Black female-owned businesses may face an uphill struggle according to research by the British Business Bank, but that isn’t stopping a generational shift in the ambition and success that Black female-owned businesses are achieving.
With movements such as Black Lives Matter amplifying the debate around diversity and inclusion, five Black female entrepreneurs reveal their advice for aspiring start-ups.
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Vie’s Jamaican Rum Cakes
Founder: Elaine Rémy
Business: Small batch cakes
Awards: Start-Up Business of the Year, Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday Winner
“I sold my first cake just a couple of weeks before lockdown,” reveals Elaine Rémy, founder of Vie’s Jamaican Rum Cakes. “My first year has been in lockdown.”
Considering the challenges caused by Covid-19, Vie’s Jamaican Rum Cakes has had a tremendous impact in a little over a year, winning awards including Start Up Business of the Year. The artisan cake company founded by Elaine is based in Cumbria. Production is outsourced to a local bakery, with Elaine handling marketing, sales and distribution. Her cakes are now sold nationwide through a range of stockists.
Elaine advises taking advantage of as much support as you can get: “Don’t go it alone. Be surrounded by people who are experts in what they do, who are mentors, so they’ve been there and done it. Get support from wherever you can,” she advises.
“It’s also about knowing what you want to do, as well as knowing what you don’t want to do,” she adds. “I knew that I didn’t want to make the cakes myself. And outsourcing just made my life so much easier. If I’d tried to make all the cakes myself, then I don’t think I would be where I am today.”
Founder: Rumbi Serima-Fowler
Awards: Hampshire Mentor Magic Runner Up, The News Business Excellence Awards Shortlist
“There’s a problem with many of the products on the market, particularly those that are targeted at black skin. It is as if the people who make the skincare don’t use the skincare,” says Rumbi Serima-Fowler, founder of Mimi’s Organics skincare business. “There can be toxins and skin lighteners. It’s a vicious circle.”
Rumbi’s interest in natural and organic skincare began after her son was diagnosed with autism. Having discovered that the chemicals in some consumer skincare products seemed to have a detrimental effect on his health, she was keen to learn more about organic products. What followed was four years of retraining in cosmetology which enabled her to formulate and launch her range of natural skincare and skin rejuvenation products. Since then, the business has flourished, with customers seeking a natural alternative to mainstream skincare brands.
“A need [for your business] is the most important thing,” advises Rumbi. “If there’s a need, then definitely go for it. And do it properly because it’s your reputation on the line. That’s the most important thing you have, so be genuine. Be bolder and more daring. Go beyond and don’t stay within boundaries.”
Big Hair + Beauty
Founder: Melissa Sinclair
Business: Hair and beauty
Awards: Vogue Beauty Awards, Glamour Beauty Power List
Frustrated at the lack of natural hair care products for Black hair, Melissa spent two years mixing, formulating and testing her haircare range specially designed for curls, kinks and coils. Created for afro and curly hair, Big Hair + Beauty has since won plaudits from industry beauty bibles Vogue and Glamour.
“Honestly, I’m still figuring this thing out for myself,” admits Melissa about her start-up journey. “It’s good to have an overall plan but break it down into achievable pieces. Celebrate every win, despite how small it is.”
“Reach out to people who have done it,” she advises. “I’ve reached out to people who have received investment, and they’ve been forthcoming with their experiences, their journeys, and things to include when attracting investment. People are more willing to share information than you think.
“It’s not going to be easy, but it will always be worth it,” she adds. “If you believe in what you’re doing, and you’re passionate about it, you find a way. And when you look back, you’ll be grateful for it.”
Miles & Mia
Founder: Michaela Alexander
Business: Books and children’s products
For single mother Michaela, the limited range of children’s books featuring characters of ethnic minority children was concerning. She felt that the available books did not reflect real life for modern, Black British children.
“My kids laughed at the Black character books that I had got them, so I said we’re going do this. They were very clear about what they wanted the characters to look like, so they are Black, but they’re of British origin.”
Michaela spent two years researching the market, importing books from the US, and creating the Miles & Mia brand, along with its first book, Miles & Mia A to Z. The book attracted media coverage from the likes of the Daily Mirror and Voice.
“I was happy because I changed their perspective. Amir now loves her Afro. She used to cry about it before.”
Launching a business is about belief, according to Michaela: “I’m still learning. If you’ve got a purpose and focus, you will keep you going. Nothing is stopping you. If you really, truly believe in it, don’t listen to what anyone says, go for it and be prepared to work hard – nothing is just going to come to you.”
Philly & Friends
Founder: Vese Aghoghovbia
Business: Books and children’s products
Awards: Best Brand Absolutely Mama Awards 2020, Pinterest Black Gold Brand 2020 Runner Up
“My interest is diversity in the playroom, and just making sure that the playroom is diverse,” says Vese Aghoghovbia, founder of the Philly & Friends brand and author of Who Do I See in the Mirror?. “We want to expose our children to a wide range of topics and cultures, skin tones, skin types and hair types – that’s very important. Diversity is something that you do continuously.”
Inspired by the need to champion more diverse children’s literature, Vese created a range of confident, strong, happy children’s characters and authored her first book, Who Do I See in the Mirror?, which featured a Black main character based on her daughter.
“I didn’t want her to grow up in a world where she doesn’t see herself represented,” says Vese. “You believe what you see or don’t see, and you become what you believe. She deserves to know she matters.”
Her advice for would-be Black business owners is to leap in: “I say do it. Sometimes you can be so bogged down, trying to figure it all out. But you wouldn’t figure it out until you do it. The ideas evolve as you do it.”
Thinking of starting a business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with the Open University on being an entrepreneur. Our free Learn with Start Up Loans courses include:
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