Black women and entrepreneurship go hand in hand (despite what some may picture when imagining an entrepreneur). From haircare to beauty, fashion and so much more, Black women in the UK have been making waves and right now the demand for Black business couldn’t be higher. Recent data shows that eBay searches for ‘Black business’ are up by 40% compared to the same period last year and the number of Black ecommerce founders is rising.
It’s fair to say that Black women in the UK often haven’t had equal opportunities to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams. Black women-run businesses face structural barriers such as difficulty securing investment, lack of access to business networks and lower levels of seed funding. Now, eBay UK and Black Girl Fest (a platform dedicated to providing Black women, girls and non-binary people with the right access, learning and development opportunities to help them succeed) have developed a partnership to change that. Together they want to help Black female entrepreneurs turn their side hustles into fully fledged businesses. At the end of last year they launched the BGF x eBay Seller Academy, which saw 30 sellers enrol on a 12-week programme of financial support and hands-on training delivered by eBay experts to help them grow their businesses.
These sellers graduated from the programme in January, armed with the knowledge and expansive networks to continue growing their businesses. We’ve partnered with eBay UK and Black Girl Fest to profile three of the participants in this year’s programme. Read on to find out more about each woman’s passion project, their journey to launch and their aspirations for their business.
Chloé, Odyssey Box, Manchester
Chloé’s journey to starting her business began with moving away from her community in the UK and living in Germany. “It was while I was on my year abroad. I went to Leeds Uni to study French and German and spent a year in Germany. I wasn’t having the greatest time there so I used the time to focus on something I was passionate about, which was natural hair care. I started an Instagram page to promote Black-owned haircare brands.”
Odyssey Box was born, a platform that provides a variety of carefully sourced Black haircare products alongside the advice and guidance to find the right products for your hair. Chloé kickstarted her idea at the right time, just when her customer base needed her expertise most. “Six weeks before the first lockdowns in 2020 […] I had more and more people messaging saying, ‘Thank goodness for your page, none of the shops are open and I didn’t know where else to find things for my hair’ or ‘I’m not able to go to my hairdresser’. Showing consumers products and how to maintain your hair came in really handy.” Chloé’s own experiences in Germany, where she didn’t have access to all her usual products and hairdressers, meant she was fully prepared when many other Black women found themselves in the same position during the pandemic.
Chloé says that “cutting through the noise” was a key learning point for her on the Seller Academy. “The market is very saturated. I remember when I started my natural hair journey a decade ago, there were only one or two products on offer. It feels like overnight the market’s been flooded with hundreds. I was struggling to help people decide between one or the other. And it was the same with my brand. What will my brand offer you that others won’t? What’s the difference between you buying them from me or from the brand?”
Chloé was heartened by the chance to be part of a learning environment with other Black women. “As someone who was confident in their selling abilities it’s easy to underestimate how beneficial it is to hear other people’s questions. Someone might ask something and you’ll think the answer might be obvious but then you’ll think, Have I actually done this? Although you may feel like you know things, you’re not necessarily doing them, you’re sort of working on autopilot. Being able to have accountability within the group and the opportunity to take things a few steps back and build them up again was really valuable.”
Being embedded within a community of Black female entrepreneurs has also proved invaluable. “We went to a photoshoot for the programme and I was able to connect with people in person. One participant in particular, Vera, has been sending me different links to things that she thinks are beneficial, and showed me her TikTok videos. There are people I connected with during the programme who then would be like, ‘Do you know who you need to meet?’ and it would just snowball from there. It definitely felt like collaboration over competition.”
Dominique, Baby Saint, London
With a law degree and working as a paralegal, Dominique’s qualifications belie a creative entrepreneurial streak. In 2017 she spotted a gap in the market for good quality, affordable jewellery after growing frustrated with high street jewellery that would leave green marks on her skin after a short period of wear. “I started Baby Saint by sourcing jewellery for myself that would be long-lasting but affordable and not garish as typically seen in the high street. I thought I couldn’t be the only one struggling so Baby Saint was born.” Since then it’s expanded into home care, becoming a lifestyle brand with the same focus on quality and sustainability for buyers.
Dominique feels she had some clear challenges prior to enrolling in the Seller Academy and benefited quickly from the support the programme gave her. “I was struggling with copywriting and the description of my products — just getting across my message to consumers of why the products are this price and what I’m selling. eBay emphasised how to put eye-catching copy online to get your products at the top of the list when people are searching, in a concise way. It was really good for my brand not just on eBay but beyond.” The programme also demystified the logistical challenges that small business owners often struggle to solve. “eBay is good at teaching you about couriers and shipping. That can be a challenge as a small business when you’re shipping individual packages, different sizes and weights and keeping track of it all.”
For Dominique, the weight of being a sole business owner can be heavy, especially with the pressure to do it all. “It’s all well and good having your products and established business but you need to push it out to people and that’s something I was really lacking, especially finding the time to really keep up with social media trends and scheduling posts. With eBay it took away some of that struggle as they set up a system where they push your posts and they put it in front of the right people, which really helped promotionally. I could breathe a bit as I knew it was being done and had space to do other things related to my business.”
Dominique has some sage advice for other Black women looking to follow their passion. “Stop trying to compare yourself to major high street retailers. Compare yourself to your peers and your target audience, focus on your mission statement, the goal of the business you’ve founded and it will organically grow.” She warns sellers not to judge a book by its cover and to be open to unexpected avenues for selling their products. “Don’t discount eBay. Before I started the programme I had a certain idea of what I thought it was — selling random stuff like old clothes, old bikes and sheds — and there was a stigma around it. But what I learned from the programme and others on it is that eBay is for anything, low end, high end, and it is a booster market.”
Vera, NonyelumVee, North London
Working in IT and getting to travel for many years, Vera’s career ambitions changed tack with a family illness and the arrival of her children. Her gift shop NonyelumVee sells stationery, gifts, fitness accessories, toys and more, and came into being shortly after her daughter began playing with poppets, a fidget toy where users repeatedly pop dimples in and out to relieve stress and anxiety or increase their ability to focus. “I started wholesaling them [poppets] and started doing lots of pop-up shops and setting up my eBay personal site. I wanted to do something different.” Vera certainly is different, with a bold, lively attitude. As an entrepreneur she is refreshingly upfront about her journey in business. “I never liked the term ‘side hustle’ because it assumes you’re not really that into it. When you’re doing eBay parcels at 1am in the morning it’s not a side hustle!”
Vera had been following Black Girl Fest since its early days and applied for the Seller Academy with a few challenges about her business on her mind, such as not understanding her market. “The challenge was what was I really trying to sell? I didn’t yet understand how to build sales, a customer base, customer service and understanding where I place myself.”
Vera’s business has undergone some vast changes since the start of the programme. “The programme really gave me the basic foundations I needed. I went from having a couple of boxes in my front room to having a whole warehouse in my garden by the time I’d finished the course! It gave me tools and techniques and understanding the mechanisms of running online accounts and what success looks like.”
The future is looking bright for Vera and she intends to continue to expand her business with the tools she’s gained from the programme. “I’ve got one part-time employee and expect to grow and have a team of employees, and have more than one eBay account. I want to make sure I have more of what I call ‘bread and milk products’, the products that people buy all year round so I have more predictability around my sales.”
Vera’s adamant that there is space for a variety of Black women in the business world. “Black women aren’t homogeneous, we’re all very different. To be around so many Black women thriving and for that to be encouraged. They’ve removed the concept that ‘there can only be one of you’ and reiterated that there is space in fact for all of us.”
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