Black entrepreneurs focus on the Afro-oriented market potential in Brazil




Note from BW of Brazil: The idea of Afro-Brazilian entrepreneurial enterprise is one that has taken off in recent years with a number innovative businessmen and women who have been able to carve out their own little niche in a market that has long ignored the existence of potential product/service sales to a population based on race, color or culture. With recent news that the number of black entrepreneurs has actually surpassed that of white entrepreneurs, it’s no secret that more and more Afro-Brazilians have discovered that there is a growing market that seeks products specifically for them and a need that is not be satisfied by mainstream entrepreneurs. Below we present another success of how some of entrepreneurs are catering to this public and presenting supplies where there are demands. 

Black entrepreneurs focus on the Afro-oriented market potential in Brazil

50% of Brazilian businessmen and women are black, according to the PNAD 2013 report. Afroempreendedores (Afro-entrepreneurs) use their own experiences for the creation of business.

By Larissa Santos, under the supervision of Laura Naime

Sheila Makeda and Shirley Leela

The professional market has gained increasing black entrepreneurs and many of them prefer to start betting on a public that they already know well: afrodescendentes (persons of African descent). According to the Pesquisa Nacional por Amostras de Domicílios de 2013 (PNAD or National Research of Household Samples), of the 23.5 million people who are business owners in Brazil, 50% say they are preta (black) or parda (brown). The number increased by 6% compared to 2003.

This is how it was with Sheila Makeda and her sister Shirley Leela. Their mother has been a hairdresser for 20 years and taught her daughters how to maintain a well-kept hair. With her teachings, the sisters decided to become partners and open a beauty salon. After 12 years, they changed the focus of the business. “I served my clients at home and began to realize the difficulty they had in finding cosmetics,” says Sheila.

Makeda Cosméticos
Makeda Cosméticos

“[I started to] like my hair as it was and to assume my crown” – Sheila Makeda, businesswoman

She realized that her customers of cabelos crespos e cacheados (kinky/curly hair and curly hair), predominantly black, used various products because they could not find a single one that would be ideal. To help them, Sheila began searching products in perfumery stores so that they could test them. “Along with that I had a particular discovery too, of liking my hair as it was and assuming my cabelos crespos, my crown, as we call it,” she recalls.


“From then, I started to bring my story of identity to my customers and telling them ‘let’s leave this hair natural’. And they asked ‘but what do I use?’” says Sheila. That’s when she identified the opportunity to put together a line of specific products for cabelos crespos and cacheados. With the help of her sister, who already had experience in developing cosmetics, Sheila experimented for a year until she was able to launch the first product. Three years later, Makeda Cosmetics already has a line of 11 products, all created by the two sisters.

The company is in the same place of the previous salon, in the East Zone of São Paulo, and has five more employees, including the mother of the entrepreneurs. Today, the business caters to all the public. Sheila and Shirley also work on a marketing project of cosmetics with distributors in (the states of) Bahia and Rondônia and Angola, in addition to having e-commerce. “We used to think that only chemicals would solve our hair and our idea is to pass on that with a good product that you can have well treated hair,” says Sheila.

“I seek the professionalization of the Afro-entrepreneur” – Cynthia Mariah, businesswoman

Afro-empreendedores (Afro entrepreneurs)

Sheila and her sister’s salon is part of the Projeto Brasil Afroempreendedor  (Brazil Afro-entrepreneur Project), an initiative of Sebrae in conjunction with Instituto Adolpho Bauer (IAB or Adolpho Bauer Institute), the Coletivo de Empresários e Empreendedores Afro-brasileiros de São Paulo (Collective of Afro-Brazilian Businessmen and Entrepreneurs of São Paulo (Ceabra/SP) and the Associação Nacional dos Coletivos de Empresários e Empreendedores Afro-brasileiros (Anceabra  or National Association of Afro-Brazilian Businessmen and Entrepreneurs Collective).

“This project is an experiment to construct a public policy for strengthening the afroempreendedorismo (Afro entrepreneurialism) in Brazil,” said Adilton de Paula, national project coordinator. The proposal is to encourage micro and small black businessmen and women to take their businesses from the paper or informality, giving guidance and qualification to them, through consulting and courses.

The Brazil Entrepreneur Project is developed in nine states and has more than 1,500 participants. “There is still a sidelong glance in the society that thinks that blacks can’t occupy such a place or be an entrepreneur. We think they can and yes it is a fundamental element to strengthening the identity of the black community,” explains Adilton.


Data processed by the Sebrae from the PNAD 2013 report reveals the distinction between black and white businessmen. While 78% of whites declared themselves entrepreneurs are employers, among blacks the number corresponds to 9%. The rest (91%) are classified as entrepreneurs who work for themselves – those who work alone or with a partner, but do not have paid employees.

There is still a sidelong glance that thinks that blacks can’t be entrepreneurs. We think they can indeed – Adilton Paula, Brazil Afro-Entrepreneur Project

An example of this type of entrepreneur is Cynthia Mariah, who created an ateliê (studio) of clothes with the same name. “First, I started thinking of pieces for me because I didn’t find things the way that I liked (them), they lacked color and something different,” says the businesswoman.

Since 2004 she started to sew her own clothes. When they matched her friends’ tastes, Cynthia decided to start selling the pieces, which are all unique and with African themes. In 2013, she set up a studio in her own home. There she also gives cutting, artisan sewing and fashion design classes. “[I seek] the professionalization of afroempreendedor because many work with African fashion, but few have the knowledge of fashion in itself,” explains Cynthia.

The majority of the studio’s clients are black women, as with the classes as for the purchase of pieces. The entrepreneur believes that the recognition of black identity has fostered this market. “Since 2010 the Census has found that blacks have assumed themselves more and this has improved the market, people sought these products [with African themes] more,” she says.

Successful businesswomen

3 - irmas
Preta, Pretinha The sisters Joyce (left), Cristina (right) and Lúcia (center) opened the store Preta, Pretinha inspired by their grandmother and a childhood dream.

If the black entrepreneurs find difficultly in establishing themselves these days, 15 years ago the situation was less favorable. It was then that the sisters Joyce, Lúcia and Cristina Venâncio created the Preta, Pretinha, a shop specializing in black dolls.

As children, the girls felt a lack of dolls that represented them and always wondered why there were no such toys on the market. “We had a very good job done at home related to self-esteem, my grandmother explained to us our origin, always passing a positive, empowering side,” says Joyce Venâncio.

It was their grandmother Maria Francisca who decided to make a black doll for her granddaughters to play with. In adulthood, after they tried careers in other professions, the sisters decided to unite to re-take their childhood dream. “In the market, the black dolls are stereotyped with big eyes, red mouth and even derogatory names, such as ‘nega maluca’ (crazy black woman)’. Even their clothes were inferior, made with calico fabric. We are not that,”says Joyce.

Today, in addition to the shop in Vila Madalena, in São Paulo, the sisters also do social work with children to encourage the acceptance of black identity. The dolls were also diversified and gained models representing, among others, the Middle Eastern, redheaded, Indian and Muslim girls and also people with disabilities, such as Down syndrome, for example.

To Adilton de Paula, the importance of black entrepreneurs in society doesn’t bring benefit only to them. “Black people need to understand that this is not a race war and there are no ideas to foster hatred and disputes between races, but to make it so that the opportunities are equal for all and that all help to construct the country.”

Source: Instituto IAB

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


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