Build
Start-Up Stories From Founders Of Brand New Black-Owned Businesses
Photography by RF Studio
Build
Start-Up Stories From Founders Of Brand New Black-Owned Businesses
Words by
Photography by RF Studio
To celebrate the success of new Black businesses, 8 inspiring female founders share the stories of how they launched their dream brands in 2020.

If starting a business is challenging at the best of times, then starting a business during a global pandemic could be terrifying. Yet plenty of women have been busy demonstrating resilience and entrepreneurial zeal as they launch their own companies during lockdown, with our research showing one in four women are planning to launch a business post-pandemic while two-thirds are considering a career change.

For Black business owners the journey to success can be more difficult than for most. Research suggests that only around 0.67% of UK businesses and 2.2% of US employer businesses are Black-owned, and that Black business owners struggle to attract investment compared to their white counterparts. 

These statistics need to change. Here, 8 inspiring female founders share their start-up success stories.

Ricki Lawal, 27, is the founder of Selfmade Candle. After starting her career working in management consultancy and then technology she began to feel disenfranchised with the lack of attention paid to social issues in the industries. She now focuses on creating eco-conscious wellness products, launching her soy wax candle company during lockdown.

Selfmade Candle was a side-hustle to start off with. I’d been recycling and making candles in my spare time during lockdown for friends and family. But then when the Black Lives Matter movement was amplified with George Floyd’s death, I felt like I needed an outlet. I’ve always been someone who is driven towards action, so I created Selfmade Candle that weekend with a small set of products including my CONSCIOUS candle, the proceeds of which I have been donating to Stand Up To Racism.

"The greatest success of my business has been the social impact"

I pretty much launched my entire business over the course of a weekend. I’d been teaching myself how to use the Adobe suite over lockdown, just for something to do, and used that new skillset coupled with some web skills to launch a website. I shared my news with friends and family over Instagram, and from there the company grew organically. I soon started seeing orders from people that weren’t friends of friends. I remember getting my first order from someone I didn’t know – it felt amazing! The business soon grew to a stage where I felt empowered enough to focus on it full-time.

The greatest success of my business has been the social impact. Not only was I able to raise money for Stand Up To Racism, but the demand for the CONSCIOUS candle grew to such an extent that it’s now a permanent part of the collection, and I’m able to also donate to Black Minds Matter UK.

Deborah Choi, credit to Katja Hentschel

Deborah Choi, 36, is the founder of Horticure, a business initially created to connect plant owners with friendly horticulturists using technology. Although she founded the business in 2018, she was forced to pivot after lockdown led to a loss of subscriptions. The business now focuses on selling plants directly to customers at wholesale prices.

Once lockdown and stay at home orders hit our main operating cities – Berlin, London, San Francisco and New York – we were forced to act swiftly and consider what made sense for us. In April we decided to overhaul the business and focus on plant sales. It was an incredibly stressful time – staff was reduced, product development was stalled, and we didn’t know if rebranding the business would work until we launched and started to get customer interaction.

"I’m often the only Black female entrepreneur in a room when networking, and this can feel isolating if you don’t have that network to support you and root you on"

Something that’s interested me for a long time is how plants contribute to our wellbeing within indoor spaces. Our mission is to enable everyone to live a healthier, greener life indoors, and I’m very positive about what the future holds for our product strategy.

For other aspiring Black business owners, I would recommend building an accountability and support network of other women of colour. I’m often the only Black female entrepreneur in a room when networking, and this can feel isolating if you don’t have that network to support you and root you on.

Grace Trowbridge, 35, is the founder of Simply Noir, a curated online marketplace and community for Black independent businesses. After recognising that these businesses were underrepresented in the mainstream, she decided to create a home for products encompassing books, homeware and hair and beauty items, amongst others. 

I worked as a sales and marketing manager within the leisure industry for over 12 years, but became self-employed last year when I decided to set up a property company. After years of working in corporate environments and not feeling able to effect real change, as well as experiencing the frustrations of being a working mum, I felt ready to turn my side-hustle into a full-time revenue stream.

"Being able to do something I love is amazing, and my business never feels like work"

Simply Noir is my second business, and was launched during lockdown. Trying to stay afloat and motivated during a pandemic has been a struggle, but it’s also been a massive learning curve. Being able to do something I love is amazing, and my business never feels like work. 

My aspiration for Simply Noir is to be recognised by everyone, not just within the Black community, and to be able to effect positive change. To other women considering starting up their own business I would say to just do it – don’t let fear hold you back. 

Desriee Asomuyide, credit to Nicole Omotayo

Desriee Asomuyide, 27, is the founder of Little Omo, an independent brand that creates educational flashcards for children of colour. She was inspired to create her business after having her first child and recognising that there was a lack of representation in early learning.  

My son Isaiah was born in January, and as a Black mother I felt that it was essential for him to feel recognised when learning. I also wanted to create cultural awareness in all children, creating products that parents can purchase to introduce to their child’s learning and play. This was the inspiration behind designing and launching inclusive flashcards, which feature characters of different complexions and hair colours. 

Balancing motherhood and starting a new business has been tough. I tend to get a lot of mum-guilt and worry that I’m not spending enough time with my little one. I have to try to remind myself of the long-term goal, which is creating a legacy for my son and future children.

"The advice I would give to other Black entrepreneurs dreaming of starting their own business is to never be afraid to ask for help or advice"

I’d love to see Little Omo in more educational spaces such as nurseries, primary schools and book retailers, not only in the UK but also in Europe and America. It would be amazing to host workshops for children and parents during the school breaks, once Covid-19 has finally cleared.

The advice I would give to other Black entrepreneurs dreaming of starting their own business is to never be afraid to ask for help or advice. You will be surprised by the amount of people willing to share their knowledge with you. 

Benedicta Banga, 39, is the founder of Blaqbase, an app that curates brands owned by Black women. She was inspired to create the app after finding that she struggled to find products online during the pandemic, and realising that Black-owned brands are often under-funded and less visible.

My business started with a prototype for a lifestyle app, but after collecting feedback I realised the need for a curated shopping app. This is how I ended up creating Blaqbase. 

"One thing I’ve learned is that great things can happen even in the midst of chaos."

I launched the app on Black Pound Day, and unfortunately had to navigate some ignorant comments from people who weren’t prepared to educate themselves on the issues that the day raises awareness of. But one thing I’ve learned is that great things can happen even in the midst of chaos, so even though there were some awful comments there was also a lot of awareness spread, and both the app and Black Pound Day have continued to do well.

So far, my biggest successes have been launching the app on Sky News and watching the growth in app sign-ups. It’s great to watch the community grow. I was also selected as a finalist for Retail Futures 2020, and have recently been given an opportunity to host pop-ups at John Lewis.

Adejoké Bakare, 50, is a Nigerian-born chef who launched West African restaurant Chishuru in September, after winning the amateur category of 2019’s Brixton Kitchen competition.

My desire to work in food started when I was at university in Nigeria. I studied biology, and ran a fish and chip cart in my spare time. When I moved to the UK I started working at a property company, but my goal was always to cook full-time.

"I want to combine fresh British and African produce to highlight the lesser-known dishes of West Africa, and showcase the food that I grew up with"

I started Chishuru as a supper club, but winning the Brixton kitchen competition was a major step towards fulfilling my dream of introducing West African cuisine to the London food scene. I’ve now been able to set up a restaurant in Brixton Village with 25 covers. I want to combine fresh British and African produce to highlight the lesser-known dishes of West Africa, and showcase the food that I grew up with. 

The feedback that I’ve received so far has been wonderful. I’m so glad to have been able to bring pleasure with my food and introduce new dishes to people. 

Georgette and Sophinne Aikins- Sancho, credit to Tamzin Morris

Georgette Aikins-Sancho, 26, and Sophinne Aikins-Sancho, 22, launched luxury home fragrance brand Aya Aromas after finding that they had a lot of spare time on their hands during lockdown.

During lockdown we were both fortunate enough to work from home, and not having to commute meant that we had more spare time. After considering the idea of turning our hobby into a business for a while, we stopped procrastinating and finally took the plunge. The possibility of using all of the spare time and extra money that we had saved from not commuting felt like a really exciting opportunity.

Although we began Aya Aromas when working from home, we both still work nine to five jobs. Georgette has now returned to work, which has proved difficult, but we are still managing and are now selling products all over the world. We love seeing our candles, diffusers, and wax melts in people’s homes and just want to continue to make our products, as the process really does bring us joy.

"We never could have imagined the positive support that we've received – there is an audience out there waiting to support you, you just need to find them!"

Our advice to Black female entrepreneurs is to find something that you’re passionate about and start from there. We never could have imagined the positive support that we've received – there is an audience out there waiting to support you, you just need to find them!

Evangeline Poku, credit to Eniola Alakija

Evangeline Poku, 27, is the founder of Azaira Intimates, a lingerie brand that caters to DD+ sizes. She had the idea of launching her business after struggling to find luxury underwear for her wedding and honeymoon.

When I was trying to purchase lingerie for my wedding and honeymoon I found that many luxury brands did not cater to fuller busted women. I wanted to create beautiful pieces that would break the norm with delicate fabrics, custom embroideries and true luxury.

My background was in health and social care, so I initially did a lot of research to get a feel for the industry. I worked with highly experienced freelancers and hired an intern to create a buzz on social media.

"Seeing something go from an idea to a physical product is extremely special and made all of the hard work seem worth it"

Taking on all the different roles involved in admin, PR, marketing and social media account management has been extremely difficult to get my head around, but it also gave me a true insight into what is required to run a successful business. I have three children under the age of seven, so it has been difficult to find the time for everything, but with perseverance and time management it worked out.

My biggest success has been seeing my collection for the first time. Seeing something go from an idea to a physical product is extremely special and made all of the hard work seem worth it. Azaira Intimates recently featured on Beyoncé's official website showcasing Black-owned brands, and my hope is that it will one day be a household name in the luxury lingerie industry.

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