Why Are Black Designers Not Held To Same Standard As Mainstream Designers?
Instagram/Brandon Blackwood NYC

In the past year, Black-owned businesses have been granted the opportunity to share the spotlight with other mainstream corporations—rightfully given the praise they deserve. The circumstances of what it took to inject Black businesses into the market are unfortunate, but there have been a number of seasoned and new business owners that have benefited from the growing support. During this last year, our community united to uplift, encourage, and catapult our Black-owned businesses and designers to the forefront—demanding visibility, equity, and equality for their services and talents. Our voice was so strong it moved others, specifically non-BIPOC, to join and engage in the movement of making sure Black businesses and designers were not left out of the conversation. The work is still not done, but there has been progress. 

We, as a community, have created several resources, platforms, and organizations to ensure that history does not repeat itself, to ensure that we only move our Black businesses forward, and to ensure that we hold retailers and investors accountable in supporting Black businesses no different than non-Black owned businesses. However, the fate of success for Black designers and businesses are not only in the hands of investors and retailers; the customer is a vital key for businesses to sustain and grow. 

Of course business owners want customers to monetarily support their businesses, and our community should most definitely prioritize continuing to invest our dollars into Black-owned businesses, but we also need to emotionally support our Black businesses and designers. It is one thing to have paying customers, but business owners experience a different level of satisfaction when they have happy, paying customers. An example of that was recently seen on Twitter with Brandon Blackwood, a Black designer and business owner of Brandon Blackwood New York. The in-demand designer has experienced rapid growth within the past year for his chic designs and most prominent ‘End Systematic Racism’ tote. But this time around customers were not praising his designs, they were actually unhappy and expressing their frustrations about a batch of ill-manufactured handbags. This occurrence of poor quality does not seem like a usual thing for Blackwood, as you can find excited customers posting their handbags on his Instagram story almost every day. Nonetheless, the slip-up was not missed, and after a few viral tweets showcasing the faulty bags Blackwood was the subject of some serious backlash.

In response to the conversation on Twitter, Blackwood posted an Instagram video acknowledging his understanding of his customers’ disappointment and stating his promise to refund all customers that desire a refund. Blackwood also mentioned that by the end of the month the business will have an online web chat, a call center, and an email for customer service. Yet, it seems that when a Black-owned business makes a mistake, reaching out directly to customer service is skipped and instead, social media is where the complaints are discussed. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a Black designer has been put under a microscope and criticized on social media, but it is my hope that this article can encourage it to be the last.

Running a business is challenging, especially when you’re a Black-owned business, and it is not uncommon to make mistakes here and there, especially when your business is rapidly growing. This is one of the main reasons why there are return policies, exchange policies, refund policies, and customer service contacts created to handle customer issues or concerns. Black business owners deserve the same grace a customer would show a larger, prominent business to cooperate in contacting the internal customer service team to resolve any concerns. 

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Most of the time when you are contacting a Black-owned business, you get to speak directly with the owner. Although it is important to acknowledge the customer’s concern and/or disappointment, it is also important for the customer to be willing to work with the business owner to reach a resolution. I spoke with Aziza-Abdullah Nicole, owner of Aziza Handcrafted, about her experience with customer service and dealing with unsatisfied customers, here’s what she had to say.

ESSENCE: Have you ever had customers approach you in an aggressive way?

ABN: I had a customer leave a note one time. My brand’s name is Aziza Handcrafted. I’m intentional with the words I use so customers know what to expect. The customer told me to make sure the order was in good condition. It hurt my feelings because they would not say this to an established white luxury brand. The customer also returned the package and demanded something else and completely ignored the policies I have in place. It was disheartening to hear and to demand from me and not feel respected as a business owner. 

ESSENCE: How would you prefer your customers to handle issues and concerns? 

ABN: Email me! An email with love and respect. We already hurt when you are not happy. We want you to be happy. Help us grow by offering advice or a solution. I am very transparent with my customers and I expect them to do the same. We, as small businesses, want to maintain those personal customer relationships.

I also spoke with Antoine Gregory, owner of Black Fashion Fair, to get his thoughts on customer behavior with Black-owned businesses. Black designers have always had to sell through a direct-to-consumer model. Because of this consumers are given a lot of access to designers that they typically would not have. And while I think it’s great to build real relationships with your consumer, it also creates a false sense of entitlement to the designer and their brand. This does not happen with non-black brands. 

“If another brand who is not Black does not meet your expectation, you are more than likely going to utilize all the proper channels to fix the problem,” Gregory says. “With Black brands, you take it right to the designer with very little regard for what their process may be.”

At the end of the day, every designer deserves the chance to be approached with respect and grace. As a community, we must be more considerate of how we go about talking about Black businesses on social media. We cannot uplift and build our community, if we are so quick to tear our business owners down. If you are ever unsatisfied as a customer, consider taking the time to acknowledge the policies in place and contacting the business directly through their internal channels with an understanding mind. We should not penalize Black designers for making mistakes. It has taken a village for us to move into these spaces, so being willing to forgive and allow our Black entrepreneurs to learn and better their business is the way we keep the channel of love open within our community and the way we create more space for our future Black business owners. 

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