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Black Book Day aims to support black-owned businesses in the UK

LONDON – For Aimée Felone, whose London children’s bookstore features stories with ethnically diverse characters, last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests were, in short, overwhelming.

“We have had attention like never before,” Ms. Felone said. People across the country were clamoring for books on anti-racism and looking for black-owned businesses like his store, Round Table Books, to help reverse years of racial economic inequality. In early June, the store’s sales exploded.

But pandemic restrictions had closed the store’s warehouse. After two weeks, the four-person team was struggling to process orders online. A publishing house affiliated with the bookstore, which Ms Felone also co-founded, sold all of the books she had published. New customers get impatient.

“The sales have been tremendous,” said Ms. Felone. The problem was “the extra stress that I think a lot of people don’t realize they are putting” on the small black businesses that they are trying to help.

Nearly a year after the protests, which were perhaps the largest social movement in U.S. history and quickly spread around the world, peaked, companies are looking for ways to convert this surge to chaotic interest in regular and reliable sales.

In Britain, an effort was created by Swiss, a British rapper. He calls it Black Pound Day, and the idea is simple: once a month people should spend money with black businesses.

“It’s about bringing in the money and trying to get it flowing through our community,” Swiss said in an interview. “You can’t always count on the government,” he added, “so we have to look to ourselves and find solutions for ourselves. Black Book Day is one of those solutions. “

Black Pound Days take place on the first Saturday of the month – the next is May 1 – and there are signs the idea is working. The first Black Pound Day, in June, caused a sudden surge in sales for participating businesses – some exceeding the previous month’s revenue in one day, according to research conducted by Jamii, a company supporting black businesses, and Translate Culture, a marketing company. agency.

Equally important, companies that continued to promote themselves on Black Book Day continued to be rewarded each month with higher sales, said Khalia Ismain, founder of Jamii.

The concept is a variation of other efforts to increase the wealth of blacks by pooling their resources. In the United States, the tradition dates back to black banks founded after the Civil War, when black Americans faced segregation and exclusion from financial services. More recently, people who emigrated from the Caribbean after World War II to help rebuild Britain and work for its new National Health Service – known as the Windrush Generation – have faced discrimination by bringing a a form of savings and loan known as a pardner. Small groups still use it to save together outside the banking system.

Swiss, 38, real name Pierre Neil, grew up in South London. His grandparents had come to Britain from Barbados and Jamaica. At 17, he rose to prominence with So Solid Crew, a garage and hip-hop group with dozens of members. In 2001, their song “21 Seconds” topped the UK charts.

But the group’s reputation has always been linked to gang culture and violence – a point Switzerland rebuffed against in “Broken Silence,” a song he co-wrote describing how the group felt he had been mistreated by the media and the government and unfairly blamed for his low socio-economic status.

“I’ve been making socially conscious songs since I was a teenager,” Swiss said, adding that he was inspired by rappers Tupac and Nas.

Swiss said he had been thinking about the idea of ​​Black Pound Day for years, pointing out how few businesses black people seemed to own.

Even though Black Pound Day is a simple idea, it gnaws at a complicated problem. Only 5 percent of small and medium-sized businesses in Britain are owned by Black, Asian or other ethnic minorities. A study by the British Business Bank, a public bank supporting small businesses, and consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that ethnic minority entrepreneurs face systemic disadvantages and the average annual income of an entrepreneur black was 10,000 pounds. less than for white business owners in 2019.

There are many barriers to entrepreneurial success, but one of the most glaring is the difficulty in obtaining financing. Only 0.02% of the venture capital money invested in Britain from 2009 to 2019 went to black female founders. That’s 10 women in a decade.

These barriers contribute to large disparities in income and wealth between black and white households in Britain. The total wealth of a median Caucasian-headed household (including property, investments and board) is £ 313,900 ($ 436,000). For a black Caribbean household, it’s £ 85,900 and just £ 34,000 for a black African household, estimates the national statistics agency.

Ms Ismain, the founder of Jamii, which offers a one-stop shopping site for black businesses, said her organization and initiatives like Black Pound Day sought to remind consumers to keep black businesses in mind even during protests. anti-racists weren’t on the front page. new.

“When it’s not trendy you don’t always think about it, you fall into old ways, and if you can’t find alternatives to the things you’re already buying anyway, it just isn’t. not very durable, ”Ms. Ismain said. “This is the thought process behind Jamii: it is very easy to find companies.”

For Afrocenchix, a hair care brand for natural afro hair, Black Pound Day has been transformative. Every month, on Black Book Day, the company makes two or three times its normal sales. To promote the day, it offers customers free shipping and a bag of tea and cookies – aka cookies in the United States – with their order.

“We were a bit trolled on the first Black Pound Day by a lot of people telling us we were racist and not British,” said Rachael Corson, co-founder of Afrocenchix. So in response, she said, she and her co-founder, Jocelyn Mate, thought, “What’s more uniquely British than tea and cookies?”

Since the first Black Pound Day, they have doubled their number of customers, and in 2020 Afrocenchix sales were five times higher than the previous year.

“It made a huge difference in brand awareness for us,” Ms. Corson said.

And the influx of clients and revenue should help the founders of Afrocenchix in their next goal of overcoming the odds of raising venture capital funds. They are trying to raise £ 2million.

For others, the benefits of Black Book Day have diminished over time, and they assume that consumer interest has spilled over into more black businesses. But Natalie Manima, the founder of Bespoke Binny, an online household goods brand, said the attention her business had garnered since people searched for black-owned retailers during the summer protests. the latter had “changed life”.

The interest “has not ended,” said Ms. Manima. “It’s not the same roadblock it was, but I never went back to the pre-protest sales level.”

She remembers the day she woke up in early June with hundreds of orders for her products, including lamp shades, oven mitts and blankets. It took her a few days to track the source of the outbreak – a list of black-owned businesses circulating on Instagram during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Because Britain was under lock and key, the maker of her products was shut down, as was her daughter’s preschool. So Ms. Manima would prepare the orders herself, late at night and early in the morning, until she sold everything and had to take a break to take orders.

But once the manufacturers reopened and his business was running smoothly again, customers kept coming back. She has since moved into a larger office (twice) and hired a team.

“I went from a solo show to this one, and I know it all depends on what happened in June,” she said.

That said, the experience of Round Table Books, the children’s bookstore, is testament to how difficult it can be to permanently change people’s spending habits, even with the help of initiatives like Black Pound Day. The store was closed all winter due to government restrictions. He sells books online, but it’s still hard to compete with giants like UK bookseller Waterstones and Amazon.

“When you don’t have the physical bookstores open, I find that a lot of the attention goes to the big brands,” Ms. Felone said. But she said the store will reopen in early May and that she still supports Black Pound Day.

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