Ladi Kazeem never really stops working. The 30-year-old entrepreneur wakes up at 6am and doesn’t stop trading vintage T-shirts until he goes back to bed. “If you post a picture on Instagram, the British will see it when you’re awake, the Americans will see it when you’re about to go to sleep, and the Japanese will see it when you’re waking up,” he says. “It never really stops.”
With 181,000 followers on the e-commerce site Depop, Kazeem is a verified “top seller” – someone who consistently lists and sells – and has seen his business take him around the world. From whistle-stop tours of Europe to thrifting in America, there are few places he hasn’t been to seek out the rarest and most valuable clothes. The T-shirts he’s sold have even found their way on to the backs of celebrities such as Kanye West and Kendall Jenner.
But if it hadn’t been for his business, things could have gone another way for Kazeem. After his mother died when he was just 17, Kazeem found himself “effectively homeless” and roaming the streets of northern England, struggling to find work. His experience has shown him just how key business can be in bridging the economic divide. “There are not many black businesses in the north. That’s just a fact,” he says. “The transition into e-commerce that’s happened over the past 10 years has given everybody a platform. It doesn’t matter who you are, it matters what you’re putting out there.”
Kazeem’s story, like that of many black entrepreneurs, shows how crucial business can be in providing opportunity and driving equality. Black Lives Matter has helped accelerate the need to address economic injustice and increase investment in black commerce. PayPal has pledged $530m (£408m) to support black businesses and communities in the US and beyond. And closer to home, businesses celebrated Black Pound Day on 3 October – a campaign that started in June, which will be running on the first Saturday of every month – with shoppers encouraged to spend cash at black-owned firms.
“If we truly want equality in society, there needs to be a fairer distribution of capital,” says William Adoasi, 30, founder and lead designer of Vitae London, a watch brand that supports children with schooling in sub-Saharan Africa. He was inspired to start the business and pursue social justice by his father, who was the first in his family to be able to read and write.
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