On Saturday 3rd October, Black Pound Day, local Black-owned businesses across the North of England came together at Left Bank Leeds to collaborate, trade, and celebrate Black excellence.
Founder and Organiser of Mahogany Market, Rachel Frederick wanted to provide Black business-owners and entrepreneurs a safe space to network and support each other.
At the ‘socially-distanced shopping experience’ I had the joy of speaking with several local Black business-owners, entrepreneurs, and inspirational leaders from wide range of industries including art, education, community, fashion, and food.
Here is just a handful of the businesses and organisations I spoke with, what they’re about, and how we can support them:
1. Ebony Milestone
Ebony Milestone is a fashion designer who runs her own online boutique of the same name. Her aim is to “portray and profile the beauty of the products and fabrics from West Africa into modern pieces for people in the UK”. All of her materials are ethically sourced from West Africa and made by herself in the UK. Ebony ran the boutique as a side-project for 2 years until she was made redundant due to COVID-19; upon being made redundant, Ebony decided she wanted to work for herself and run the boutique full-time.
She’s recently launched her website, ebonymilestone.com, as well as her new range of t-shirts, blouses, and headwear – perfect to wear for your next Zoom call.
I asked Ebony why she first started the boutique: “My mum was a seamstress and I always wanted to follow in her footsteps, but never quite did and she passed away last year from dementia…I know she’s smiling down on me today and feeling really proud that her daughter – her only daughter – is following in her footsteps.”
2. Creative Arts
Creative Arts is a multi-media art studio run by Bradford-based artist, Joanna Klu. Joanna spent the last six and a half years living in Ghana and draws much of her artistic inspiration from her experiences there. Joanna describes her artworks as “bright, bold, and beautiful”, and she uses a wide range of artistic mediums including painting, graphic design, illustration, photography, print, fashion, and music.
“I really believe in black businesses coming together, collaborating, networking, and supporting each other – this is the perfect opportunity for that. The pandemic has taken a hit to events like these, but we’re figuring out how to run them safely, which is great because we can come out and meet everyone whilst keeping each other safe.”
“The support here [at the Mahogany Market] has been great! I’m just proud to be here, to get to work with other Black-owned businesses, and to sell my creations.”
3. Cairo’s Creams
Cairo’s Creams is an organic skin-care business led and run by 11-year-old drama student and Thai-boxing enthusiast, Cairo.
Cairo produces several different creams for skin and hair including shea butter, aloe vera, and coconut oil; mango and apricot oil; and avocado and hemp oil. Cairo started the business during lockdown as a way to keep busy and to earn some extra pocket money.
I spoke with Cairo about how he came up with the idea: “I remembered me and my mum used to make these creams for us and the family; one time I made one for my grandma and she gave me £5 so I asked my mum what if I start selling them to real people? My mum said if I were to do it, it would be totally up to me!”
Cairo carried out his own research, marketing, and branding; he set up his own social media platforms, a website, and he messaged all his friends and family to support his product. What started as a little hobby has become a fully-fledged business and the start of young Cairo’s career.
4. Mills Institute
Mills Institute is an educational technology platform that provides information on ‘smartphone, economic, and life transformation curriculum’. I spoke with Founder of Mills Institute, Limahl Mills, about what exactly the platform can offer to the local community:
“Mills Institute is for people looking for change in business and entrepreneurship but don’t know where to start, who to call or what to do. We provide a curriculum and short courses that will take them from the beginning to a more established strategic standpoint.”
Limahl was born and raised in Roundhay but moved to the United States at just 19 years of age. His first job was in the entertainment industry; since then he’s worked in real estate, finance, and financial technology and lived in Geneva, London, and Dubai.
“Leeds is my hometown and I’m excited about what we’re offering at the Mills Institute and what we can do for people in the community.”
5. Save our Generation UK
Save our Generation UK is a community-project based in Hyde Park. The project was set up by founder, Carol Ruddock. Ruddock decided to form Save our Generation UK, with the help of four young graduates from the University of Leeds, to teach the truth about Black History in local communities, schools, and businesses.
The organisation started just a few months ago and they’ve already received media attention from BBC Look North, international platforms, and they’re currently working with Leeds City Council.
“Teaching the true Black history…this is our vision and we’re going for it.”
Other businesses featured at the Mahogany Market include the North of England’s only Black-owned funeral-care company, Gooding Funeral Services; designer kidswear brand, Little Sima; non-profit Northern Uganda organisation Sustainably Empowering Women UK; Christian urban-wear brand, Bless 44; and catering companies Lit Kitchen, and A Touch of Class Caterers.
“There’s not many opportunities created for us like this, so when they are we have to grab it with both our hands, but at the same time, we have to use this opportunity to create more for other people.” – Catering company, Lit Kitchen
Left Bank Leeds is a former church and creative community centre based in Burley. The centre regularly hosts creative events and workshops but was forced to close during the national lockdown. I spoke with Trustee Mike about Left Bank’s plans for the future: “For a lot of people Coronavirus has made them re-think what they’re about and what they really want to do, and it was the same for Left Bank.”
“Leeds has one of the most diverse populations in the UK, outside of London, so to see a Black-led market in here is just brilliant and it’s what we want to see here at Left Bank.”
Just as the day was about to end, I had the incredible opportunity to speak with Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter Leeds, Marvina Newton. Marvina shared her thoughts with me, on the significance of events like the Mahogany Market to the Black community and to the city of Leeds.
“What’s unique about this [the Mahogany Market] is it gives the city a breath of hope for all of us to be activists without even trying…buying Black is a conscientious economical choice to support a marginalised community.
“I am blown away by the fact that I am around legacy creators, the fact that I am around up-and-coming business owners, the fact that we are in the heart of what Leeds speaks of.”
Marvina also talked about the Black Pound Initiative currently in progress with Black Lives Matter Leeds; this is Marvina’s mission to create an equitable society for all, and especially for Black-owned businesses.
Marvina asked me how I felt coming to the market that Saturday afternoon. I said that I felt an immediate and almost overwhelming sense of love, hope, and community, to which Marvina then said, and I quote:
“A sense of identity and belonging is something that everyone needs, a sense of knowing what community feels like is something we cry out for – that being said, where are we? Are we united? Are we healing together?
Today, we are.”
Header Image Credit: Maariyah Fulat