Jamii is a discount card for black-owned businesses. The platform was founded by Khalia Ismain, to improve the visibility of the incredible businesses and entrepreneurial talent within our communities. Members of Jamii have the opportunity to “shop, save and support” with a range of products on the platform – from food to fashion and hair care to lifestyle brands.
Last month I got the chance to experience dining as a Jamii member with Tokunbo’s Kitchen, at their Green Rooms Hotel residency. With my Jamii card, I enjoyed 15% off my meal and got to learn more about the purpose of the platform, how it’s helping it’s partner businesses like Tokunbo’s Kitchen and you and I to discover quality black-owned brands. I had a chat with Courtney, Khalia’s younger sister and the woman behind Jamii’s social media presence over jollof rice, chicken, yam porridge (my personal fave), yam balls, coconut prawns and more.
We began with having a conversation about her personal shopping experiences that came to inspire herself and Khalia, to push the platform forward. “For years I went to my local hair stores and probably spent hundreds of pounds just experimenting trying to figure out what was good for my hair. Now I just use Luxe Beauty and Antidote Street who are both on Jamii and I literally use an oil and a cream.” It’s experiences like this that demonstrates the need for platforms like Jamii who give customers the opportunity to discover quality black owned brands that are able to provide an authentic service. Moreover, Courtney’s experience of hair and beauty products is something that resonates with most black women (and some men) and is an issue that has become even more pertinent as the ‘natural hair movement’ continues to grow. Now more than ever we need to be purchasing products from people who can understand our needs and find solutions for them: make- up brands that cater for a wider range of skin tones and skin types or greetings cards featuring Afro Caribbean art and culture. There is a growing number of small businesses within our communities providing solutions to challenges we’ve faced for years, just waiting to be discovered.
For many of us, however (including myself), we want to support black businesses but plainly, convenience and price holds us back. For example, I personally live in an area where non- black owned beauty supply stores are in abundance. So, it can be pretty hard to get out of the habit of opting for these alternatives. So how does Jamii plan to get people to change their shopping habits? “with Jamii we make it that bit cheaper to shop black – so hopefully that attracts people to begin to change their habits and to explore the brands that are out there and soon discover their worth and quality.” Courtney continues, “Of course online retail is very important but ideally what we’d eventually like to see is black owned alternatives on every street corner.” Purposefully and consistently supporting smaller black owned brands encourages their growth and helps towards creating a larger ecosystem of black businesses we would like to see trading on our streets corners.
Jamii has recently launched a blog alongside the E-tailer platform, “we want it to be an extension of our newsletter where we highlight things going on like upcoming supper clubs and new brands and include extended features about our cause and mission.” One particular section they’ve launched is one where they show Jamii members how their membership has made a difference to black businesses, “For instance two of the food businesses on Jamii, Chale Let’s Eat and Nim’s Dim were recently featured in the Guardian which we shared with our members on the blog. In this way, we hope to build more than an advertising/ retailer platform but a community too, as we remind people why they are doing what they are doing.”
So how does Jamii source upcoming black businesses for the platform? “it’s pretty much 50/50. Khalia reaches out to upcoming business or I highlight brands I’ve seen on social media we believe would be great on the platform and many reach out to us. Generally, most are really eager to jump on board. It is a very collaborative relationship, “Our partner businesses check in and ask how things are coming along and we do the same.” However, Jamii is eager to expand, “we want more businesses – the more brands, the more we can offer. There aren’t some particularly hard criteria we just want to give quality brands in our community a platform and the opportunity to prove their worth and be a success.”
After she returned from the kitchen I also got the chance to chat to Tokunbo herself. Tokunbo’s Kitchen is a private chef, pop up and supper club service for people from all cultures to experience and enjoy authentic Nigerian food. I began by asking her why she joined Jamii and what about the platform appealed to her as a business: “In terms of being a black owned business it’s all about gaining visibility. I always tell people as much as Tokunbo’s kitchen is a growing brand with every person who knows about Tokunbo’s kitchen there are 20 people that do not. So, it’s really about accessing as many different audiences as possible. What I love about Jamii is the fact that it’s supporting black owned businesses and it’s for the community by the community”. She continues, “The platform is helping me to reach the millennial audience – young people who may not have grown up eating African/ Nigerian food or may not feel like it is something they can go out and eat and actually have a great dining experience with.”
Tokunbo also highlighted the benefits of the discount for businesses, “Jamii acts as an incentive for customers to return as you get a great experience as well as money off your food – it helps create a consistent experience across our different services: pop-ups, supper clubs, events etc. which I think is incredibly important for a restaurant business.”
Tokunbo’s Kitchen officially launched in September 2015 by former social worker Tokunbo Koiki, whose entrepreneurial journey began as a fashion retailer selling bags from China, “I’ve always been very entrepreneurial although I never saw myself in food. I just loved making people feel good and discovered that my food made people happy.” Tokunbo spent a few years in Washington D.C working and studying and recalls food being a big part of her experience, “I was really inspired by the food trucks I’d see in the business districts of D.C. I always thought If I lived here this is what I’d do.” But she recalls being discouraged by the lack of representation of the African cuisine, “I remember every single continent being represented in those food trucks except Africa – it was really shocking to me.” The final push to launch her food business was after a visit to Walthamstow Garden Party, “I remember having to queue for 2 hours for jerk chicken! I returned home that evening and launched my business. The next month I was trading at Africa Utopia.”
Competition vs. Collaboration
Currently, Jamii hosts six African/ Caribbean food retailers. I asked Tokunbo what she thought about the emergence of so many African/ Caribbean food retailers and pop-ups like herself in the London food scene. “When I was launching Tokunbo’s Kitchen, others like Chuku’s and Jason’s Kitchen were all launching at the same time. I took this as validation that my idea wasn’t crazy!” She continues, “The market is so big there is room for everyone and it has been very beneficial to the business and market research to go out and see what else is out there and most importantly it’s been great to support others. For instance, I’ll be going to a Sierra Leonean pop up to support and to also discover food from my own continent.”
Courtney agrees, “There is certainly room for everyone in the market and on Jamii. If you look at this very high street (Wood Green), there are about 5 Turkish stores and restaurants all operating successfully. We hope that Jamii can also be a platform for collaboration and networking, where founders can meet and get ideas.”
“Recently we’ve been adding more lifestyle products – it seems the way we are going is to be a platform for niche brands. For instance, our newest brand is Bonita Ivie, a stationary line with African print. And that’s great – its fresh and exciting to bring something new.”
Courtney emphasised that for now, the platform is focused on consistent and sustainable growth, “at the moment we have 5 categories: Art, Fashion, Food, Hair and Skincare & Beauty. We are just hoping to build on those with quality upcoming black-owned businesses. We are focused on providing a platform for these brands.”
When I got home, I decided to log in and get my own Jamii card and start discovering upcoming black-owned brands. Sign up and get yours here!
Like what you’ve seen? Jamii & Tokunmbo’s Kitchen would love to hear from you, comment below!
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