Black Culture market:
“This is about closing the wealth gap, creating jobs and opportunities and inspiring ownership to become self-sufficient”.
The words of the founder of the Black Culture Market, Jen Baptiste, who has a clear vision for growth for Black-owned businesses.
The Black Culture Market is a celebration of enterprise and African and Caribbean culture. Jen planned the first market as a one-off celebration for Black History Month back in October 2018. Owing to the positive response from the public and traders, the market has flourished into a firm quarterly event in Brixton, London. Thousands from across the country flock in to buy from innovative Black-owned businesses under one roof.
Interview by Ikesha Avo
Published 27th June 2022
KOKO KRAFTS at Black Culture Market
Photo by John Prince
Ahead of the next market on Saturday 6th August and Sunday 7th August 2022, I had the chance to share a conversation with Jen about the broader significance of the Black Culture Market from an enterprise and local economy perspective, as well as the future for Black-owned businesses.
Ikesha Avo: Is there anything unique you see about Black businesses in particular compared to other businesses?
Jen Baptiste: A lot of people that come to the market have never had products featuring images that look like them or are tailored to them, growing up. I don't think we can take for granted how important it is that a Black child has a doll that's Black for example.
The market is obviously about Black culture, though not every business in the event is representing culture per se. However, a lot of them do and it's just nice to have that accessible within the market.
IA: Why has the market been hosted within Brixton so far?
JB: First and foremost it is important to me to support my local area. I have lots of connections in the community that I draw on. Brixton is the heart of the African Caribbean community in London, so where better to do an event to celebrate Black culture.
Over the years I have been asked to do more in different areas and I do want to. Brixton isn't the only place where we have African Caribbean people in the UK and even if it was, it's important to share the experience in other areas.
Brixton is situated in the London borough of Lambeth and holds key landmarks in architecture and history. The Black Cultural Archives in Windrush Square established in 1981 by Len Garrison, and the famous visit of Nelson Mandela in the summer of 1996, serves as some proof of this.
The Black Culture Market has brought great economic value to the landscape of Brixton. It is far removed from the confines of fleeting mainstream trends. Visitors attending the market subsequently patronise local businesses as Jen points out. And fundamentally, it's a perfect testing ground for new entrepreneurs seeking to develop their businesses.
Black Bamboo Clothing at Black Culture Market
Photo by John Prince
IA: People often think they have to raise a large amount of capital to start a business and that's a barrier for a lot of them. Would you agree?
JB: I do, though, at the same time I don't know everyone's business model. I think it depends on your raw costs or materials and the industry you are in.
It’s doable to set up a business without a lot of money. Entrepreneurs should always try and start without having to go down the investment route. If they just get a bank loan it can mean that some are not really thinking about their costs and start with instant debt. Without investment, it can really push you to consider what you can get for free or what you can do yourself.
Also, people can underestimate what they can negotiate. Even if you can't pay money, explain to potential partners the value you bring.
It is obvious that Jen care’s and has a passion for the businesses she works with. She even mentions her desire to work with applicants that are not accepted into the event. Jen’s hope is to support them in building their brand to be ready for the standards of the market. Developing entrepreneurs and increasing opportunities to scale is something Jen finds important.
JB: I know a lot of retailers in the area and invite them to the market. The idea in doing this is, it's great to do events and marketplaces but if a trader is always having to be physically present in a market to sell, it's not sustainable and scalable. I think about growth and so I want them to be stocked in shops and online.
For the last market, I invited one of the local retailers. He loved this trader’s sauce. He tasted it on the Saturday and came back on the Sunday to buy more, but she was only doing the Saturday. Then a conversation was set up and now he's stocking her in his shop. That benefits not only the individual trader but is also great for Brixton and all the other traders at the market. We also had a member of the Selfridges team who has come several times. She was looking for a business she saw on her last visit to our event and is now going to put them forward to potentially be stocked in the store. Which is great!
There's more to this than just the day,
the value of this goes beyond.
I admire the traders for starting their businesses and doing what they do. And if I can help, then I will. They make great products. A lot of them have full time jobs. It takes a lot to start up.
IA: What's the relationship that you have with the businesses you work with?
JB: Doing the markets is something I enjoy. And so I do this because of them, but also I wouldn't be able to do it without them. I want them to understand that this is your business. This is your business. I'm helping them by facilitating them to do what they do.
The traders that will go outside and do flyering are the ones that understand - not everybody can do that if they come on their own - but those people understand they're here to maximise themselves and the opportunity.
It’s also about the traders working together. If you invite your friend, even if they have seen your product many times, they haven't maybe seen your neighbour’s product and they might buy from them. If everybody does that we all get to share each other's resources.
When we all work with each other then we all get to benefit.
Book & Kulture at Black Culture Market
Photo by Black Culture Market
IA: The Black Culture Market to me is a great platform for businesses taking part, and if a trader just wants to stay at that stage, that's cool. However from a broader perspective, I would argue that Black Caribbean communities need a lot more stake in ownership in spaces across the country.
On a broader outlook, what do you think economically Black businesses can be in this country in a few years time?
JB: With the traders to start with, yes it's about Black culture but it's about the trader at the end of the day, the person.
I want them to understand to not limit themselves to the most common existing exports of Black culture.
Looking more broadly at the shop owners and stakeholders in the community, we've got Caribbean shops covered, we've got the food covered. Why don't we do Chinese food? There's other companies doing Caribbean food. Why do we not have a pharmacy now? Or dental practices? My point is I want to see boundaries being pushed a little bit more.
One thing about the events is while it's about African Caribbean culture, for me, the target customer is everybody. I want everybody to feel welcome to come to the market. And I see they do and that's great.
There can be a culture where businesses are only serving their community and I think that's very limiting. We need to get to the next level where we've got a great business and we are serving the community, not just people that look like us.
Photo by Black Culture Market
IA: Just as you mentioned it, why is it limiting to only sell to your community?
JB: I guess it comes to a question of well, how do we grow? Black people in the UK are in a society where sometimes our value isn't always amplified. If a person is just intent on keeping themselves to themselves, then that can have limitations. Black Culture has become a commodity in the mainstream and it’s important that Black people own and benefit from that and are the ones behind it.
The Black Culture Market brings the opportunity for great systemic advancement for African and Caribbean communities. No less, it also positively impacts the people of Brixton and its visitors from across the UK.
The future of Black-owned businesses is exciting. The impact these businesses have in a space such as this market, where together they are stronger, will create an impact for generations to come.
As Jen said, this is about inspiring ownership. To go a step further, it is about creating agency which brings power and autonomy. This allows one and all to be a part of the betterment of the world we’re shaping.
Visit the next Black Culture Market on Saturday 6th August and Sunday 7th August 2022 Downstairs, The Department Store in Brixton. Get your free ticket here
This event is part of the Brixton x Harlem festival. A first-of-its-kind joining of two important Business Improvement Districts (BID) between two radical communities with a long and rich history of being the epicentres for a convergence of diversity, informed by a high percentage of its population being of African descent, representing various parts of the diaspora, living and working within the BID’s borders. Various businesses in Brixton are working on a week of events, and talks. Local restaurants and bars will be experimenting with speciality cocktails and dishes for Harlem-inspired menus.
Photo by Black Culture Market