AFTER THE success of last year’s event, hundreds of shoppers flocked to The Voice Black Business Fair held at Fairfield Halls in Croydon, south London, report Vic Motune and Alannah Francis.
The Voice, Britain’s top black newspaper, which has served the African and Caribbean community for 37 years, organised the December 7 event as a demonstration of its continued commitment to supporting black-owned businesses.
Following the recently published Voice Black Business Guide, the day-long event offered a platform for black-owned businesses to exhibit and showcase their products and services to shoppers, not only for Christmas but throughout the year. It also included a book fair featuring black authors in the UK.
Shoppers took the opportunity to buy a wide range of high quality, unique products. There was everything from black dolls and books for children, natural hair care and skincare products to authentic African-inspired handbags to choose from. And the Fairfield Halls event was hailed a huge success by the entrepreneurs and shoppers.
Among those who were full of praise for the event were Debra, Kadija and Yvonne Harris, who run Debra Floristry.
The three sisters were attending their first Voice Black Business Fair. Debra said: “The Voice Black Business Fair is very important for us. It gives us exposure to other markets and opportunities, such as corporate businesses who may want floristry services.”
Kadija agreed. She added: “An event like this is so important because it taps into the networks in our community.
“An event like this is so important… it taps into our community”Kadija Harris, Debra Floristry
“We can come to an event like this and see other businesses here and see how we can support them.
“It’s often said our community doesn’t support black businesses. I do see a change, but it’s still a struggle.
“However, once we come out to educate each other at events like this we’ll see how important and valuable it is for us to research, to tap into each other’s business, network among each other and build each other’s businesses up.”
She continued: “We, as a black community, tend to have a ‘me, myself and I mentality’. If one of us is being successful we might tend to see it as a threat, but we shouldn’t see each other as a threat. We need to support and love each other.”
Makayla, stallholder and owner of cake company Kaked London, said The Voice Black Business Fair has been the highlight of her entrepreneurial journey so far.
“This has been really, really, really good, because I took a six-month break because I felt like I didn’t want to be self-employed anymore, and so this is my first event I’ve ever done and it’s the first thing I’ve done cakes-related since I decided to start doing cakes again – and it’s gone really well.
“I’ve had such good feedback. I’ve had a lot of people tell me really encouraging things, so it’s been really good.”
Exhibitor Tasha, owner of Tasha’s Chic Boutique, sold and showcased a variety of island-inspired jewellery and clothing featuring empowering messages.
Tasha said she believed The Voice Black Business Fair was important because it encouraged a certain mindset within the community.
“I think it’s important because I think the black pound needs to stay within the community so that we actually gain from each other so we can progress and be successful because that’s how other communities are successful, and we need to adopt that too,” she said.
Her sentiments were echoed by other stallholders and shoppers.
Pauline, a shopper, said: “I like to support black businesses. Because I’m a teacher I know our young black people need something to look up to, and if people are starting businesses then they’ve got something to take on as young people themselves instead of having to rely on the wider community, they can rely on their own community.”
She added: “I was really impressed, because I have a business myself so I’ve done a lot of networking, but I was very impressed with the stallholders, the atmosphere and the whole sort of vibe of the place.”
Another shopper, Jackie, said: “I thought it would be empowering to see what people sell.”
Peter Mason, of Mason’s Exclusive Gaming Applications, encouraged those holding back to support black business owners.
“If other races are supporting us, we’ve got to support ourselves,” he said.
Author J.D. Okoro agreed. He said: “The black pound needs to go round, basically. I’m all for that and anything I can do, whether it’s with The Voice or anybody else, you know, other black businesses personally. I like to keep our money within our community.”
Okoro, a first time exhibitor at the fair, enthused over the success of the event.
He said: “I’ve sold out. This is my first time at this event exhibiting here and I totally underestimated the power of what The Voice Business Fair is… and almost had to pack up early because I’ve got no books left.
“I’ve sold out. This is my first time at this event exhibiting here and I totally underestimated the power of what the fair is”J.D. Okoro, author
“Just going round and seeing the mix of what’s out here and what we are doing within our own community, it’s inspirational, I love it and I’m looking forward to the next one, I’ll be there.”
Okoro wasn’t the only author to benefit from black buying power on the day. Samuel-Jay Robinson, 15, was one of several authors exhibiting on the Peaches Publications stand.
“I’ve just published my new No Dad, Big Deal, Still I Rise book and I sold about 20 of them, so it’s a good start,” he said.
Reflecting on the atmosphere of the event, Samuel said he “felt at home” surrounded by other black business owners.
Author and founder of Peaches Publications, Winsome Duncan, said: “I found the day terrific. It was very inspirational. The black pound was circulating and there were a lot of people wanting to support and I think we need to use that economics, group economics, black economics, more frequently.
“Also, I commend The Voice newspaper for putting on an event like this that actually has footfall. A lot of the time we have events, we’re not able to sell our products and make back the money on the table. So The Voice newspaper really does care about the black business – I salute them.”
Melanie Folkes Mayers, whose company Eden Meyers HR Consulting was one of the exhibitors at the fair, added: “It’s definitely important to be able to support other businesses.
“Whenever I come to one of these events I don’t just come to promote my business, I come to find out about other businesses and to buy and see all the things our community does, because there isn’t anything that we don’t do.
“For example, if you look for a black florist, you usually find one through word of mouth.
“But here, they are easy to find, so I think it’s important to be able to come to an event like this and support other black businesses.”
She added: “I went to The Voice Black Business Fair last year and that’s the reason I came back this year.
“This venue is really lovely because it’s very spacious. I’ve spoken to a lot of people and have made some good contacts.”
Ruth Frank, from Frank Employment Law Advice, agreed.
She said: “This event has been really important for me.
“My business is fairly new, I established nearly a year ago, but I feel we tend to not support businesses in our own community. However, events like this tend to bring us together and it has given me an opportunity to provide a service to my own community.
“That is so rewarding. It’s also been great to network with other businesses and be given a chance to learn about what they do and support them.”
Selina Morgan-Gayle, of SMG Mediation, said The Voice Black Business Fair had given her a platform to showcase her company, which is in a field she felt not many people in the community know about.
She said: “It’s been really important for me to be here, especially in my field, because you don’t have a lot of events where the legal field is covered.
“There’s not a lot of people doing mediation, and many people don’t know what mediation is.
“But it’s important for people to know that there is help out there and there is someone out there who can support them, help them in their legal disputes and be trusted.”
She continued: “People in our community get into disputes every single day, and often they don’t know who to go to when they’re dealing with those disputes. They also don’t see anyone who looks like them, so here they can meet someone who shares the same background as them.
“A day like this, where you’ve got a platform where you can raise your profile and help and support my community, is very important. The response has been really good in regards to people signing up, people saying they’re going to call me after Christmas, and having one-to-one consultations with people about their legal disputes.
“There are people who came today specifically because they wanted to see me, and I’ve people who have said ‘let me take your card’ or taken some information away because the issue is not with them, but they have a friend or a relative who is facing a legal dispute, so the response has been really good.”
Another of the business owners who had a stall at the event, Fiona Morrison of Fefus Designs, said: “An event gives business owners the opportunity to meet and sell directly to their customers.
“On a day-to-day basis, it can be hard getting my products into high street shops, especially when they are products aimed at black consumers.
“So it’s nice going to events like these because people can see what you’re doing, they understand and connect with the story. “I’ve had plenty of interaction with customers and they always tell stories about when they were growing up and how they wanted products like these.”
Gwen and Michelle, from Essex-based handbag design company Monsini G, said the day had been a great success for them.
Gwen said: “This event has been really good in the sense that we’ve seen black people appreciate the work of other black creative people. This is our first time at The Voice Black Business Fair and the level of appreciation we’ve seen for our craftmanship has been amazing.
“And that’s been crucial for us because our thing is about re-investing back into the community in order for us to grow.
“Our bags are handmade here in the UK. We don’t do factories, fabric is sourced from Ghana, and we have other black suppliers who give us fabric as well. We’re not going to grow unless we re-invest.
“Over the last few years, I think there’s been a change of mindset where our community has realised we need to start reinvesting in ourselves and we’ve seen a lot of that today.”
Michelle added: “We’ve been really pleased with the reception. The feedback from customers has been amazing. We know our products are beautifully made, but when you know your customer knows what she’s buying, it’s a real boost to us.”