Note from BW of Brazil: For readers who may not know, when the term “black power”, said in English rather than “poder negro” in Portuguese, often times they are speaking of the afro hairstyle popularized by black Americans in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Leaders and representatives of this movement were recognized for their large, rounded afros, a symbol of black pride. As such, “black power” was adapted among black Brazilians in reference to the hairstyle. So when you Google the term “meu black power”, meaning “my black power” or “meu black”, for example, the person is more than likely talking about their hairstyle. But, there are some Afro-Brazilians who use the term in its original connotation: economic/political power/representation for the black population. And although the term is not actually used in the material below, with the rise of demands for black representation and afro-entrepreneurialism, it is clearly the objective of the initiative! And it’s about time!
The fashion world does not reflect the reality of Brazil, the country where negros (pretos/blacks and pardos/browns) are the majority – total 53.6% of the population in 2014.
Eyeing this historical disproportion, a young couple from Salvador, Bahia, created a virtual store that tries to show that it is indeed possible to prioritize negritude (blackness) in this market – and profit from it.
Launched this year, Kumasi is an online sales platform that brings together artisan articles produced only by pequenos empreendedores negros (black small entrepreneurs).
“It’s a shop also to mark position. To open and occupy space in the business environment, create a narrative protagonized by ourselves,” says Lucas Santana, 23.
A student of Electrical Engineering, he handles the business beside his girlfriend, Monique Evelle, 23, and her mother, Neuza Nascimento, 46.
Feminist and anti-racism phrases and expressions adorn products for sale on the site. “Poder às minas pretas” (Power to the black girls), “Nunca fui tímida, fui silenciada” (I’ve never been shy, I was silenced), “Tentaram nos enterrar, esqueceram que somos sementes” (They tried to bury us, but they forgot that we’re seeds).
With six months of operation, Kumasi has been gaining ground on two fronts: traditional customers, attracted to specific pieces, and the “activists” who consume for a cause.
And the store itself was born for a cause: to raise funds to pay for Desabafo Social, an education network in human rights created by Monique and transformed the young woman into a reference when it comes to feminism negro (black feminism) and social activism in Brazil.
The network of youth and adolescents began in 2011 as a student guild slate of a public school. Today it has 30,000 followers on the Internet. With 80 volunteers in 13 states, it organizes study groups, video conferences and workshops on topics such as racism and social inclusion.
Thinking about how to fund the network, Monique and Lucas had the idea of selling T-shirts with the phrase that has become a trademark of youth: “Se a coisa tá preta, a coisa tá boa” (If the thing is black, the thing is good).
“Once I was talking to friends about racist phrases and mentioned that it is common to say that ‘a coisa está preta’ (‘the thing is black’) when something is bad. So, in a lecture in 2014, I said that ‘if the thing is black, it’s actually good.’ This went viral,” says Monique, about to graduate in Humanities at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA).
In the shop named after the city in Ghana that houses the biggest market in West Africa, only blacks can sell – and be models for the pieces on display.
“Once we receive a message saying that only having only black models was racism. But everywhere that only has a white standard, is that not racism?” asked Monique.
The shirts are the flagship, but the site also features turbans, calendars, caps, necklaces and other accessories produced by eight invited microempreendedores (small businesspeople) eight.
The family puts the orders together and makes two orders per week – Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are the destinations of most orders.
Artisan Evanilza dos Santos, 58, participated in sporadic fairs in Salvador and says that her sales of semi-jewelry are up 50% on the site. “It’s very different the exposure of the product on the Internet,” she says.
At fairs, on average, a commission of 20% is paid by the participants. On the site, the rate is 12%, and members have qualifying activities such as digital marketing workshops, producing of videos for social networking and access to microcredit.
“I try to redeem the roots of black people with my pieces. I missed this in products I found on the street,” says Annia Rizia, 24, who produces accessories with cowry shells.
A student Arts at UFBA, Rizia says craft work is her only income today, and helps fund the course materials. “The great advantage of the site is that I can send products to other states. Without this partnership, the cost was too high.”
According to Data Popular institute, eight out of ten people that their improved their lives in Brazil in the past 15 years are black. Social mobility and increased self-esteem is reflected in consumption, says the institute, raising the demand for lines and products specific for the população negra (black population).
In the shop named after the city in Ghana, only blacks can sell and be models for products
In the case of Kumasi, dissemination won “volunteer ambassadors” who endorsed the products on social networks such as actor Lázaro Ramos and musicians Liniker and Tassia Reis.
Today there are already other entrepreneurs interested in joining the platform, which goes through a technological upgrade to gather more vendors and customers without sacrificing navigation and logistics.
Visibility also has its price – Monique slogan, for example, already prints parts of other shops. “The people have no creativity. Our own customers when they see an imitation they tell us. This is further proof that “a coisa tá preta, a coisa tá boa,” jokes the student.
The only daughter of a maid and a condominium security, Monique was raised in Nordeste de Amaralina, a region of Salvador stigmatized by poverty and violence.
Early on, she heard her mother’s stories in which the protagonists were princesas negras (black princesses) and de cabelo crespo (with curly/kinky hair). “Black princesses didn’t exist. They were all brancas (white girls), with long hair. Monique didn’t see herself in the princesses, so she created the character,” says her partner and mother, Neuza.
Since adolescence, Monique used her free time in activities with young people in the bairros da periferia (poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city). She went alone – to get closer, playing ball in the middle of boys rapping. When she got attention, she initiated talk about citizenship and human rights themes.
“We talked about how to act during police stops, for example, and also show examples of people who have changed reality itself,” says Monique, who has been invited to speak at events in Brazil and abroad.
Only in the last three years, the young woman from Salvador was among the “25 mulheres negras mais influentes no Brasil” (25 most influential black women in Brazil) (from the site Blogueiras Negras, 2013) and “30 mulheres com menos de 30 para ficar de olho” (30 women under 30 to keep an eye on) (Editora Abril, 2015), was part of the list Mulheres Inspiradoras 2015 (Inspiring Women 2015) (Think Olga site) and won the 2015 Laureate Brasil award, aimed at young people with actions of social entrepreneurship.
The other pillar of the contract is Lucas – “dream maker” of the store, according to the definition on the company website.
A ninth semester student of engineering, he works in person for three days of the week in the collaborative space in organizing deliveries. At home, he answers clients, maintains the site and takes care of digital marketing.
Neuza, who worked more than ten years as a maid and daily worker, now has her unique activity in the store. She says she’s “very proud” to be a partner of her daughter and says that she always supported her. “I never disbelieved in my daughter, even in the beginning. She didn’t win anything, but she helped many children.”
Today Kumasi works as MEI (individual microenterprise), with sales limit of R$60,000/year. The idea is to change to another tax bracket when updating the platform and being able to incorporate more sellers.
The store serves as marketplace – a space where exhibitors and buyers meet and make transactions. Vendors, independents, receive by the products they sell, deductions on the site commissions.
The sale of the Desabafo Social products (such as the T -shirt “Se a coisa tá preta…”) is still destined to actions of the network, end up falling under the definition of Oscip (Organization of Civil Society of Public Interest) and they want to create a network of distance education in 2017.
“Everything we do is in thinking about transformation. In Kumasi or other activities, the idea is that all grow together,” says Monique.
Source: Terra Notícias