Black History Month is always a time to reflect not only on the historical achievements of Black Canadians but also on those who are blazing a trail for themselves and the community today.
With the unfortunate events and racial tensions of 2020, conversations have increased in the Black community about the need for more business ownership and economic development en route to true inclusion.
Every day at Invest Ottawa we get a chance to meet bold entrepreneurs who are doing just that, whether it’s through our Digital Main Street or Starter Company Plus programs.
In celebration of Black History Month, Invest Ottawa is highlighting some of the Black entrepreneurs through a series of profiles we’ll be publishing throughout February and into March. We’re excited to introduce you to our first group of entrepreneurs.
Five men and women who are blazing a trail in the arts, culture and lifestyle space here in the capital.
Stacey Martin Bafi-Yeboa
If you’ve followed the local fashion industry, you are definitely familiar with the name Stacey Martin Bafi-Yeboa. The former Broadway dancer turned fashion designer is the founder of Stacey Martin Lifestyle. Founded in 2003 as Kania Couture, Stacey Martin Lifestyle specializes in comfortable and sustainable fashion apparel, filling a gap between fitness and fashion clothing. As a mom and former professional performing artist, she knows how important it is to have clothing that moves with your body while balancing comfort and confidence. It’s this balance of comfort, confidence and elevated design that makes her pieces absolutely essential for today’s work-at-home woman who wants to be comfortable while looking and feeling good.
Aside from today’s modern woman, there’s also any beneficiary of Stacey Martin products–the planet. Not only is every piece of Stacey Martin clothing designed by a woman for a woman’s body, but they are eco-friendly and sustainable with a low carbon footprint.
With only 14% of major fashion brands being run by a female executive and less than 0.5% of Black female entrepreneurs receiving venture capital funding, Stacey Martin Bafi-Yeboa offers a fresh new perspective on her industry, both as a designer and businesswoman.
When you think about sneakers and streetwear you may not think about Ottawa, but if Tevin Haye has anything to say about it that may change.
Sneakers is big business in Canada with the Canadian footwear industry having reached $7.7 billion in value in 2019. Add to that the current COVID-19 pandemic, which is accelerating the transition to online shopping among Canadians and you have the perfect conditions for Haye’s current venture, Unavailshop, Canada’s first and largest online consignment marketplace.
The platform was founded in 2017, inspired by Haye’s experience of spending hours trying to find the items he saw artists wearing in magazines and music videos. Through Unavailshop, Haye now makes it easier for fashion-forward consumers like him to buy, sell and trade the most stylish streetwear and luxury brands, including Nike, Adidas, Levi’s, Supreme, Off-White, Yeezy, Gucci, Chanel, Dior, Prada, and more.
“I saw an opportunity to offer a unique shopping experience for the natives of Ottawa and globally…We aim to provide an easy shopping experience where you can leave with something new and rid yourself of something you were looking to part with”, Haye explains.
But for Haye, it’s not just about offering a consignment marketplace where Canadian buyers can purchase items with convenience and peace of mind without the fear of exchange rates and import fees, but it’s about the planet.
“By buying and recycling old but beautiful clothes, you are contributing to a more sustainable type of fashion.”
Paula Whitelocke is a long-time professional hairstylist and owner of Curly Hair Designs. After getting her start at 13 years old doing hair in her parents’ basement, two years later she began working out of professional salons. Then in 2010, she decided to open her own salon and Hair Designs by Paula was born.
“I started my business out of the want to fill a need in the community by providing a space for hair services, as well as a place for conversations that go beyond surface level and inspire self-exploration…I trusted and believed that I could create a lasting experience for my clients.”
Now 15 years deep in the industry, Whitelocke has become one of the capital’s foremost experts on curly hair. She has now paired her passion for hairstyling with her other passion, teaching, launching another venture–Curls Understood The Academy, a self-directed hair care program for anyone who wants to start a natural hair regimen from the privacy of their own home.
Aside from being a business entrepreneur and mentor with Invest Ottawa, she is also a community organizer with Equal Chance and a talented singer-songwriter.
While many businesses suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were also born. One of those companies was Asayah Designs. The all-in-one art, home decor, apparel and self-care products company and lifestyle brand specializes in products that are sustainable, sustainable, timeless and minimal. “We’re a one-stop-shop for essentials related to home, wellness and apparel.”
The now six-month-old company was created by a husband and wife duo, dedicated to their young daughter, Marley Asayah.
“Becoming a mother in the midst of a global pandemic motivated me to pursue my passions and create an additional source of income and financial security for my family”, Asayah Designs co-founder, Karissa Fernandes explains.
“It’s a place where luxury meets affordability, where you can find basics and essentials related to the home, your self-care regimen, and wardrobe.”
Suzan Richards is the founder of the Cultural Arts Studio. Richards started her business 26 years ago after noticing there was a lack of cultural spaces and opportunities for the Afro-Caribbean community in the capital.
“I am the only studio in the region that specializes in Afro-Caribbean culture through the arts”, Richards explains.
Known throughout her community as “Teacher Suzan”, the award-winning entrepreneur and community builder, is dedicated to preserving and sharing Afro Caribbean culture. Although she has been at it for decades, her relationship with dance started at a young age. She started performing at four years old, going on to learn classical ballet and then receiving formal training at the Montreal Jazz Dance Academy. She then toured with South African singer Lorraine Klassen, one of Canada’s top world beat performers and Tandie Klassen, a South African singer and anti-apartheid activist.
Her biggest claim to fame may be her tenure as a member and choreographer for Voices of Praise Gospel Choir who has performed with the likes of Paul Anka, Celine Dion, Maya Angelou and Coretta Scott King.
This article is the first in a special Black History Month series by Invest Ottawa.
About the Author
Kevin Bourne, also known as “KB The Boss” or simply “KB”, is an Ottawa-based media/entertainment entrepreneur, freelance journalist, and media personality.
The former political staffer is quickly becoming a staple in Ottawa and Canada’s cultural landscape as both a commentator and freelancer, appearing nationally on CBC News Network and locally on CTV, CBC Radio, CityNews, and 580 CFRA and having been published in ByBlacks, the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Business Journal. Doubling as CEO of the PR and content marketing firm SHIFTER Agency Inc. and editor-in-chief at SHIFTER magazine, Kevin has covered some of Canada’s top red carpet events, from the Juno Awards to the Canadian Screen Awards and has interviewed everyone from Kevin Hart to”Fast and the Furious” star Tyrese Gibson. He is currently co-host of The Morning Shift, Ottawa’s daily hip-hop morning radio show on CHUO 89.1FM.
He is also a board member at the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition and the Ottawa Film Office and was recently named to the TEDx Kanata Leadership Committee and Ottawa Life Magazine’s Best of Ottawa: Activists & Changemakers list for 2020.
To learn more about the Digital Main Street program and how businesses can apply, visit our webpage.
A special thank you to the Government of Canada and specifically FedDev Ontario for making this program possible and enabling the team at Invest Ottawa to provide critical support to main street businesses when it is needed most.