We’re Jamii’n: An initiative in support of UK Black owned businesses

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.

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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!

Head over to the Jamii website where you can learn more and sign up for exclusive discounts. Also follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook.

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Quick questions

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!

Skirting Around the Issue

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Serena Williams, Wimbledon 2012. Photo: giz-img.blogspot.com

The This Girl Can ad campaign by Sport England aims to show that all types of women can participate in sports, and is a celebration of active females all across the UK. Interestingly, this example of empowerment in sport features a glimpse of a netball match in which a small minority of players are wearing netball skirts. The debate about women in sports is ongoing, but what part does dress code have to play?

Female athletes on the world stage such as Venus and Serena Williams have been seen wearing some fabulous (and very out there) outfits on court over the years, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that they are extremely talented tennis players. Although there is no overarching rule in tennis regarding skirts, a lot of players choose to wear skirts or dresses—and get plenty of endorsements for doing so. However, when female boxing was finally declared an Olympic sport in 2009, it was proposed that female boxers wear skirts to allow the spectators to distinguish them from men. Although this campaign gained a lot of support, after receiving criticism from boxers and the wider public it was scrapped. There are many other ways to distinguish a boxer than by a skirt—their face, their team colours, or simply by looking at the names of the players competing.

Years ago, women had to wear corsets whilst playing tennis; this was later abandoned because of the obvious restriction on physical activity. I personally believe that if the outfit allows you to be comfortable then go for it, but when it is unnecessarily forced then it becomes a tad ridiculous. Aimée Grant Cumberbatch reminisces about P.E. in secondary school, lamenting the stupidity of dress code rules, saying: “We used to be made to wear netball skirts over our tracksuit bottoms.” Seem a bit pointless to you?

This was an article written by me for The Mancunion student newspaper in February 2015.

Teamwork x you

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University of Manchester Cheerleaders at Future Cheer, Bath 2014

Whilst scrolling through photos on my laptop I came across various examples of teamwork from the past two years. From competing in my first ever cheer competition to co-hosting Christmas dinners with friends. In essence, teamwork is a relatively straightforward concept – the concept of discussing and exchanging ideas to ultimately achieve a better outcome. We come across several people a day, and in my opinion teamwork is one of the more exciting aspects that we encounter during the day.

When in sports teams it is often hard to explain just how much individual effort is put into every training session. My mum often said I would be a good sportsman in a sport like tennis, and my dad often says I should play golf (I have little knowledge if this sport but it does seem very isolated). However, I have always preferred activities where being a team player is key – netball, rounders, cheerleading, running as part of a run club, going to the gym with a partner, double badminton, co-hosting a radio show etc. This has always seemed natural because the feeling of success can be shared – which I love. I’ve always pictured myself in a career where a daily part of the job is discussing and interpreting ideas as part of a group.

This may appear strange because the degree I did was rather singular (Politics and History BA). With most of my academic timetable consisting of 8 contact hours a week maximum – it is odd now why I chose a degree where most academic time was spent alone in the library reading through countless journals, with practically no group projects. In my last year I feel my studying approach was the most successful but this was also because I knew my habits, strengths and weaknesses. As well as when to prioritise social life and down time. Reflecting on one final year module in particular where I would often work with a friend and we would discuss our ideas – splitting the reading up and making notes for each other – this contributed hugely to our success and enjoyment of the whole module. This friend remains a motivational and positive aspect in my life – that period in particular we shared articles, educational YouTube clips and graduate job opportunities – the team work of life.

Just give it a quick Google and you’ll see that in interviews employers will always be interested in the actions YOU took, and better yet how YOU specifically contributed to the success of the whole team. Being a team player is all well and good but ultimately it is you who forms your own destiny. Never underestimate your contribution to the team.