Hustle & Heels (H&H) was founded nearly five years ago by Jen Scott and Jamie (Jay) Tavares when they were 27. The success of the business has led to a rising star nomination at the Black British Business Awards (BBBAwards) which takes place in London on Thursday.
Jen and Jay met over 15 years ago when they attended a Saturday school for high-achieving students and attended the same college. They separated and went to different universities but remained friends and started their first business after finishing university. Both convinced their families that becoming an entrepreneur was a viable career path for two black girls from east London. Jen’s dad is from Barbados, her mum is from Anguilla and Jay’s parents are from Jamaica.
I discovered Uncle John’s Bakery on social media a while ago and like all good journalists, I did my research and found it was a London-based Ghanaian family business. As a fellow London-born Ghanaian, I was intrigued by the business but also because, I couldn’t think of a commercial Ghanaian bakery in London, unlike Ghanaian restaurants which are not uncommon, if you know where to find them.
I was keen to find out more about this business and spoke with the director, Samuel Mensah and talk about his Entrepreneur Rising Star Black British Business Award (BBBAward) nomination. Samuel took over the business, which was founded nearly 25 years ago by his parents and is named after his father – Uncle John. Following the customary ‘so when were you last in Ghana?’ chat, when you meet a fellow Ghanaian for the first time, Samuel shared insights into how this baking business has risen.
When did you get involved in the business? In 2014 when I was 29. Before that I was building my music career as a grime / hip-hop MC and doing athletics but got injured.
Why did you get involved? I knew the business needed a solid infrastructure and wanted to use my transferable skills from being in the music industry, like networking, to take the business to the next level. I didn’t publicise that I was part of the business initially.
What was the solid infrastructure the business needed? We had to improve our digital presence, from our website to how we connected with our customers. I had to modernise our internal systems and build a strong team.
Were you resentful about leaving your music career behind? There were lots of things going on in the streets and I wanted to show others there are ways to make something of yourself, outside of music and sports. Having a daughter also made me realise I had to help the business, not just for me, but for later generations.
I first interviewed Jamelia Donaldson in January 2017 after meeting her at an African diaspora business event. She launched Treasure Tress, a product discovery service in November 2015, now it has grown to become a staple component of the UK natural hair movement.
Treasure Tress caters for people with afro/kinky and curly hair. In July this year, Jamelia was nominated for a Black British Business Award (BBBA) in the Entrepreneur Rising Star category, so I caught up with her to find out what’s been happening since we last spoke.
I found out I was selected as a finalist for a BBBAward… When I was abroad and got a call from the BBBAward team.
Being a finalist is amazing… And being acknowledged for hard work is a huge honour and I’m very grateful.
I don’t know why they selected me over other people, but I guess it’s because… I managed to make my transition from the corporate world in asset management, to the start-up world, have grown the business to where it is now and provided opportunities for others along the way.
The BBBAwards are so important because… When you look at the statistics of the number of black-owned businesses that get funding, it’s embarrassingly low. This translates into the recognition that black-owned business get which often isn’t that great. Having something created by black professionals which recognises black-owned business is extremely vital.
I launched my business… When I was 23 years old. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, even as a child and I’ve always been a natural leader.
Channel 4 News reported that black women in the UK spend six times more on haircare products than white women. But what is the beauty buying experience like for black women, who are essentially, the jewels in crown of this burgeoning beauty industry?
Sanmi Ogunmola and Tommy Williams (who made it into the Forbes List – ’30 under 30′) met in Nigeria while working for a fashion and beauty internet startup company. It was challenging for customers navigating the fragmented beauty industry in Nigeria and upon return to the UK, the duo noticed similar challenges here. Flash forward and the e-commerce beauty platform All Shades Covered (ASC), was created, with the aim of providing women of colour (WOC) a seamless and efficient customer experience.
Photo credit: Forbes / ASC
What was the trigger for the inception of ASC? Both of us have sisters and we’re aware of the effort and time black women spend on sourcing hair products, finding a salon to do their hair and the amount of time spent getting their hair done. Using our e-commerce backgrounds, we saw an opportunity to improve this experience.
When did ASC launch? We spent months doing research and speaking to people, then had a soft launch of the website in October 2016, where we invited some people to buy hair extensions from the site. We also had some organic traffic generated via word of mouth.
“Coming from an investment banking background, my family were a bit unsure about me moving into hair and beauty, especially when I moved to Nigeria, as I’m not Nigerian.” Now they can see that ASC has become a reality, they’re a lot more at ease.” – Tommy
How did you choose the name, ‘All Shades Covered’? It’s quite direct and describes whom we aim to cater for. Black and mixed-raced women come in all different shades and tend to receive an inferior level of service when it comes to their beauty needs – which we want to change. This doesn’t stop women of other races from buying our products if they also cater to their needs.
Has there ever been any confusion over what ASC means? It’s quite funny actually, when we first started some people thought we are a gossip site because of the ‘shade’ / ‘throwing shade’ term. Others thought we sold make up and nude tights. However, when you visit the website it’s very clear that we provide hair extensions and products, so people are catching on.
How does ASC help the avid beauty consumer? As well as selling hair products and extensions, we can also guarantee the quality of the hair as we know where it comes from. We deliver hair extension purchases within 3 working days, so that customers can get their hair done within that same week. We’re starting with hair products and will branch out into other beauty products, providing customers with a holistic beauty experience.
How did you decide what types of hair extensions to sell? We did some market research and sent out a survey but the responses were quite varied, from customers preferring straight to lose curl extensions and everything in between! So, we started off with 3 style textures – curly, body wave and straight at 12 -24 inches.
“Selling hair extensions and products for natural hair aren’t mutually exclusive. Some natural hair women use extensions and wigs as a form of protective styling.” – Tommy
How do you ensure the quality of the hair extensions you sell? We have partners on the ground in China who quality check the hair on various parameters such as, hair shedding rates and strength before and after washing. The hair isn’t Chinese hair, it’s just that the processing factories we work with in China have been able to streamline the hair production process while maintaining quality.
With your focus on hair extensions, do you feel ASC alienates a section of its current target market – black women who have gone natural? We have hair care products suitable for women with natural hair and those who wear extensions and/or have relaxed hair, so we cater for all segments of our target market. We’re fully aware of the natural hair movement, but also acknowledge, that hair extensions account for a significant proportion of the market and hair style choices of many black women. We also have a blog with tips on how to look after natural hair and maintaining hair extensions /weaves.
How do two men provide tips on looking after natural hair and hair extensions? Our team is made up of predominately women and we’re about to take two of them on a permanent basis. Some have natural hair, others wear hair extensions – they’re active on social media, passionate and knowledgeable about hair and beauty. We get a lot of advice from them.
Photo credit: ASC
Do you sell any UK haircare brands? Yes, we do and we’ve recently added some to the site.
Is the ASC customer base only in Europe? Currently Europe is our biggest market (especially Italy and France), but we’ve also seen some organic customer growth in parts of Africa, including Nigeria, Sierra Leone and South Africa. Expanding into Africa is also key goal for us in the future.
“Because the industry is so fragmented we have ASC hair reps – hair stylists selling our hair extensions to their clients, after which they receive a commission.” – Sanmi
As a new business in a crowded market are you worried about competition? We like competition, it’s motivation! We’ve done our research and focus on providing the best customer experience. We’re aware of the competition but that doesn’t deter us from our own plans.
Any exciting developments? Dyed hair extensions and kinky hair! We’ve had a few requests on these, so we’re listening to our customers.
What does the future hold for ASC? We want to be a renowned beauty brand online and on the high streets.
You can check out the ASC website, which currently has a 20% spring sale and keep up with them on Twitter.
I was frustrated with the lack of quality products for natural hair and the poor customer service experienced when buying products. So I took things in to my own hands and started TreasureTress UK in November 2015, says Jamelia Donaldson, Founder.
I met Jamelia at an African Technology Business Network (ATBN) event focussed on up and coming online businesses. Jamelia was on the panel and I thought the concept of her business was perfect for my blog, so I asked for an interview to find out more! It wasn’t easy to match up our schedules so we settled for a telephone interview. On a cold January night in London this was the best (and warmest) option. Despite her car being broken into (but not stolen), Jamelia still showed up for the call, so we jumped straight in…
Women are at the forefront of this latest natural movement; but children seem to be at the heart of TreasureTress?
Initially TreasureTress was supposed to be for young girls because I wanted my niece to grow up knowing how to take care of her natural hair. I only learnt how to take care of my natural hair at university and didn’t want her to wait that long before feeling comfortable with her hair texture.
“We focus on young girls as a starting point for everything we do. There is already lots of natural hair information for women. Young girls are growing up in an era where they are susceptible to social media; which also represents an opportunity to engage them to celebrate natural hair.”
Who else does TreasureTress cater for?
There’s a monthly ‘Mini-Me’ subscription box for young girls, aged 2-9 years. After so much positive response from older women we expanded the range, creating two additional boxes for ‘Tweens’ aged 10-18 years and for the ‘Qweens’ aged 19 years and older.
How does TreasureTress work?
You can subscribe throughout the year. If you order your box before the third of any month, you’ll receive it within that month, otherwise it will come the following month. It’s a rolling subscription, renewing every month but you’re notified about this via email. You can cancel or pause your subscription at any time, so if you’re on holiday or don’t need products each month you can pause and continue later. We also educate, by sending weekly newsletters and information cards.
“The relationship with our subscribers is quite intimate; there’s a constant dialogue”.
What products are in the TreasureTress boxes?
I have regular conversations with our subscribers about what they think of the service and useful products. Based on the feedback, I decide which products go into the box each month which usually comprises, a shampoo, conditioner, two styling products such as a gel and oil/serum.
Beyond the subscription boxes, how do you engage with your customers?
Last year we launched the Mini-Me VIP Tea Party, for ages 2-11 years. We invite mothers and their daughters to central London for Afternoon Tea. It’s so nice for young black / mixed-race girls to experience having Afternoon Tea with their mothers – something they may not do regularly. We also discuss hair and do product demonstrations.
Our Mini-Me VIP Tea Parties, sell out all the time. Mothers have said how positive it’s for their daughters to be in an environment with other little girls who look like them, celebrating their hair.
Why the name ‘TreasureTress’?
It’s a play on words [‘treasure chest’]. I want women and girls to treasure their tresses / hair. Getting to know your natural hair and discovering new products is an adventure. When you think of treasure: luxury, gems, gold and diamonds come to mind and I want our subscribers to value their hair in the same way.
What’s the TreasureTress ethos?
Our tag line is ‘the hunt is over’, we’re helping women find products that work for them, through a luxurious customer experience. A lot of thought goes into the box presentation.
“Growing up, I was always obsessed with hair but didn’t have access to the products and YouTube wasn’t around back then”.
Do you operate only in the UK?
That was the idea, but we now have subscribers in the Middle East, America and the rest of Europe, especially France.
Do you work with British haircare brands?
We work with British and American, established and new brands. I use brands that I’m familiar with and tried myself. I’m always on the hunt for new brands and ask for samples to try before recommending.
“I had a few years of being a product junkie, which set me up perfectly for this business!”
The main highlight of running TreasureTress?
There are so many, but is has to be the Mini-Me VIP Tea Parties.
The biggest lesson you’ve learnt?
Trusting my instincts. I worked in finance and tried to build TreasureTress at the same time, but I knew finance wasn’t my purpose. I was saving money and set a deadline of when I’d be working for myself and be in charge of my own time. I stuck to that deadline!
What’s in store for 2017?
Hopefully more collaborations and there will be more Mini-Me VIP Tea Parties.
We’ll be launching our first event for teenagers (Tweens) in April this year, it won’t be a tea party but we’re still working on the format. We’re not hosting hair events just for the sake of it, there’s always a deeper message behind what we do.
According to the UK Greeting Card Association, in 2015 we spent around £1.7 billion on greeting cards. We sent £564 million worth of birthday cards to each other, with Christmas Single Cards accounting for more than 10% of total retail value for all cards.
Cards are definitely popular in the UK; they’re a personal way to communicate a message. But is it always easy to find the right greeting card?
It was my sister’s birthday and I was looking for a card with a young black female on it. After trawling most of the big high street card shops, I couldn’t find one, Says Nicola Lespeare of www.nicolalespeare.com. There are cards out there for black people, but they’re not always easy to find and can sometimes look a little old fashioned. So, I decided to create a solution to my own problem!
Tell us about your latest business venture
Nicola Lespeare is a new greetings card brand, showcasing illustrations designed by me, of mainly black women. However, my Christmas collection, launching on 14th November, does include a black Santa and kids…Santa’s little helpers!
I’ve already had people ask, “What about the black guys?!” I’m open to designing male illustrations and other family members but as I’m at the experimental stage with designs, I’m paying attention to what customers like before creating new designs.
When did you start your business?
From inception of the idea in July this year, I officially launched on 4th September 2016, it was a crazy 6 weeks!
You’re originally from Nottingham why did you move to London?
After the recession, job opportunities were few and far between in the property industry. I came to London 5 years ago for new opportunities.
How did you start your business?
Although I have a background in fashion illustration, I was a little daunted. I’ve never run a business before. I designed my first collection of cards, emailed my friends to spread the word, and received fantastic feedback!
What is fashion illustration?
Sketching garments on models, using personal drawing techniques to make the outfit look stylish. I can also pattern cut and make garments too, but I’ve been there, done that and ready to try something new.
How did you get started as an illustrator?
After graduating in Fashion Design a while back, I freelanced for a few years before working full time in a variety of office based roles to support myself. I’ve been in Operations Management for a few years but now want to return to my creative roots. I have no intention of going back to fashion design, but started drawing again. I didn’t foresee designing cards so it’s been a brilliant discovery for me.
I read a book called, ‘Be a Free Range Human’, which talks about remembering the passions of your younger self. Mine was drawing, so I went to a stationary shop got some pens and started drawing again.
The most challenging thing about running your business?
Setting up a website! I didn’t know anything about buying a domain name, finding a host etc. When first designing the cards, I realised that water colours didn’t photograph or print well. I had to work out how to make the illustrations pop and look great, which involved a lot of trial and error. Working full time while setting up a business is never easy, but I’m determined to make the business a success.
I went on a steep learning curve; I wasn’t even on social media at the time!
The main highlight of running your business?
Selling my first card! I was so excited when I got my first order via social media. Overall, the whole journey has been a highlight, especially as I set it up in a short space of time and the response has been amazing reaching all the way to NYC!
What’s the nicolalespeare.com ethos?
To design memorable celebration cards reflecting aspects of black culture, characteristics and trends. My vision is to become a brand synonymous with high quality black celebration cards, where people of African/Caribbean heritage can choose from a diverse collection of cards & gifts for every occasion.
Do you do bespoke cards?
Not yet, but I’m considering doing personalised cards in the future.
Any exciting developments?
There’s a wedding and Valentine’s Day collection coming in the New Year, which I can’t wait to start working on.
Where can we get your cards?
On my website nicolalespeare.com. Cards are posted within 24hrs all over the world; prices start at £2.49.
Any other card illustrators that inspire you?
I try not to look at what other card designers are doing, I want to maintain my own creative style. I’m inspired by anything around me…a piece of fabric, a person’s hairstyle that I’ll see on the bus, hot air balloons – which helped inspire the first collection.
Do you have any tips on starting a business?
Your social media game needs to be on point! It’s easy to become insular and paranoid that someone will steal your idea if you put it out there, but share it with friends and family because you need feedback. Most ideas are alterations of what’s been done in the past, but only you can put your own unique spin on it. What’s most important is that you act and keep progressing to reach your goals.
Good hair…hmm.. two simple words that have caused controversy on social media in recent times. But what is good hair?!
You can define it however you want; I think it starts with healthy hair, says Oyin, Founder of The Good Hair Club (TGHC). In the black hair community, unfortunately it’s still defined as having a specific (looser) curl pattern, but perceptions are changing with this latest natural hair movement.
What is TGHC?
An online platform with (at the moment) independent British hair care brands, that compliment natural hair. TGHC is about being good to yourself, your hair and the world – while defining beauty on your own terms.
Why was TGHC started?
From March 2015 I lived in Nigeria for a while and decided to shave my hair off. It was just too hot! I came back to London, and chose not to relax my hair again. When my hair was relaxed I didn’t think about the damage these chemicals could cause or even considered how to look after my hair properly.
What was it like for you looking for natural hair products?
I found so many amazing (independent) brands catering for natural hair. However, they weren’t always easy to find, as they don’t always have the distribution channels to reach customers.
We don’t have to settle for products which damage our hair and scalp!
When was TGHC launched?
June 2016, with a photography exhibition showcasing the diversity of black women. Prior to launch I did a lot of research, speaking to friends and family about where TGHC could add value in the market place.
Do you think the UK natural hair market is growing?
Yes! Social media has provided black beauty bloggers/vloggers the opportunity to create a fun space for tools/advice; and visual evidence of what can be achieved with natural afro/curly hair.
There is proof that natural hair isn’t IMPOSSIBLE to maintain. Women are wearing their natural hair with pride.
How do you decide which brands to feature on TGHC?
Along with looking at brand reviews, I talk to the brand owners to understand if their values are in line with the TGHC ethos. I’m not limited to British brands, but this is where I’m starting.
A large proportion of black haircare businesses in the UK are owned by Asian or Middle Eastern men, why do you think this is?
I don’t know. It’s the same in America. Black people need to empower and support each other and build our own establishments. When I went natural and visited these shops, I realised that we settle for an experience that isn’t about us (even though we are the main consumers). I’m a black woman and believe I have a better idea of black beauty needs, compared to an Asian man.
I want to create an experience that is fun, exciting, fashionable and beauty-led.
Most popular products on TGHC?
Moisture is key for healthy hair, so conditioners are popular, especially with the rise of co-washing. Soap bars and oils are also near the top of the list.
Autumn is upon us, any product recommendations?
I recommend them all! It’s about finding what works for your hair type. The natural hair journey is an individual one. Products used in colder months may be different from what you use in the summer.
Exciting developments we can look out for?
I’ve got an international project coming in 2017; I won’t say much at the moment, but watch this space. I’m also planning on bringing more amazing brands to TGHC.
Any natural hair inspirations?
Of course! Solange is the embodiment of the care free black girl. Lupita Nyong’o has challenged western beauty ideas. Most importantly, both have fun with their hair.
Solange scored her first #1 Album (A Seat at the Table) a few weeks ago.
Good hair, don’t care! You can check out TGHC to find out more.