The double whammy for Black businesses by Keno Ogbo

I like to remind people that it’s still only July of 2020. We have five more months before the end of what is turning out to be an eventful year, with the pandemic caused by coronavirus, and the Black Lives Matter arising on the back of the murder of George Floyd at the beginning of the lockdown period. 

In the very early days, when there was so much uncertainty about the future, I wrote a poem: 

The gift of clear vision

Where I thought the birds sang louder, it was me.
I heard better.
Where I thought the world moved slower, it was me.
I stopped.
Where I thought people were kinder, it was me.
I no longer judged.
Where I thought lockdown freed the world from a virus, it was me.
I had been set free.

Keno Ogbo (c) 2020

The sentiment behind the poem was simple. For me and perhaps many other people, 2020 is the year of clarity, the year of 20:20 vision. 

I believe the world has a better vision of how life should be lived. In particular, Black businesses across the world and Black consumers are rethinking how we see ourselves. There has been a spotlight of the Black-owned economy, with massive groups on social media promoting Black-owned businesses, and a related increase in Black people intentionally searching for Black-owned products and services. Is this a trend that will continue? I speak to four businesses in London to find out what they think.

First, I speak with Antonia Ogunsola, the Co-founder of Okiki Skincare.

Antonia and her mum had been operating solely from market stalls at Alexander Palace and Rare Farmers Markets for four years before the COVID-19 lockdown. They had a steady flow of customers who loved their handmade skincare products, but lockdown meant they could no longer attend markets, and immediately Antonia built an ecommerce website, transferring their business online by the end of April. Sales came in, but still only a trickle. Following the launch of their website they hired a Black PR agent, who understood their business and their vision. On the back of Black Lives Matter, they saw a push to highlight Black-owned brands, resulting in an significant increase in hits to their website – so much that they sold out of most products. Okiki Skincare was featured in magazines such as The Stylist and on the national media giant, ITV. Here are some sound bytes from Antonia.

“I worry that the trend and interest in Black-owned businesses may drop off, so I am focusing on our long-term sustainability.”

“I am thinking carefully of our inventory. We are currently sold out, and our products take four weeks to make. What decisions should we be making now?’

“We will be looking at our supplier chain. Our decision to contract a Black PR was the right decision, and we need to consider that diversity in our decisions going forward.”

“We want to represent our culture more in our branding, so we will highlight our Nigerian and Ghanaian names further, and pay homage to African culture as we write our brand stories.”

Next is Nnamdi Uche, a former fashion model, who now runs Nnamdi Custom Madeand Nnamdi The Jeweller. Lockdown was an opportunity to add more structure to the business process and to reorganise the team. They also made their products available online. With increased visibility from the Black Lives Matters movements, he saw an increased number of friends promoting his business on social media, and this increased awareness resulted in the growth of his social media channels. Nnamdi says: “I wish I had invested more time in the PR process earlier than I did.” 

Ava Brown is the founder of The Mango Girl, an award-winning cruelty-free handmade hair and skincare products company focusing on natural and ethical ingredients. They used the lockdown period to rebrand, develop more products and grow their online presence. With BLM awareness, they have since seen an increase in interest in their products, both from Black and White people. She mentioned noticing a keenness from the Press to speak with her. Ava says: “I think it will give us more visibility, and open more space on shelves for brands like ours – even if it is tokenism.” She continues and asserts: “I am now not afraid of the ‘Ask.’  I am pushing and knocking on doors that I would have been hesitant to knock on before.”

Lastly, Audreia Josephs is an author and life coach, and has been self-employed for three years. She works with young people, ex drug users and ex offenders, teaching self-confidence, and the art of letting go. Audreia is known as the Forgiveness Godmother and offers one-to-one coaching. Due to lockdown, Audreia moved her business online and started her own podcast, as well as networking with other podcasters to increase her visibility and attract more business. Unfortunately, as a sole trader Audreia was not entitled to any government grants. She thinks the BLM movement will give people a chance to see the value in Black-owned businesses. She observed that most speaking platforms are led by White people, and the increased awareness may lead to more speaking invitations and increased business.

Conclusion

What I see is a change in which Black entrepreneurs run their businesses. Across the board is a need for better PR, and to be included in mainstream media, publications and platforms. The pandemic in particular has highlighted the need for Black businesses to embrace digital transformation. Marian Ogundairo, a digital strategist and business podcaster at the Marian O show, says: “To make an impact and level the playing field, we need to be an active part of the digital landscape now.” There is a need for people – regardless of colour – to see the value in Black-run services and products, and personally, I think this has started happening.

FEATURED BUSINESSES

You can find out about the businesses above on Instagram:

@okikiskincare

@nnamdicustommade

@marian1707

Coaching and business

audreiajosephs.com

marianogundiaro.com

Skincare

okikiskincare.co.uk

themangogirl.com

Men’s Tailoring

nnamdicustommade.com

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