When we choose to support Black-owned businesses, we use our money as a vote towards the growth of their founders and communities. No one knows this better than Khalia Ismain, who four years ago, launched Jamii: the first discount card for British Black-owned businesses.
Inspired by working with entrepreneurs in a small town in Kenya, Khalia returned to the UK knowing she wanted to instigate lasting social change. She launched Jamii with the aim to eliminate barriers for Black entrepreneurs in Britain. Fresh from launching her first-ever store with Appear Here in BOXPARK, we caught up with Khalia. We discussed being part of a movement, how consumers can best support Black communities, and why retail can be the perfect space to do this.
What was the turning point for deciding you wanted to start Jamii?
After the first wave of Black Lives Matter, people wanted to start supporting Black-owned businesses, but that was easier said than done. It was so difficult to find local Black businesses to support that weren’t takeaways. I also love my haircare, skincare and clothing: I felt strongly that something that brought all of these brands together needed to exist.
By launching Jamii, I also wanted to decouple Black-owned businesses from trauma and news headlines. I wanted it to be something people could be positive about and actually use to support Black businesses and communities.
Where does the name ‘Jamii’ come from?
Jamii is the Swahili word for ‘community’. I’m from the Caribbean but it was my time in Kenya that first inspired my journey. I wanted a word that was inclusive: I want everyone to have Jamii cards no matter what community they’re from.
You’ve mentioned the barriers faced by Black British founders, can you elaborate on this?
The biggest barrier facing them is a lack of access, whether that’s to market or capital. There’s also a lack of access to investors, but when you do finally get in front of them, you’re presenting a product tailored for the Black community in front of white men, who don’t get it.
There’s also the underlying issue that Black businesses tend to start in markets where they’re likely to be competing with each other. This defeats the purpose of succeeding together as a community. There’s space at the table for everyone if we work together.
How has the first-ever Jamii shop helped your brands to overcome this issue?
It’s so important for us to be in a physical space because you just don’t get Black brands on a high street, you have to go out of your way or you have to shop online. To have all of them together in a shop has been amazing. In the last three years, I’ve been dreaming of a pop-up. When we can bring these brands together in a central location, it’s the height of convenience and accessibility.
What has been the impact of the pop-up on your digital store?
Our socials have blown up recently with loads of new people following us and tagging us. There are a few people who are always in the DMs who say they can’t wait to come down and visit us in real life! It will be nice to finally meet them.
Tell us more about the Black Pound Report that you’re handing out in store.
We have a digital marketer who has been tracking our numbers and noticed a few trends around the Black Lives Matter and Black Pound movements. We wanted to show consumers that your purchases really do make a difference – money is trickling down to Black communities. We did the report because data around Black-owned businesses is so sparse, people will talk about BAME statistics but they don’t really mean anything because the communities within are so different. We wanted to make people aware of the numbers behind Black-owned businesses.
Shout out some Black-owned businesses that you think more people should know about.
Definitely check out LoveRems, a skincare brand. I have their calming body butter, it’s so soft and luxurious! Ivy Wild is a haircare business who definitely deserves a shout out. She does a hair gel called ‘Edge Control’, which has helped me get my business hairstyle this week!
Finally, what advice would you give to any Black-owned businesses looking to start right now?
Just be authentic to who you are. One of the biggest struggles I had when starting Jamii was that the Black entrepreneurs I talked to weren’t willing to say that they were Black – they thought it would harm their business. Nowadays, we’re in a time where people can be proud to do whatever they’re doing. Just remember to be true to who you are and what it is you’re creating.