The Power of The Black British Pound series was created to encourge the black community to acknowledge the power of being a concious consumer as well as share the experiences of black british people, as we need more black british voices and experiences to be heard and shared.
Fashion & Lifestyle Blogger, and all round creative Aaliyah is the next guest for this series. Aaliyah combines her style with necessary topics on wellness, empowerment and selfcare – Aaliyahiona.com
Buying Black = Giving Back
2020 has truly been one heck of a year, and the irony is we are only at the midway point. Still, amongst the chaos and our tears, there is something beautiful which has come out of all of this, the unwavering celebration of Black people. I have taken great pride in being part of discussions within close circles, and via social media in regards to how we move forward, and the unanimous belief is we must unapologetically invest in ourselves.
A few years ago, my understanding of supporting Black-owned businesses was a little different to the one I have today. Whilst I always enjoyed the idea of supporting Black businesses, I believe the fundamental part I misunderstood was that without the support of our own people, it can be very difficult to be seen within their respective areas of speciality.
Another thing I failed to understand was just how much spending power we as Black people have. We have been aware for decades now that everything from our food to personal style has pushed the success of many businesses and individuals. Yet, we have struggled to push the success of our own.
Outside of the fact that Black people are not present in rooms where executive decisions are made, I believe it is partially due to a lack of communal support. We must not hold every Black business and individual up to a standard of excellence when we knowingly accept less from our counterparts. Also, we must be constructive with our criticism if there is any, and not allow minor details or factors to deter us from returning.
Finally, we must disassociate Black businesses with being inexpensive. We cannot allow Black businesses to be forced into cheap labour because as consumers, we are unfamiliar with paying them appropriately or unfamiliar with associating Black business with luxury. To break this cycle, we must be prepared to spend.
Spending does equal support…
The biggest benefits of supporting Black-owned businesses include celebrating Black culture, giving back to our community and improving our socio-economic development. For too long, we have accepted products/services that may not have been fully functional because they were not designed with us in mind. In some instances, we have had to exclude ourselves altogether (e.g. The High Street Hairdresser). However, with more Black businesses, our needs can be met too.
Moreover, with more successful Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs we can start to bridge gaps including pay, representation and income. I know this to be true because I remember my mom and I would regularly shop in a Black-owned, Black hair and beauty supplies store in Birmingham called Juliet’s. It was all I ever knew for the longest time and by large it was the biggest and only Black hair and beauty supplier in the city.
By around the time I was 7 years old a few alternative stores began to open and we didn’t think much of it. That was until my mom and I were shopping, and we noticed a couple was walking around the store writing down the names and prices of products. I didn’t have a clear understanding of what it meant, but I knew it was wrong. I remember my mom glaring over at them and proceeding to let the shop assistant know what they were doing.
Over six months to a year, these alternative stores grew in numbers and size. It became well-known very quickly that these stores were in a large supply of products and cheaper than Juliet’s. As expected, our community gravitated towards their stores. Juliet’s store is no longer in business, the exact reason is unknown. However, I am aware that within a few years of these other stores opening the owner was forced to sell before Juliet’s eventually closed for good.
I feel guilty, as I’m sure others do because circumstances had forced my family to shop where it was cheap. Quite often the shop assistants were rude and nowhere near as helpful as Juliet’s. Consequently, as an adult, I actively remind myself that “cheap” doesn’t mean better, be it referring to the quality of products or overall service. The fate of Juliet’s highlights the significance of supporting and communicating with Black-owned businesses because had we, I am confident Juliet’s would be open today.
With an estimated spending power of £300 billion, it is evident Black people in the UK are increasingly growing their spending power. If we commit to spending more within our community, I can only imagine the changes it would make. We know our community better than anyone else, and I think that is the biggest advantage we have. Ultimately, by investing in Black businesses, we are investing in ourselves.
Shopping with a conscious…
Two years ago I watched a documentary highlighting the substantial amount of pollution caused by the fashion industry, particularly fast-fashion and I was horrified. When I thought of my morals and the things I stand for, it really made me sad to think I had missed opportunities to withdraw my support from companies who clearly did not share these values.
For me, being a conscious consumer is actively recognising the impact your lifestyle and spending has on the world. I don’t know it all, and it is difficult resisting the urge to buy quickly and cheaply, but I like the idea of being part of something bigger than myself and my “needs”. There are so many gems from clothing companies to restaurants who are big on quality too, which is all the more reason to buy from them. It is no secret that often large companies’ quality can waver as they become consumed with driving sales which I accept as part and parcel for business. However, there are still a large number of businesses built with integrity who are not prepared to compromise their quality or ethos. These are the companies we should prioritise.
When I consider that a large percentage of underpaid and exploited factory workers are women, and are from minority ethnic backgrounds, I feel responsible as a Black woman to pay attention to. Again, I must emphasise I do not know all the answers but shopping with locally sourced retailers and cutting down on how much fast-fashion you buy is a good start.
Growing and glowing…
For small businesses to grow, we must be transparent and patient as customers and business owners. I think our community has allowed the concept of “Black excellence” to place excessive expectations on ourselves and others which can prove to be really damaging. This is often to the detriment of either business ideas or relations between customers.
The Spanish brand ZARA is notorious for its poor customer service, yet we comfortably return to spend our money. Which leads me to question, when shopping with smaller businesses are we as forgiving? I don’t believe so. Instead, we ought to provide constructive criticism via email and allow room for improvement. If management responds negatively towards your criticism then, by all means, discontinue use, but please enforce this morale with larger companies. Secondly, be forthcoming with positive feedback via email and in person. As someone who has formerly worked in retail, that one lovely customer or feedback can really make a difference. By confirming things they are doing right, outside of sales, businesses can be made aware of the things their customers respond well too, and do more of it. In turn, everyone is happy.
Lastly, show support by recommending friends and family. More often small businesses rely on recommendations when they do not have the money for large advertising. In many cases, recommendations have provided more business. Thanks to social media, it is very easy to see real reviews and the products/services before you buy. Using your platform to share your experience is good practice too. Let’s not get into the habit of only being vocal regarding our criticisms.
I do not doubt that Black-owned businesses in the UK can succeed, what’s imperative is that the community’s support, and effort to enforce change do not falter. After all, this is a movement, not a moment.
My Instagram: @aaliyahiona
My website: www.aaliyahiona.com
Places I find/ Black-owned business:
Facebook: Black Owned Economy
Listen to Saabirah’s Space, my podcast for bloggers & creatives on all podcast streaming platforms.