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Fashion brand spent years putting white models on their website to ‘survive’

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A black-owned fashion brand revealed that for years they ran their campaigns with “highly stereotypically attractive white models” so that they could “survive” as a new company.

Bermondsey-based label Elsie and Fred is owned by Coventry siblings Natalie, Leanne and Ryan Haynes, and saw seven-figure sales before the pandemic hit.

The trio were interviewed for the BBC documentary Spending Black: The Currency of Community at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, where they revealed they had previously been accused of “not being black enough” by keyboard warriors on Instagram.

Leanne said that “black nature content” hadn’t performed very well on their social media channels before, and they wanted to introduce a more diverse brand identity in a way that would take longer than the immediate response to BLM.

The fashion brand revealed that for years they ran their campaigns with ‘very stereotypically attractive white model’ (an example is pictured) so that they could ‘survive’ as a new business

“Not everyone knows we’re a black company,” Natalie said. “There are many people who are surprised and we have also been addressed on Instagram because we are not black enough.

‘As a new company, in order to survive, we had to prioritize what people wanted. We used to have very stereotypically attractive white models in our videos and campaigns.”

Leanne added: “When we were posting content that was black in nature before, we knew we weren’t going to get a lot of likes, a lot of followers, that’s life.

‘I looked at my own homepage, everything was happening and I no longer had the feeling that what was going on with me personally was reflected in our company.

Bermondsey-based label Elsie and Fred is owned by Coventry siblings Natalie, Leanne and Ryan Haynes, and saw seven-figure sales before the pandemic hit.

Bermondsey-based label Elsie and Fred is owned by Coventry siblings Natalie, Leanne and Ryan Haynes, and saw seven-figure sales before the pandemic hit.

When Natalie caught up with the brand again on their last photo shoot, I've always been a proud black person, but we never felt like we could bring that out [with the brand] before'

When Natalie caught up with the brand again on their last photo shoot, I’ve always been a proud black person, but we never felt like we could bring that out [with the brand] before’

The brand now has a more diverse range of models and Ryan said: 'I think the whole year has made us look at the brand and who we want to be'

The brand now has a more diverse range of models and Ryan said: ‘I think the whole year has made us look at the brand and who we want to be’

“You go on a lot of websites now and every model is black. I just think, “Is that going to last?” Those companies are mostly owned by white people.

‘Is that going to last? Where is the lifespan? Don’t throw everything for a short while and then go back to your typical model next year. We’re in for a long game, so I won’t be rushed anymore. I felt rushed this year.’

Speaking about how their company was coping with the pandemic, Natalie said, “Last year was our most successful year. It was going very, very well just before Covid hit. We were a team of 12, we had two offices and we got close to seven numbers.

But during the crisis, things were so bad that the company was making £40 a day on some days, and Leanne even considered getting a Saturday delivery job.

Called out on social media for

Called out on social media for “not being black enough,” the trio met a Lendoe — the first lender to target exclusively black, ethnic minorities and aspiring entrepreneurs and began selling their products on an online marketplace for black creators. , in the months following their first interview

“The thing you built up for six years as a baby may be coming to an end and that’s the first time this year it’s crawled near my head,” Ryan said.

In the months following their interview, the brand met a Lendoe – the first lender to focus exclusively on black, ethnic minorities and aspiring entrepreneurs, a black business consultant and began selling their products on an online marketplace for black creators.

Catching up with the brand during their latest shoot, Natalie said, “It hasn’t necessarily impacted our business, I’ve always been a proud black person, but we never felt like we could achieve that before.

“But since last year there has been a sense of community and we’re really proud and really want to show who we are and feel more involved and that’s really special.”

The brand now has a more diverse range of models and Ryan said: ‘I think the whole year has made us look at the brand and who we want to be.

“It started to make sense, getting models representing our company, talking about the message representing our company. Even though it has been a difficult year from a business perspective, visually it just makes sense today.’

Presented by Aaron Roach Bridgeman, the documentary explored whether making a conscious choice to buy from black businesses — a concept that came to the fore after George Floyd's murder — can make a long-term difference.

Presented by Aaron Roach Bridgeman, the documentary explored whether making a conscious choice to buy from black businesses — a concept that came to the fore after George Floyd’s murder — can make a long-term difference.

The host spoke to a consumer psychologist, who said the immediate aftermath of BLM wasn't necessarily the best way to encourage people to shop at black stores.

The host spoke to a consumer psychologist, who said the immediate aftermath of BLM wasn’t necessarily the best way to encourage people to shop at black stores.

Presented by Aaron Roach Bridgeman, the documentary explored whether consciously choosing to buy from black companies — a concept that came to the fore after George Floyd’s murder — can make a long-term difference.

He estimated that as of 2020, 40,000 companies of 5.9 million in the UK were owned by black people, while black Africans and the Caribbean were four times more likely to refuse a business loan than Indian and white entrepreneurs.

The host spoke to a consumer psychologist, who said the immediate aftermath of BLM wasn’t necessarily the best way to encourage people to shop at black stores.

“When you start dissecting the majority of your decisions, do you really think, ‘Is that shampoo black owned?’ New. Lately it’s been a little bigger factor, but that’s only because there’s been a lot of noise around Black Lives Matter,” she said.

“That’s not the best way, because that’s a way to accuse and shame people, by saying, ‘This is what’s important right now and this is what we need to take care of’. It’s always important.”

“But the challenge is that we have built up wrong associations and stereotypes in our minds for centuries. Black culture is about love, it is about family, it is about joy. That’s what you can sell.’

Aaron chatted with beauty entrepreneur Jamelia Donaldson, founder of TreasureTress, who quit her job in finance to sell subscription boxes of hair care products for black women.

Aaron chatted with beauty entrepreneur Jamelia Donaldson, founder of TreasureTress, who quit her job in finance to sell subscription boxes of hair care products for black women.

The host also spoke to Seyi, a father who started his own gardening business during the pandemic after losing two jobs in the span of two months.

The host also spoke to Seyi, a father who started his own gardening business during the pandemic after losing two jobs in the span of two months.

The host also spoke with Seyi, a father who started his own gardening business during the pandemic after losing two jobs in the span of two months.

He promoted his new business on a Facebook page designed to support black entrepreneurs and estimates that 90-95 percent of his clients come from the black community.

“I think it has ignited something in people’s minds, not only that black lives matter, but also investing in black lives,” he said.

He chatted with beauty entrepreneur Jamelia Donaldson, founder of TreasureTress, who quit her job in finance to sell subscription boxes of hair care products for black women.

“Me and my friends who used to go to the hairdressers when we were younger, you will definitely be followed by someone, you will definitely ask for gel and you will be shown shampoo or conditioner,” she said.

“They just don’t know and there’s this arrogance that I don’t have to learn to deal with this either. We estimate that about 93 percent of our subscribers are black.

“For me, that means I have a responsibility to reinvest in the community that keeps my business afloat.”

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