Jamii is Swahili for ‘community’, and 22-year-old founder Khalia Ismain started this entrepreneurial venture in the hopes of uniting and expanding support for UK Black owned businesses. The concept of Jamii is that customers get access to exclusive discounts on fashion, food, hair, skincare/beauty and art through their Jamii membership – this can be applied in-store and online. I was lucky enough to ask Khalia a few questions about her exciting journey and the future of the company.
On your website you say that Jamii grew out of frustration for not being able to find the products and services you required. Can you explain this further and also what motivated you to turn this irritation into a reality?
Being a woman of colour, I’ve always found it difficult to find things that work properly for me, be it hair products that are suited to my hair texture, greetings cards that reflect what my family actually looks like, or even just restaurants that authentically represent my culture. I always had to compromise, and I got to a point where I was like ‘this is a joke’. I started looking into African- and Caribbean-owned businesses because I realised that they were much more likely to provide me with what I needed – and I was right.
So I thought I’d try to make it easier for both people of colour and people who are interested in authenticity to find those businesses. If you want something that actually works for you, or if you want something that genuinely represents the African and Caribbean cultures, Jamii is the place for that. You’re simultaneously saving money and supporting the community – you can’t get better than that!
How do you see Jamii developing in the distant future, and what will be your next step toward that vision?
Jamii as it is now, as a hub for savings and authenticity – this is just the beginning. I want a Jamii store, so you can get all the wonderful products on the high street too; a Jamii fund to support budding entrepreneurs; Jamii in Europe and America… There’s so much I want to do – but I have to build the foundation first! My next step is all about getting the word out, making sure as many people know about us as possible, and partnering with more cool companies.
As a start-up company what challenges do you think you’re likely to face and how do you plan to overcome them?
Most start ups struggle with a lack of resources – in terms of money, time and people. It means we’ve got to be more laser focused, but it also gives us more space to be creative with what we’ve got. I’m not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.
You’ve done so well in gaining social media attention, especially with your official launch at the Dark Sugars Cocoa House in Brick Lane. What are your main tips for women of colour who wish to become entrepreneurs?
Thanks! My main tip, is to be yourself. With entrepreneurship, you have to be true to yourself – if you’re not, you will lose your way very quickly. There’s no set formula to follow, and so do things how you want them done. You will certainly have to adapt yourself to some situations, but that’s a fact of life and that doesn’t mean compromising who you are.
You strike me as a strong, independent and motivated individual. Who are you inspirations?
Haha thank you! My top two inspirations are quite cliché if I’m honest! My mum, for being the most selfless and caring individual I’ve ever known; and Zendaya because (although she’s younger than me) she embodies what it is to be a highly successful woman of colour who doesn’t compromise on her values – and doesn’t let them compromise her!
Which music artist/group right now? I’m so bad at keeping up to date with new music, but I’m really feeling NAO at the moment. I discovered her last year and fell in love with ‘Adore You’ instantly – it will be my wedding song!
What series? Narcos!