As protestors took to the streets across America in an effort to dismantle white supremacy and fight for justice, a huge social media push to put money directly in the hands of Black business owners ran parallel. Throughout the past month, editors and influencers alike accumulated a vast network of Black-owned businesses; The Zoe Report published roundups of Black-owned restaurants, candle companies, and lingerie brands, to name a few. The importance of supporting Black-owned businesses has been woven into these lists, mentioned in passing but not always overtly stated as, in a capitalist society, it's already one that makes sense.
Money is support, success, a push to moving forward. For a newer brand, it can be the difference between sustaining business through a pandemic or folding under the pressure. But for a Black-owned business in particular — whose owners were largely denied CARES Act government aid — this economic capital can mean so much more. "A lot of people think it’s important to support Black businesses because, until you fully engage the Black community, you’re living in a capitalist society but they’re not capitalists. If that’s going to be how we organize our society, that means I don’t have a ticket," says William E. Spriggs, AFL-CIO Chief Economist and Department of Economics professor at Howard University.
This restricted agency is due to institutionalized racism and the wealth gap it's created between Black and white people — something rarely addressed by the fashion and beauty community. "Blacks earn about 20, 25 percent less than whites," says Spriggs. "If you think about your own paycheck and you think about, so, if someone gave me a 25 percent raise, what would I do? You would instantly be thinking ‘I’d have a bigger house because I could afford more rent’ or ‘I’d have a stock portfolio’ or ‘I’d do something,’ but a lot of it would go to savings and accumulation. And, over a lifetime, that adds up and it matters."
Factors such as statistically lower home ownership, less generational wealth, and higher student debt bolster the already established gap, business-owner or not. However, Black entrepreneurs who decide to start a brand and go through the steps of raising capital then face discrimination from banks and lenders. St. Louis Public Radio recently shared U.S. Federal Reserve data showing that 53 percent of Black-owned businesses were denied loans from banks in 2014, as compared to 25 percent of white-owned businesses.
"[Capital] is the beginning of your business, and it also gets to bringing your business to scale. When you initially start this makes a huge difference. You start, and the bank is very nice, and makes you a loan, and you get going, the equity is yours and you’re betting against the success of your business but you retain the equity. It’s very hard to get a business fully to scale that way, but you can at least get off the ground," explains Spriggs. "But, as is the case with home ownership, bank discrimination when it comes to businesses is more severe. So it’s very hard for a Black individual to walk into the bank with a wonderful business plan and have the banker go, ‘yes, this is wonderful! Here’s your $500,000 loan.’"
Shoppers are often told another reason to buy from Black-owned businesses: It helps a community. This isn't restricted simply to the impact small businesses' job creation can have locally, though. Information gathered by Sharon Chuter's direct-action Instagram campaign @PullUpForChange shows that Black-owned brands such as IMAN Cosmetics, Beauty Bakerie, and The Lip Bar have categorically hired more Black workers. Certain companies who shared their employee statistics for the campaign didn't have a single Black employee.
"I’ve been in beauty my entire life, so when it came time for me to make a real change in my life and go from being just a working, daily esthetician, to seeing something that I could potentially put out in the world that would allow me to create something from the ground up, from scratch — completely bootstrapped — it gave me a lot of motivation to produce something with intention. And that was to create my own platform, to create my own community of people around me," explains Lesley Thornton, founder of the skincare brand Klur. "But, also use a visual representation of Black happiness, Black joy, that I didn’t see very much in the beauty space."
And just like how visual representation matters in media, the same goes for the beauty and fashion industry. "I remember coming into work at Estée Lauder," Thornton continues. "That morning — at a department store, I was working at a counter — they had unwound the picture of the very first Black Estée Lauder model, and put her in the light box. And it still, to this day, is a very clear picture, very clear image, of how that changed my life. And now, finding my own space, finding my own brand and founding my own company, it was really important to continue and let other Black girls and Black young women experience that same level of sheer joy."
So, what can you do when equipped with this knowledge? From a consumer standpoint, the path is clear: Make it a point to continuously shop and support Black-owned businesses, both in this moment and from here on out. Follow them on social and buy from them — then share your positive experiences with your network. "The support has been phenomenal. I don’t really actually know how to put it into words because I’m so busy running the business, while trying to process the world’s continuous disregard for Black lives. And, at the same time, trying to also live in abundance and be grateful for this opportunity. So there’s a very large dynamic there, where I am a business owner, I am a Black woman, but I’m also trying to just process what’s happening on a humanitarian level," notes Thornton. "And that’s kind of the point right now where we’re at, where a lot of people don’t understand what it’s like to be Black, let alone a Black business owner, let alone grateful, let alone being Black in a white beauty space, let alone all the other things that you have to deal with. So that’s why it’s so important that we’re having these conversations."