At the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic, I thought I was going to lose my business. This was, of course, a common fear that many entrepreneurs around the world had to face, particularly those who worked in the fashion industry. But for me, a young Black female business owner, the possibilities of failure appeared way more imminent.
As the Founder and CEO of The Folklore, an online concept store carrying top designer brands from Africa and the diaspora, I am one of the overwhelming number of Black Female Founders that raised less than $36,000 to launch my startup. So, when the stay-at-home orders were instituted, limiting the use of physical storefronts and causing a decrease in customer spending, I understood that just like under normal circumstances, Black women were going to face the worst of the consequences. I knew we would be amongst the last to receive aid, if we even received aid at all.
Just when I was beginning to adjust to the impact the pandemic would have on my businesses, I was forced to mourn the loss of George Floyd, a Black father who was killed after a Minneapolis police officer forcefully kneeled on his neck for nine minutes while he cried out that he couldn't breathe, as well as the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. The subsequent demonstrations that erupted around the world, with protestors demanding charges and justice, added another element to the complexities of operating a Black owned-business. In cities where looting and destruction took place, many Black-business owners watched in horror as their stores were stripped of its products and physically damaged.
Zola Dias, the Founder of Attom Concept Store in Atlanta, is one of the Black-owned fashion businesses that were looted and destroyed. According to Dias, his store, located at the Shops at Buckhead, did not have insurance. The founder has now turned to GoFundMe to encourage the community to help raise funds for him to rebuild the store. On the popular crowd fundraising platform, several Black-owned businesses in cities across the country have created campaigns of their own to help them rebuild.
The support of his GoFundMe Campaign has been immense. In just four days, Dias, who is known as the go-to guy for celebrities looking to shop for high-end designer pieces in Atlanta, has already raised 40% of his target goal. His massive fashion network, celebrity clientele, and consistent press coverage has undoubtedly contributed to the enormous support his campaign received, a benefit not many other Black-owned fashion companies have. Most have barely cracked $5,000 and remain far away from their goal.
Beyond responding to the devastation of Black-owned businesses as a result of looting and property destruction, it appears some non-Black people are beginning to acknowledge the systemic injustices and racism that Black people face on a daily basis. It’s these injustices which led to the death of George Floyd, and the subsequent destruction of property. This internal reckoning has caused many non-Black people to launch social media campaigns and publish media articles highlighting ways to economically support Black businesses.
For me, a Black business owner who primarily distributes online, the benefits of this sudden surge of support has been extraordinary. Since Monday, The Folklore has appeared in dozens of lists of Black-owned fashion businesses to support, our sales and web traffic has gone up tremendously, and our Instagram followers continue to increase by the hundreds daily. Just weeks after I grappled with the impact COVID-19 would have on my business, I no longer fear that I am going to lose my company. In fact, I am confident that it will be extremely successful.
The tremendous increase in support has been felt by Black-owned fashion businesses throughout the industry. Incredible brands like Fe Noel, which has been supported and recognized by Black people for years, are now receiving recognition from non-Black publications, influencers, and celebrities. With all this support from non-Black people, the question on many people’s minds is how will Black businesses maintain this momentum and convert it into more opportunities for Black economic growth?
In the same way that we are calling for structural changes within political and social environments, Black business owners, particularly those who work in the fashion industry, must also mobilize to come up with a plan to institute structural changes within the industry that will have long lasting impacts. Over the past few days, I have been having conversations with fellow Black business owners about industry-wide changes, but it’s important to share how the average shopper can help.
Below, find a list of the steps you should take to continue supporting Black-owned fashion businesses long after the media attention has dwindled.
Continue Following Brands and Engaging
Not every means of support has to be driven by sales or financial contributions. The amount of social media followers, website visits, and email subscribers are also metrics that investors and potential corporate sponsors look at when considering doing business with brands. If you are unable to continuously provide monetary contributions to these Black-owned businesses, make sure you are writing comments and liking and sharing their content.
Don’t Let Inconveniences Stop Your Support
Black businesses are largely underfunded, understaffed, and in some cities, they exist few and far between. This sometimes makes it a bit inconvenient to support them, but that’s no excuse and it’s important to find ways to patronize these businesses. Many Black people go above and beyond to offer support, even if that means waiting 7-10 business days to receive a made-to-order dress instead of walking to the closest fashion retailer instead. These are actions that non-Black people who are truly committed must adopt. The more support these businesses receive, the more they will be able to address the issues that cause minor inconveniences.
Demand Diversification From the Companies You Support
Many non-Black-owned fashion brands are exposed to a wealth of opportunities to collaborate with top corporations. Target collections and athletic shoe collaborations are all big revenue-generating deals that greatly increase the success of non-Black-owned brands. Be conscious about what companies you support. If you recognize that there are little to no Black-owned brands, employees, or other central figures within the corporation, withhold your dollars and make it clear that you will not continue to support them until they address these inequalities.
Physically Show Up for These Brands
When Baltimore-based fashion brand Hanifa hosts a pop-up shop in New York City, you can almost guarantee that you will be greeted by a long line of Black women waiting to shop its pieces. It’s not enough to support these brands virtually, make sure you are at those pop-up shops or visiting their permanent brick-and-mortar locations when it is safe to do so. We should no longer only see Black people designating time to physically show up for Black-owned brands.
Wear These Brands With Pride & Spread The Word
When you purchase products from these brands, you should glow knowing that you look chic and fashion-forward, but also that you are supporting a brand that deserves the recognition. Make sure to tag the brand in pictures on social media or use the hashtags #BlackFashionBrand or #SupportBlackOwnedBusiness to let your followers know you are continuing to support these brands and they should, too.