Inspired by the energy of the Black Lives Matter movement, initiatives like the 15 Percent Pledge and Black Pound Day are trying to make US and UK shopping habits more inclusive. To continue the fight against racial inequality, they’re encouraging retailers to commit more shelf space to Black-owned businesses and everyone to spend money with local and online Black-owned businesses.
Ahead of the next Black Pound Day on 6 March – the initiative was launched by Swiss (formerly of So Solid Crew) in June last year and takes place on the first Saturday of every month – we caught up with three Black-owned CBD businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. With many small businesses facing uncertainty in the current climate, there’s never been a better time to show your support.
Serenity Box Co.
Birch and Glossybox fan, Michelle Da Silva decided to create her own subscription box company focusing on CBD with co-founder Damien Brome. During her own search to find out more about CBD and how it could help her improve her sleep, she came across a number of brands making outlandish claims though, so it was important to her that their brand, Serenity Box Co., eliminated some of the confusion for consumers.
Michelle told us, “As a fan of beauty subscription boxes, having a monthly selection of products that have been tested and verified for such a new market allows me to purchase with peace of mind and I wanted to emulate that for the CBD community.”
She added: “The most rewarding aspect of our business is receiving customer feedback. We are determined to disrupt not only the subscription box industry but the concept of thoughtful gifting.
“2020 was tough on everyone’s mental health. CBD has so many benefits, so it’s heartwarming to hear when its use exceeds our customers’ expectations and changes lives – be it how using CBD has helped someone to sleep a little better or where the use of the balms and oils have soothed chronic arthritic pain.”
It’s not been all plain sailing for Serenity though. Getting the backing of financial institutions that consider CBD products to be a prohibited substance has meant at times progress has felt slow. Michelle says: “The attitude towards CBD in the financial services industry is surprisingly slow-moving and there remain few options for a business like ours in the market. It took approximately six months of significant research (and lots of rejections) when we were applying for a merchant account, a payment gateway for the website and a business bank account. Few financial institutions were willing to underwrite ‘high-risk industries’; those that do, often wouldn’t give us approval due to our subscription box model. Since being approved, we have been contacted by several providers that had previously turned us down. Their appetite and attitude towards CBD businesses having seemingly now changed.”
As for many businesses, the Covid-19 pandemic has also impacted sales and forced them to think more creatively to get their brand in front of potential customers. Michelle Says: “As a new CBD-based business, we faced a trifecta of challenges; reversing the stigma attached to the ‘C’ in CBD; raising awareness of our brand and the benefits of CBD and encouraging a consumer base to try our products, despite significant job losses and employment uncertainty. As such we shifted focus away from purely selling our product, but instead based our metrics on building brand awareness and explaining the benefits of our products to our audience.
“Platforms such as Google, Facebook and Instagram have a strict zero-tolerance stance on CBD advertising, which has resulted in us having to resort to other creative forms of advertising to attract attention to our brand. We place massive value on our customers being happy with our product and as such, benefit from word-of-mouth advertising and influencer marketing.”
As the Black Lives Matter movement become an international phenomenon in the summer of 2020, elevating Black-owned businesses and giving them the attention and shelf space they deserve also became a focus. Michelle says: “The BLM movement reminded us that economic change – empowerment – is also required to support societal shifts. Supporting sub-movements such as Black Pound Day enabled focused action by an economic base, which is often looked to predict consumer trends and cultural shifts but are largely ignored otherwise. As Black-business owners, whenever the spotlight came our way and we were included in features relating to BLM, we were proud to represent not only Black people but the CBD industry as pioneers.”
Jasmin Thomas is the founder of CBD-infused skincare line, Ohana CBD, which is on a mission to demystify CBD as a skincare ingredient and provide women with a platform where they can learn and feel empowered. She launched the brand in 2018 after a year of using CBD oil and topicals to manage the frustrating symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). (The brand’s hero product – the All-in-One Wonder Balm – is a version of what she made in her kitchen to help relieve everything from period cramps to stress.) After considerable research and noticing that most of the products available were produced and sold in the US, she decided to create her own results-driven CBD beauty for the UK market.
Jasmin Thomas says: “On my journey of healing an MS diagnosis holistically I got into medical cannabis. It’s a space where I felt I could authentically be myself, prosper and help others. I wanted to create a value-add brand for everyone’s everyday wellbeing and self-care routines.”
Avoiding the issues Serenity experienced, Ohana was initially funded on a very tight budget by Jasmin herself before receiving backing by angel investors she reached out to or met at events and networking introductions. The additional capital enabled her to work with the best manufacturers and formulation specialists in the industry and pursue her quest to produce products that were more sophisticated and functional than what was currently available in the UK.
No brand launch is without its trials though and, for Ohana and anyone else considering starting out in the CBD industry, this means finding a payment platform, educating consumers, legal challenges and, like Michelle at Serenity mentioned, ruling out paid social media.
Jasmin says: “The most difficult part of launching Ohana is navigating the e-commerce space with the regulations and restrictions that come with being a CBD platform. The most rewarding is the incredible feedback we get. Not only from our products but from the power of our community.”
Community is important to Jasmin and Ohana, which hosts monthly events to encourage people to connect, learn and break free from the stress and toxins of modern life. Jasmin also founded entOURage in 2018 with head of community Jessica Steinberg, which is a women’s empowerment organisation and platform, dedicated to empowering female leaders and demystifying CBD. While there is some way to go when it comes to diversity in the CBD industry, Jasmin is encouraged by the number of women in the space.
She says: “Sadly, in the UK [Black-owner CBD companies] is something we’re majorly lacking, but there are some brilliant female-led brands. Olivia [Ferdi] from Trip, Charlotte [Ferguson] from disciple, Zoë [Lind van’t Hof] from Wunder Workshop and Sarah from The Hempton are all major inspirations to me. They have great energy and bring a calming sense of authenticity and integrity to the CBD space in the UK.”
BROWN GIRL jane
Owned and founded by industry leaders and sisters, Malaika Jones and Nia Jones, along with beauty and wellness expert Tai Beauchamp, BROWN GIRL jane is “a disruptive luxury, plant-based wellness and beauty collection centring the needs of dynamic women of colour”.
It’s the product of women that are not only bonded by family and friendship but a collective appreciation for CBD and a desire to create lasting change. They’re also proven leaders in business, wellness, beauty and philanthropy, and have built impressive reputations in their respective fields through an unwavering commitment to the advancement of disenfranchised and underrepresented communities.
The combination of their professional expertise and personal backgrounds makes them committed to the quality of the plant-based, broad-spectrum products they offer and to driving inclusivity within the industry. It has also seen them work directly with farmers, chemists and manufacturers to create the first clean collection of its kind, with an elevated emphasis on inclusivity, quality, accessibility and transparency. Something that helped earn them the title of Refinery 29’s Beauty Innovator of the Year last year.
Co-founder Nia Jones says: “As a mother of two wonderful and busy young sons, I frequently found myself obsessing over every single ingredient they would ingest or touch (sorry, boys). While CBD has taken the edge off, I applied that same level of dedication and micro-focus to ensuring the purity and quality of our BROWN GIRL jane collection.”
Co-founder Tai Beauchamp adds: “When I first experienced the BROWN GIRL jane collection, I was blown away by the efficacy. Integrating BROWN GIRL jane into my wellness practice allows me to naturally support my immune system and regulate my mental health. This range was a game-changer for me, and it became my obsession to introduce it to women, especially women of colour everywhere.
“We’ve worked, and continue to work every day, to craft and grow this collection in the image of the dynamic women who are conquering new heights, shattering ceilings, and supporting communities around them.”
As well as making strides in the CBD beauty and wellness space last year, the three founders also launched the #BrownGirlSwap initiative on Instagram to encourage users to source five of their go-to products from brands owned by Black women instead of their usual retailers. A resulting partnership with Birchbox also saw the #BrownGirlSwap inspire curated subscription boxes filled with products from Black-owned, women-led beauty brands.
Jones added: “My background as a director in philanthropy has also made me especially cognisant of the inequalities within the hemp industry overall, and I’m committed to changing the face of its beneficiaries and leaders while also working to make it much more accessible to people of colour.”