8 black-owned small businesses promoting change in the UK
From health and homeware to social media and sustainability, these exciting and innovative black-owned businesses are disrupting sectors across the country and beyond...
Throughout Black History Month (BHM), commemorated every October in the UK, people and organisations celebrate the impact and influence of people from Black British communities.
It’s particularly important to note the context in which this year’s BHM is taking place. Only a few months ago, the world witnessed scenes of George Floyd’s death, and people around the globe spoke up and stepped out to support black communities.
In addition to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gaining more wide-spread attention and recognition, people and businesses worldwide have been learning more about the issues facing black people, in order to show their support.
We’ll be examining what it means to be a black entrepreneur in the UK specifically. What are some of the celebrations to know about? And conversely, what are some of the challenges facing black-owned businesses, and what are some potential solutions?
We’ll showcase some of the most exciting, innovative small businesses that are leading the way in promoting change in their sectors.
At Startups.co.uk, we’ve been leading the way in championing small businesses for the past 20 years, and counting. Our vision is to empower UK startups and entrepreneurs, encompassing a full spectrum of identities, and this includes using our platform to share as many business stories as possible – both during BHM and all year round.
Black-owned businesses in the UK: The stats
One of the first challenges we faced was actually finding the data to show how business leadership breaks down by ethnicity in the UK.
Only limited information is available, and when it does exist, categories are often broad and all-encompassing of multiple ethnic groups, such as BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic).
This is problematic as not only do such terms group together entire cultures, heritages and communities, but it also doesn’t allow for detailed analysis of specific ethnic groups. Plus, there are increasing calls to reject the term BAME, as it’s thought to be outdated and not fully representative.
Although this debate is ongoing, there are inroads being made into how such data is collected. The Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME), based at Aston Business School, produced a report for the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) in 2020.
It found that in 2018, approximately 250,000 companies were ethnic-minority led businesses (EMBs). But, as the Unlocking Opportunity report pointed out, apart from the Census, the categorisations for ethnic groups aren’t specific enough – which doesn’t allow for more in-depth analysis to be conducted across different groups.
The report also called for a regular and comprehensive national study about ethnic minority entrepreneurship in the UK. Such a study could help considerably in making more detailed data available when looking at small business statistics.
And, in turn, this could make it easier to monitor and assess the range of different ethnic groups that make up the EMB category, as well as recognise where support may be needed, and highlight successes.
Hair and beauty
The black hair care market is a huge industry, and is worth an estimated £88 million. What's more, black women spend up to six times more on hair care than white women.
As well as this, black and Asian women were found to spend an extra £137.52 per year on beauty products, according to a 2016 Superdrug survey – with lack of choice a key issue that contributed to this increased spend.
While some improvements have since been made, products for afro, curly, and textured hair still only occupy limited space on shelves in major retail outlets, and black-owned businesses in this space remain under-represented.
However, there are more and more black entrepreneurs taking this matter into their own hands, and helping to meet the demands of under-served customers.
SOUL CAP is addressing a long-standing issue for people with voluminous hair: how to keep it protected while swimming. Its answer? A range of swim caps, along with a hair towel, which are all aimed at customers who have thick and curly hair.
To date, it has sent out more than 30,000 swimming caps across the world, and has amassed 3,200+ followers on Instagram, with another product in the works.
And that’s not all. SOUL CAP launched the #BlackGirlsDontSwim campaign in July 2020, partnering with Alice Dearing, a Team GB swimmer, to help challenge misconceptions and promote more diversity in swimming.
It also works with The Wonder Foundation, a charity that uses education to help disadvantaged girls, women, and communities.
Another business helping to change the hair and beauty sector is Bowë Skincare, which offers moisturisers and oils intended for women of colour. The brand is inspired by its West African heritage, and products are made using responsibly sourced ingredients.
This vegan and cruelty-free business has also been featured in Red magazine, as well as the UK editions of both Good Housekeeping and Women’s Health magazines.
LIHA Beauty aims to make products that offer “African roots and a quintessentially British attitude”. It has created a range of butters, candles, soaps and oils, along with online workshops where people can learn how to make their own home-made cosmetics.
Not only this, but it boasts a 25,000+ strong Instagram following, plus write-ups in some of the world's biggest media publications, including Vogue, Refinery29 and Marie Claire.
As well as its online store, you can find LIHA Beauty products in stockists across the US, Europe, and further afield.
Bespoke Binny offers a range of handmade products for the home. Founder Natalie Manima took inspiration from her work as a cognitive behavioural therapist, along with her passion for sewing, and created a product line with a focus on using colourful prints from West Africa.
This includes bedding and tableware, as well as virtual lampshade making classes where people can make their own creations using Bespoke Binny’s signature prints – all the while highlighting the importance of the home environment.
Having drawn international praise from BuzzFeed, Martha Stewart, and O, The Oprah Magazine, Bespoke Binny and its message is reaching plenty of people. Indeed, the brand has more than 52,000 Instagram followers, and is also stocked by The British Library.
Health and well-being
A key area of health is providing sufficient maternity care for women, with this extending from pregnancy right through to the early days at home with a new baby.
In fact, research published in the BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth journal found that womens’ experiences during this time – whether positive or negative – can affect not only the mother, but the child and wider family too, which further reinforces the importance of this aspect of healthcare.
And when looking at ethnic disparities in maternal care, it’s clear to see that this is another major issue, with the rate of maternal deaths during pregnancy varying considerably between different ethnic groups in the UK.
Indeed, from 2014 to 2016, the rate of maternal deaths during pregnancy was 15 in 100,000 for Asian women, and rising to 40 in 100,000 for black women. In comparison, the rate for white women stood at 8 in 100,000. These illuminating findings were compiled by Oxford University researchers.
Understandably, this is a big problem with far-reaching effects, and the ways to solve it are likely to be varied and nuanced. However, one business that is aiming to improve the experiences of pregnant women and new mums is Making Humans.
Founder Bukky Maybank’s own maternity experiences inspired her to start the business. With the intention of empowering mothers, its offering includes ‘Mums That Thrive’, an online video course covering everything from handling stress to maintaining a self-care routine and creating healthy habits. Live coaching sessions are also available.
While the lack of diversity in UK organisations (particularly in senior and leadership roles) is well known, this has been reinforced yet again more recently.
The Colour of Power 2020 report analysed the 1,099 most powerful roles in the UK, featuring decision-makers across both the public and private sectors. This includes CEOs of organisations in a number of industries, as well as magazine and newspaper editors, to name just a few roles.
It found that of these roles, only 17 are held by black males and females, representing 1.5% of the total.
And when examining these findings in terms of gender, the situation becomes even more dire: black females hold only three roles, equalling just 0.3% of the overall amount.
The report recognised that there have been greater calls for improved diversity at the top-tier of UK institutions. However, it notes that there have been hardly any improvements on the original findings since the report was first published in 2017.
One business that’s helping to create more diverse teams within organisations is VIVIDA, a tech company that uses immersive storytelling to conduct training for companies. Topics include cybersecurity, as well as diversity and inclusion.
It’s an award-winning company, sharing accolades such as the Cross Border Risk Management Award and the Business Continuity Awards: Transformation Award with its partners.
VIVIDA has worked with Barclays and the London Office of Rapid Cyber Advancement on cybersecurity projects. And in 2019, it worked with EY to create a Virtual Reality (VR) experience that enabled team members to simulate everyday interactions as a black person.
This technology could help even more people to understand what the challenges facing black professionals are like, and further drive the need for change throughout organisations – but especially at senior levels.
Marketing and advertising
One of the most visible reactions to this summer’s BLM movement has been on social media, with a plethora of individuals and organisations around the world posting images and sharing hashtags to show their support.
However, when looking behind the scenes of social media, there’s an ongoing issue with a lack of diversity – particularly among influencers – and it has been reported on by major publications, including Forbes and Vogue Business.
As well as this, The Colour of Power report shows that media and advertising agencies have some of the least ethnically diverse leaderships in the UK. This suggests a fundamental disconnect between these decision-makers and some of the audiences that they’re trying to reach.
Yoke Network is a community of TikTok influencers. It offers performance influencer marketing and content creation, as well as full-service brand and music marketing, to businesses that are looking to reach consumers through the platform. And impressively, it offers the highest number of TikTok influencers outside of the actual platform.
This is made even more remarkable by the fact that Jidé Maduako and Mustafa Mohamed launched the business just two years ago.
Since then, the company has grown to include 2,000 influencers, along with a total audience of 600 million and 150 million total views each day.
Yoke Network has also worked with the likes of Prettylittlething.com, Revolut, and Shpock, as well as featuring in the Startups 100 2020.
As big corporations around the world become increasingly focused on promoting social and environmental practices that are achievable and sustainable, it can also put more pressure on the suppliers at the frontline of production.
This is especially the case when products are in high-demand, and the food and drink sector is one area in particular that’s experienced such shifts in demand.
Just think about the increasing popularity of certain ingredients in recent years, such as almonds, avocados and quinoa, as well as the deforestation that can be caused by growing soy crops and producing palm oil.
Chosan by Nature
However, Chosan By Nature is helping to change this – a producer of baobab and hibiscus items, including jams, sorbets and drinks. These are created using African ingredients, and its range is vegan-friendly and gluten-free as well.
It was inspired by founder Eliza Jones’ aunt, as well as her own childhood experiences in The Gambia, with ‘chosan’ meaning ‘cultural heritage’ in the country’s Wolof language.
This social enterprise has been featured on The Guild of Fine Food website, as well as being included in BakeryandSnacks' 2021 trends list.
Jones created the range to not only share these flavourful products, but to also help farmers make longer-lasting goods out of their seasonal produce. Plus, the business also makes a donation to the food producers it works with in Africa, which includes contributions from its product sales.
Black-owned businesses in the UK: The future
As the range of amazing businesses we’ve included above shows, black-owned small businesses are having big impacts in a number of sectors, as well as contributing to changing the wider business landscape in the UK as a whole.
But more can be done to further celebrate diversity in business, starting with having data that captures a full range of ethnic identities.
And from creating support within the business community, to external investment networks becoming more inclusive, funding needs to become a more open and accessible space – after all, finance is one of the most important aspects of successfully running a business.
While we’re reaching the end of the article, it’s important to remember that equality in business doesn’t stop here. Whether you’re an aspiring founder looking to start up, a customer with buying power, or a funder seeking their next investment, we all have a part to play in creating a fairer business world.