A report from the Aston Business School found that, in 2018, there were around 250,000 ethnic minority-led businesses in the UK. While this represents a historic high that should be celebrated, there are still obstacles and challenges that people of colour face in all walks of life, not least in the professional domain and the world of business.
Racial wealth gaps mean that UK people of Afro-Caribbean descent are less likely to have access to the capital necessary for starting a business. And unconscious racial biases also mean that investors and banks may regard BAME entrepreneurs differently from their white counterparts.
With Black history month underway in the UK, we wanted to explore some of the most exciting Black-owned businesses currently operating in the UK and give you a glimpse of what they offer.
So join us as we take you through (a partial list of) some of the top Black-owned businesses that you should support.
What is a Black-owned business?
There can be complications in defining businesses as being “Black-owned” or anything “owned,” for that matter. For example, there are plenty of businesses started and run by someone of Afro-Caribbean descent, but the majority of shareholders in the company are white. So in this scenario, can the company technically be defined as Black-owned?
Most definitions, therefore, say that for a company to be called Black-owned, it must have at least 51% of the stock owned by people of Afro-Caribbean descent and have a black CEO.
So, with this definition in mind, let’s look at some of the top Black-owned businesses in the UK.
Soul Cap is a Black British company owned by business partners and best friends Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed-Salawudeen.
The two men never learned to swim as children, and so both joined an adult swimming class in their twenties. The swimming classes dictated that participants must wear swimming hats, which are not only good for hair care but also help to stop the spread of headlice. And this is when the two men noticed a significant gap in the market: there were no swimming hats available for people with voluminous hair.
Of course, anyone of any race or ethnicity can have voluminous or textured hair, but people with dreadlocks or afro hair are likely to be Black and are, therefore, unlikely to find a swimming cap that fits.
So what do people with such hairstyles do if they want a swimming lesson?
This is where Soul Cap comes in. Soul Cap offers a unique range of swimming caps for people who don’t have straight hair and whose hair cannot fit into other swimming caps.
Alongside their caps, Soul Cap also sells other stylish clothing and swimming accessories such as goggles, floats, and swimwear, amongst other items.
In 2020, Soul Cap launched the #BlackGirlsDontSwim campaign to promote more diversity in swimming. They also work with the Wonder Foundation, an education charity working with disadvantaged women and girls, and have recently teamed up with Adidas to create a partnered range of swimming accessories brands.
For a continent so heavily relied upon for its food production, Africa has long been ignored in the world of fine dining. There is no shortage of African restaurants, but the culinary world seemed reluctant to acknowledge the exquisite offerings that would lend themselves well to an up-market eaterie.
However, Iré Hassan-Odukale, the co-founder and director of the London restaurant Ikoyi, is on a mission to change that.
Since launching in 2017, Ikoyi has become the first restaurant serving African-inspired food to earn a Michelin star, and it has even been included in many lists of the world’s best restaurants.
Inspired by sub-Saharan flavours and spices, the St. James’ Market restaurant gets its name from a neighbourhood in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria.
Despite an abundance of BAME talent, the fine dining scene has long been dominated by white chefs. Hassan-Odukale has stated that he hopes his restaurant can inspire other chefs, Black business owners, and restauranteurs from minority backgrounds to start their journey into the culinary world, and he has also worked with young people as a mentor to help them on their way.
LIHA Beauty was founded by Liha Okunniwa and Abi Oyepitan. The two women met while studying at Brunel university. After graduating, they went their separate ways before reconnecting a few years down the line to start LIHA, which has since become one of the most exciting brands in the beauty industry.
LIHA makes vegan beauty products based on the Nigerian Yoruba tradition of making oils, soaps, lotions, and serums from nuts, plants, flowers, and trees that grow in abundance in that area. LIHA focuses on creating natural hair products and skincare products for different skin tones.
LIHA Beauty also offers online workshops on how to make your own cosmetics, candles, oils, and other therapeutic goods.
All of LIHA Beauty’s creations are ethically sourced and support the communities that help cultivate the flora that forms the ingredients.
Black Property Network
Property ownership is one of the biggest causes of inequality in the UK. Systemic racism and rocketing property prices make it difficult for minority families to get a foot on the ladder.
The Black Property Network is an education, advice, and consultancy service that helps to empower people within the Black community to secure property investment and take charge of their finances.
They offer several packages designed for BAME people at different stages of property ownership looking for advice on what steps to take as they make their foray into the world of property investment.
Ayesha Ofori is the director and is a pioneering force in the world of education services and the property market. Her entrepreneurial spirit has seen her rise to a leading light in the community, and she offers extensive experience as a mentor for any BAME families or young people looking to purchase property and invest in a future for themselves and their families.
Vivida is shaping the future of storytelling, creativity, and diversity education. They make virtual learning experiences using immersive VR technology that puts the audience into the world they are learning about.
Vivida offers education programmes on a range of topics, but one of their main courses is diversity and inclusion training. Through immersive, digital storytelling, companies can have their employees learn what it is like to experience everyday interactions through the eyes of someone of different ethnicity.
The technology aims to enable people to understand the challenges and obstacles faced by minorities in professional contexts and then take steps to make necessary changes.
Simeon Quarrie is the founder and CEO of Vivida. He created the technology behind it to help encourage students who struggle with traditional learning methods to realise that they can enjoy the education process.
Afori Books started as an online bookshop specialising in selling books by Black authors. Since then, owner Carolynn Bain has opened a shop in Brighton thanks to her hard work and a crowdfunding campaign that enabled her to renovate the shop building.
Ms. Bain has always been a lover of books, but she was tired of having to scour through the shelves of some of the biggest bookshops in the country just to find a handful of works by BAME authors.
So, she took matters into her own hands and set out a vision to create a Black bookshop that she dreamed would one day be partnered with the UK’s biggest book wholesaler. And in just a few years, that dream became a reality.
You can now browse the shelves of Afori Books online or in person. If you do go to the physical shop, you are encouraged to stay, have a coffee, read a book, and chat with the enthusiastic staff who are knowledgeable on everything to do with Black literature.
VAMP is an advertising and marketing agency that was launched in 2017 as the first such agency to entirely focus on Black UK talent, both on and off-screen.
Selma Nicholls had been working as a casting director in the industry and was keenly aware of the lack of representation of people of colour on both sides of the camera, particularly Black women.
With a good number of years and contacts under her belt, she set up VAMP with the aim of challenging industry biases and creating more campaigns that championed the wealth of BAME talent that had been hitherto ignored.
Since its launch, VAMP has worked with some of the biggest brands in the business and has run PR campaigns with their influencers for Hollywood movies such as The Batman and The Fantastic Beasts franchise.
Chosan by Nature
Eliza Jones was inspired by her formative experiences in The Gambia and the lasting effect of her Gambian aunty when she set up Chosan by Nature. The name “Chosan” is derived from the Gambian Wolof language and means “cultural heritage.”
Chosan by Nature produces vegan culinary goods made from hibiscus and baobab. These include things such as jams, sorbets, and refreshing drinks. All of the food and drink they produce are created using ingredients from The Gambia and other parts of West Africa and are all vegan-friendly and gluten-free.
Chosan is also committed to supporting the producers and farmers they work with. One of the biggest issues facing farmers in countries such as The Gambia is the seasonal popularity of their produce. When the season is high, there is competition between farmers, which drives the prices down. When the season is low, there is little produce to sell and make money from.
Jones recognised that this was a significant factor in creating instability in the lives of the farmers. She wanted to create products with a longer shelf life and could be sold all year round, thus offering greater security. In addition, every sale from the Chosan by Nature range includes a donation to the food producers and farmers cultivating the produce in Africa.
There have never been as many Black-owned businesses in the UK as today. That said, the obstacles and hurdles everyone faces when starting a business are particularly challenging for people of colour.
With Black history month this month, what better time to take the opportunity to lend your support to one of the exciting and innovative businesses covering many industries that we have outlined above?