People who attended anti-racism marches this summer should turn their attention “to what really matters” and spend their money with black-owned businesses, the founder of Black Pound Day has said.
The brainchild of Swiss, from the garage collective So Solid Crew, the first Black Pound Day was held on 27 June and it is estimated that the monthly event has so far raised more than £100,000 for black-owned British companies.
Falling on the first Saturday of each month, Black Pound Day encourages people to spend locally or online with black-owned businesses and invest in communities that have been historically economically disadvantaged.
Speaking to the Guardian, the 37-year-old said he first had the idea 12 years ago for “a day where we just poured back into our community economically”, having noticed a lack of support for black shops while growing up in Battersea, south London in the 1990s.
Amid the largest anti-racism protests the UK has seen in centuries, following the killing of George Floyd in the US, Swiss resurrected the idea of economic activism as a way to redirect and sustain the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“People have now turned the energy from the marches into looking at what really matters, which is to help a community that has been mistreated historically from 400 years ago and are still feeling the effects of that mistreatment today,” he said, stressing the potential for sustained change if the power of conscious consumerism is harnessed.
“The European slave trade was an economic endeavour and it’s going to take an economic endeavour to repair some of that. Even though we’re still fighting to get that through reparations, we can make day-to-day changes by spending money with black businesses consciously, in the same way you do ethically to save the environment.”
Black entrepreneurs and business owners face multiple challenges. On top of the UK’s £3.2bn ethnic pay gap, black people are more likely to lack savings or assets, and black-owned companies are less likely to get funding. People of colour have also borne the economic brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Institutional racism and socioeconomic disparities stop black businesses from thriving as much as our white counterparts – the data confirms that,” Swiss said. “All we want is a fair chance to do that. So if you can spend, spend black. If you can’t spend, give light to those businesses using the hashtag.”
Hundreds of businesses have reported increased attention and sales since Black Pound Day launched, with more than £60,000 worth of receipts uploaded to the website from 27 June alone.
The movement is now backed by Birmingham’s city council and chamber of commerce, a monthly market has been set up at the Legacy Centre of Excellence, Europe’s largest black business and arts centre, where 40-plus vendors can showcase their products. More than 1,000 people attended the inaugural event on 5 September.
One beneficiary of the campaign is 30-year-old Dami Akinnaike. Since March she has run her natural skincare company ÀMI London on the online marketplace Etsy, which has curated a section of its website for customers to more easily discover independent black sellers.
“It’s really difficult for us to break through in whatever industry we want to get into. During Black Lives Matter, I noticed my brand was being shared organically on Instagram, including by influencers, which really helped get the name out there,” Akinnaike said. “So far on Black Pound Days, I’ve had 10 times more sales than any other day.”
The movement has also brought greater recognition to brands that have struggled for years to break through. Bonita Ebuehi, 28, a self-taught graphic designer, launched Bonita Ivie Prints in 2017 to address a gap in the high-street stationery market for bold west African prints and designs. In May she was on the verge of giving up on her dream after struggling to make the business viable, but two days after Floyd’s death, she said, “I woke up to so many orders – sales were insane”.
Black Pound Day then took things to “an astronomical amount. Even with family helping me I was packing orders until 3am, not really sleeping, just trying to get through them all.”
Ebuehi said she felt profoundly sad that it had taken another death of a black man to bring exposure to her brand. “I had to keep catching myself because it was very bittersweet. I felt I should be grateful for all the orders, but it hasn’t come about in a way that I would want. It’s still difficult now for me to get my head around that.”
Her experience is mirrored by that of Moses Odong, a London cab driver for 12 years, who opened the capital’s first white rum distillery, Taxi Spirit Co, in 2018. From a railway arch in Mile End he markets, distills, bottles and ships off his Cabby’s Rum.
The 40-year-old, who describes his company as one of the only black distillers in the country, said Black Pound Day had given a springboard to many businesses that people didn’t know existed.
“We’ve been around for two years, then all of a sudden there was this influx of followers and orders. It was mind-blowing. I woke up and our Instagram following had gone through the roof. I thought: what’s going on here, have we been hacked?
“People are getting to know that we’re here and talking about us. I’m humbled by the traction and grateful for it. Black Pound Day is the loudest voice we’ve ever had.”
The next Black Pound Day is this Saturday, 3 October.
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