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.
It’s Black History Months (BHM) and awards season, so I caught up with Black British Business Award finalist Wanita Bardouille, Creative Services (CS) Director at Ralph Lauren (RL). Nominated in the Leader Category, I wanted to know how she feels about it all!
How does it feel to be nominated for a BBB Award? Really nice, but I’m quite reserved and don’t like the spotlight too much so it was a bit hard to accept.
Do you think it’s necessary to have the BBB Awards? Of course, when I was nominated one of the founders said, black professionals in prominent positions have a responsibility to allow others to see them and hopefully feel inspired.
What does it mean to be a leader? I’m part of the Diversity and Inclusion Team at work and give talks in schools. It’s important to give back and encourage others to be authentic to themselves. Once a headteacher said to me, “I don’t know why you want to talk to these girls; they all just want to be hairdressers and nail technicians”. I reminded him that Vidal Sassoon was a hairdresser! For me, it’s not what you dream but how big you dream it; I encourage young people to believe in their own value.
When I read the feature about Homegoing in Stylist magazine last year, I tore out the page as a reminder to get the book. I misplaced the page and months past… During a random clear out, the page floated down from my top shelf and in an act of spontaneity I went straight online and bought it! I think it was a sign, that the page came floating down from above lol.
I can’t believe this is Yaa Gyasi’s first book, the intricate research underpinning this novel is evident and impressive. Starting in 1700s Ghana, Homegoing travels the lives and lineage of two sisters (Effia and Esi) engulfed in the horrific mire of slavery, civil rights and freedom. This isn’t just another ‘slavery book’; Gyasi honestly depicts the role Africans played in the slave trade without diluting the brutality inflicted by Europeans.
Part of me wanted to read this book because it was set in Ghana, where my family is from. In 2004 I went to Cape Coast castle in Ghana which was one of the main slave ports of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Even then I could feel the heaviness of the lead-filled air in the dungeons. The tour continued, and we were taken to the church which sat on top of the dungeons. I was speechless as I walked in…a church sitting on top of the chained slaves ‘living’ in their own excrement.
I was intrigued to see how the lives of these two sisters would unfold. The story flows onto dissect the complexities of amalgamated families; the love and damage they inflict upon each other. At one point both sisters ‘lived’ in Cape Coast castle in starkly opposite conditions. Inevitably there is a mixed-raced character, the son of Effia and James (a British slave trader stationed at Cape Coast Castle) – Quey. Trying to deal with his own conflicts, Quey takes his destiny into his own hands and convolutes the family tree even further.
Across the three hundred years the novel covers, psychological and emotional knots of slavery, the raging wars between the Asante, Fante tribes and British colonisers, then flows into the realities of black life in America. From slavery on the hot plantations of Alabama, to the jazz clubs and crack epidemics of New York. The beginning of the end occurs in swanky art galleries and elitist halls of higher education. Homegoing makes history palpable in the present and is a prime example of they saying [paraphrased] we do not know were we are going unless we know where we are from.
Despite the sombre backdrop of slavery, this book took me on a rollercoaster of emotions. From the subtle expressions of love in the ugliest circumstances that made me smile to the vivid descriptions of brutality that made my stomach churn. Homegoing is a profound read that can capture anyone of any background, among the various themes throughout the novel is a tale of family. Intricately and intelligently written by first time author Yaa Gyasi, born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, USA. Homegoing is a must read and is available on Amazon.
The family is like the forest; if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position Akan proverb
There was a lot of hype around this book by ‘Charlamagne tha god’ (yes, this is the stage name he – Lenard McKelvey – gave himself back in the day. That’s the way he spells it too!). Co-host of the hit New York based, radio show The Breakfast Club, which I occasionally listen to, it’s fair to say Charlamagne is an acquired taste. From his own admission, a lot of people don’t like him, but those who listen to him do so because of his brutal honesty. Not to say that he doesn’t make stupid, ignorant comments sometimes, but he is brutally honest in his opinions which I respect to an extent.
Whether you don’t care about him, like him, love him, dislike him, hate him, want to punch him in the face – I don’t think anyone can deny that Charlamagne can evoke emotion on even the simplest of topics! It’s this personality that probably helped drive his debut book –
Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It
The book is an autobiographical concoction of Charlemagne’s early days, convoluted career path and the pearls of wisdom he picked up along the way.
“I want to speak to you about the village that raised me…how the spiritual legacy of the African slaves can still be felt in South Carolina four hundred years later”.
The book is split into 8 principles, including “5: Put the weed in the bag” and “6: Live your truth”. When you live your truth, it can’t be used against you, I think that’s a way of him saying embrace your ‘flaws’… In the book Charlemagne states that he looks like a teenage mutant ninja turtle. “By embracing my egg-shaped dome I’ve taken the ammunition away from people…by laughing at those comments instead of getting uptight, I’ve replaced a perceived weakness with power”.
As he’s a hip hop radio personality, hip hop culture and the music industry features throughout the book, including some of the most controversial interviews he has done including that “Kanye Kardashian” one. Charlemagne’s early years are quite predictable he was a good kid that went bad due to peer pressure, sold some drugs and did some stints in prison.
“So many of the mistakes I made could have been avoided.”
As the book progresses it’s his work ethic and ability to see the glass as half full that kept me engaged. Along with his brutal honesty of course. He talks about being bullied, being a bully, getting beaten up and working for free to get valuable work experience. He appears to be negative in some parts of the book like in principle 3: “F**K your dreams” but I found it a bit refreshing. Not that I don’t have hopes and dreams but I’m also a realist and a firm believer in finding your purpose and not doing something because everyone else is doing it. Not every black person is going to be an athlete, singer, video vixen or rapper and we shouldn’t limit ourselves to that even though the money is good IF it all works out.
“…the dreams you think are yours are actually somebody else’s. You’re only chasing them because you’ve seen them work for others.”
Charlemagne also talks about rising to fame and falling again, sleeping with his girlfriend / now wife’s cousin, the profound impact reading books have had on his life and criticisms of hip hop culture. For someone obsessed with hip hop culture the flaws of hip hop were probably difficult to admit. Sometimes you have to see something you love for what it really is. Various anecdotes are given, explaining how he has been able to push his way onto the screens of many.
“Exploring people and ideas outside your comfort zone is one area where hip-hop has been, unfortunately, very weak”.
The book starts well and gets you hooked, wanes a bit in the middle but has a consistent pace to keep you focussed on getting to the end. For his core audience the book is on point; for those who didn’t think it would offer much (like myself) the book showed someone who didn’t look like they had many prospects (no shade..), though faith, optimism and relentlessly pursuing his passion got to where he wanted to be. As the saying goes, “it takes years to become an overnight success”.
Speaking about the highs and lows of his early days, the virtues and flaws he realised in his parents are what humanised Charlemagne for me. Coming from living in a trailer in rural Moncks Corner, South Carolina, I can’t knock his hustle. Obviously, his story is from a young black hip-hop obsessed male’s perspective, which may put some people off. However, I didn’t expect much else because he is only speaking from his perspective. Some of his ‘pearls of wisdom’ may not necessarily be ground-breaking but described from his perspective introduces them in a new light that many can apply to their own situation – whatever it may be. Even those arguably outside his core audience (like me) who didn’t think would get much out of the book can get something from it – if willing to be open-minded.
As this was a book by an author that I never thought I would read, I was pleasantly surprised and would recommend this book. I’m a realist who admittedly who straddles the border line of pessimism (I’m working on this for 2018!). Reading this gave me the ‘elbow in the ribs’ reminder that the glass can be half full if I want it to be. This is not an endorsement of Charlemagne in general as I said he can say some stupid things at times. However, the book is a good read with the take home message, “embrace the concept that you are privileged [regardless of circumstance]. I believe in thepower and privilege of God.”
This post was first published on ‘Africa on the Blog’ website in honour of Ghana’s 60th year of independence. In celebration of International Women’s Day, I’m re-posting here. Enjoy!
It’s not business as usual in Ghana. The rise of social enterprises is becoming a major player in Ghana’s economic environment, and Ghanaian women are boldly navigating their own routes, through this landscape.
Gone are the days when being an entrepreneur was only about making profit. Over many years, the ‘social entrepreneur’ has shifted the prism, through which we interpret business success. Using business acumen to drive social and environmental change, the social entrepreneur empowers communities exponentially while re-investing the majority of profits back into the business.
In October 2016, the British Council published the results of an Overseas Development Institute (ODI) survey on the impact and growth of social enterprises in Ghana. Particularly, the study found how the rise of social enterprises is empowering women across the country. Of the thousands of social enterprises believed to exist in Ghana 98 were surveyed. However, the results were still interesting, mirroring what’s been shown in mainstream media.
The tubular grass plant, Bamboo is said to be one of the fastest growing plants in the world and does so abundantly in Ghana. While the idea of making bikes out of bamboo has been around for over 100 years, the socio-ecological enterprise, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative (GBBI) has been riding the wave of international acclaim since its conception in 2009.
Founder, Bernice Dapaah was invited to join the World Economic Forum’s community of Young Global Leaders in 2014, after winning the International Women Alliance World of Difference Award the previous year.
Photo credit: Ghanabamboobikes.org
Already securing United Nations (UN) funding, GBBI aims to address some of the problems with climate change, poverty, rural-urban migration and high unemployment amongst young people in Ghana. Locals, many without previous training in the manufacturing of bamboo bikes are taught specialist skills; with the workforce being majority women. GBBI provides employment opportunities for (un)skilled workers, while having a direct impact on reducing poverty in rural areas.
Photo credit: Ghanabamboobikes.org
The ODI study, also found that around 40% of social enterprise leaders in Ghana are women. Many have ambitious growth plans, but admit securing funding is one of their biggest barriers. Educational social enterprises are most prevalent and clustered in the capital, Accra. Followed closely by agricultural social enterprises, which tend to be in northern Ghana. However, there are enterprises operating in the manufacturing and service industries. Social enterprises are becoming a staple component of Ghana’s business sector.
Photo credit: ghanacodeclub.org
There’s no doubt we live in a digital world, whether you like technology or not, it’s part of our daily lives. Founded by Ernestina Appiah (pictured below), the Ghana Code Club (GCC), an after-school computing club, runs in 13 schools across the country. It aims to empower children to embrace and thrive in this digital age. The Phoenix Project was set up in collaboration with iSpace Foundation Ghana, in summer 2016 to encourage children (especially girls) to use technology as a form of fun self-expression.
Photo credit: ghanacodeclub.org
Technology plays a crucial role in the development of any country but it needs to be understood, before it can be implemented and used to provide families with any financial security. While leaning basic computer skills, children attending GCC also learn how to create their own websites, games and animations. These transferable skills will be invaluable to them and their communities, as they become future entrepreneurs, analysts, problem-solvers, engineers or scientists. A few days ago, GCC hosted a hackathon competition, which saw more than twenty schools compete against each other. The wining program was a piano application designed using Scratch programming software. The NPP manifesto acknowledged the importance of computer technology education. The party pledged to provide free WiFi in some educational intuitions and support computer programs for students who want to pursue a career in the sector.
Of course, children are the future, but all sections of Ghana’s society need to play a role in the country’s development. Ghana’s ‘women who code’ network provides women with tech skills to become economically independent. On 6th March 2017, Ghana celebrates 60 years of independence. While the new president stated that Ghana is “open for business” from international investors, Ghanaians are collaborating with each other, carving out their own future.
In his first state of the nation address on February 21st 2017, the newly elected Nana Akufo-Addo, stated that Ghana’s economy has serious problems. Targets of loan repayments to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) urgent fiscal intervention in 2014 have not been met and high youth unemployment plagues the country. Continuing in his address to parliament, Akufo-Addo stated, “if I were to ask you to tell me what the number one problem was in your constituency, I suspect there would be a uniform answer: JOBS.” Promises were also made to “unleash the suppressed potential” of the Ghanaian economy, so that Ghanaian entrepreneurship can flourish. It’s unfortunate the words of Ghana’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah who (along with others) fought for independence from British rule, are still pertinent to Ghana’s development today. Despite some positive gains, there is still a lot of work to be done.
“Countrymen, the task ahead is great indeed, and heavy is the responsibility; and yet it is a noble and glorious challenge – a challenge which calls for the courage to dream, the courage to believe, the courage to dare, the courage to do, the courage to envision, the courage to fight, the courage to work, the courage to achieve”.
Ghana’s prosperity lies not in the hands of the government alone but in the hands of her own people too. It looks like Ghanaian women are courageously taking on the responsibility in a sustainable way and ready for the challenge ahead.