was monumental (to say the least) and marked by two social shifts: the coronavirus pandemic and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. The latter, unlike the former, was nothing new. The BLM crusade was founded almost a decade ago, and champions efforts the Black community has fought for for generations. However, what was new about the 2020 instalment of BLM, was its global reach. Finally, people were listening —really listening— to Black voices, and actively engaging in diverse and effective efforts to protect, uplift, and celebrate the Black community.
Relying solely on socials to connect and communicate, Instagram and Twitter became the premier places to participate in BLM campaigns. People posted a black square on IG to show that they were actively engaged and ready to make changes. So Solid Crew alum Swiss founded Black Pound Day, calling on consumers to spend money with Black-owned businesses on the first Saturday of the month (in turn putting money directly into Black pockets, helping Black individuals, families, and the community at large to acquire generational wealth and prosperity).
And it worked: in a report by Jamii (a shopping discovery platform for Black-owned brands) and Translate Culture, it was found that Black-owned businesses made between 58% to 124% of their previous month’s revenue on the first Black Pound Day alone.
Fast forward to the present though, and it’s been more than a year since #BlackPoundDay and #BlackLivesMatter were trending topics. Conversations on socials and beyond have noticeably died down, and scrolling through your timelines, you’re probably not seeing as many infographics as you once were, pushing you to buy Black.
So where do Black-owned brands stand now? Are allies still putting their money where their mouth is? Have Black-owned businesses seen real, long-term change in support for their brands and within their industries?
Well, it’s complicated. Black business owners have had the odds stacked against them for decades. A 2019 study found that the average annual revenue for a Black business owner was £10,000 pounds less than it was for a white business owner. Another study found that from 2009 to 2019, only 0.02% of venture capital money invested in Britain went to Black female business owners. The New York Times explains that’s just ten in as many years.
So Black Pound Day and other efforts had a near insurmountable task to empower Black-owned businesses – and, initially at least, they did an incredible job doing so. Platforms like Jamii saw exponential growth last summer. "From 2019 to 2020, we grew 100%," Jamii’s founder, Khalia Ismain (pictured left), shares. Her platform has long been inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement; she started the business amid the creation of BLM back in 2013.
She began small, offering users a 'Jamii Card' – a discount card that reminded holders to think of Black British creators whenever they had to purchase something – and now the Jamii team collaborates with over two hundred brands.
It then evolved into an online marketplace, pop up shops, and even real-life marketplaces to make sure we keep buying Black. "Our goal is to encourage people to create habits to make buying from Black [British] creators routine: it's repeat spending that creates long-term impact," says Khalia. "Last year, many people began talking about the importance of supporting Black-owned businesses as a route that we as individuals can take to bring about change, but often this just translates to a couple of ad hoc purchases while emotions are running high."
Following the murder of George Floyd, support for Jamii rocketed - website traffic went up almost 2,000%, Khalia explains. "All of a sudden, everyone wanted to talk about Jamii – we were getting featured in national and international media publications and we were flooded with messages of appreciation." Though the founder was "wary that a lot of it was reactive and without depth" she's thrilled that for Jamii at least, the support has continued on.
"The Jamii story is definitely been a positive one, one year on," says Khalia. "Sales have continued, as has support from customers and organisations. We've been pleasantly surprised at the number of people still reaching out to share their platforms and resources, even though it's no longer a trending topic."
Natalie Manima, Founder and Creative Director of Bespoke Binny – a modern, online African print homeware business – saw fast-paced growth last year too, after seven years of being in business. The brand made 10 times its yearly revenue in 2020 and nearly doubled their social media following.
"I set up Bespoke Binny when I was looking for soft furnishings myself," Natalie shares. "I love colour but when the Scandi look was really in, everything in the shops was navy blue or cream. In my frustration, I decided to make my own."
Family and friends told her she should sell her creations online, and she eventually opened an Etsy shop back in 2013. "Things grew organically from there," Natalie explains (now the brand offers everything from aprons to virtual classes for those wanting to make their own lampshade). She says she was "pleasantly surprised when things really took off following the Black Lives Matter movement and once Black Pound Day started too".
Natalie describes the experience as "a massive and positive change" but says that "things have slowed down quite considerably over the last 6 months. I’m not sure if the novelty has worn off or if that’s due to other factors."
Unfortunately, Natalie is not alone with her story. A tonne of "[Black business owners] saw a huge surge in demand, but then there were two stories for the time afterwards: for some businesses, it was the spark they needed to get onto the next level, whereas for others, sales and attention went back down after the 6 week period," Khalia explains.
Similarly to Bespoke Binny, Okiki Skincare, a home and personal care brand founded by Nigerian-British mother-daughter duo Ade and Antonia Ogunsola, saw enormous growth last year.
"When we launched [Okiki Skincare] in May, we had two sales: my friend and my other friend," Antonia says with a chuckle. "And then George Floyd happened – it was like suddenly there was a switch." She recalls that "it was almost like people suddenly realised there were Black businesses out there." Okiki Skincare "saw an influx of sales that shocked me and my mom: we sold our store for the year overnight".
Antonia was thrilled to see her mother’s soaps and other products celebrated. "It was amazing to know that people loved my mom's hard work," she said with a smile. "To this day, I think we've got about 300 plus five-star reviews." The praise is well deserved. Rooted in their Nigerian and Ghanian beauty traditions, Okiki products are meticulously formulated and can take months to produce.
Which is why the rapid, unexpected growth amid Black Pound Day and BLM was stressful for Antonia. "There was a steep learning curve. And I told my mom that I never want to go through such a massive growth like that again," she shares. "I always questioned after this new cycle ends, where does that leave us? How long is it going to last?"
Unfortunately, not as long as Antonia would have hoped. "The first Black Pound day, we easily made £500 to £600," she candidly reveals. "The second one we made about £400. By October, [we made] £50 if that." Antonia says her business struggled to get the visibility and social media engagement they needed to make sales during Black Pound Days, and eventually "dropped off" participating in the campaign a few months after its inception.
By December, conversations about supporting the Black community dwindled, and Antonia said Okiki Skincare’s "sales fell immensely, like off a cliff." She felt "very much like it was a trend" – and when the trend ended, people moved on to the next thing. "Because [supporting Black folk] dominated the media, people felt like they had to do something. But just like anything, when that trend ends, people move away."
Nevertheless, Antonia said Okiki Skincare was able to reach "a proportion of customers who might not have necessarily purchased from us to begin with". Many of whom have continued to buy from the brand. "It's allowed us to actually transform what I would call a hobby business into a popular ecommerce business," she says, adding that she's hopeful for the brand’s promising future.
It’s disappointing to hear that support for Black brands has died down since the first Black Pound Day and other initiatives aimed to highlight these businesses, but the solution is simple: we have to keep talking about Black-owned brands. And buying their goods or services.
Don’t solely support these businesses when #BlackLivesMatter takes over your timeline. Go out of your way to discover Black brands like Culture Cardz (jazz up a gift with one of their personality-filled greeting cards) or Crumpetorium (who doesn’t love a good crumpet?) True allyship is an on-going effort— one that, overtime, will start to move the needle towards equality. It's so much more than a trend.
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