Girls Perspective recently caught up with Khalia Ismain the founder of Jamii the online community striving to help black businesses.
Prior to you starting Jamii, what was the biggest issue you found when it came to people buying and supporting black owned business?
For me I think it was not knowing how to find them. Everyone knows some, but I don’t live in an area where many exist and so I’d always have to travel to find what I wanted. It was difficult to find places I really liked. Also, there are negative stereotypes associated with black-owned businesses, such as poor customer service and poor quality, that I don’t think are particularly fair.
What does the name Jamii mean and how does it work for businesses?
The name means ‘community’ in Swahili. The first reason why I chose that name is because I lived in Kenya for a a few months after I graduated university and I picked up some Swahili, so the language took on an importance to me. Secondly, I really wanted a word that everyone could embrace and so, I thought what better word than ‘community’.
Jamii is about supporting the community: it is a community-based business. For me, I think business is one of the most sustainable long-term ways of achieving economic uplift. Jamii makes a point of working with high-quality, innovative businesses because people are more likely to remember places that did something different and did it well. They’re more likely to discover them and go back – and when you get a discount too, that’s just a win-win. The more people you get to come back to the business, the more money is being put back into the economy and community.
What is the main message you want to get across?
The main message is that you can be a change-maker every day. Jamii is an every-day thing: every time you buy something, you can be supporting your community. Anything from food, clothes, hair products to artwork. It doesn’t require huge amounts of effort, but it can have a significant impact. It’s just about creating a new habit, a habit of #ShopSaveSupport. That’s what we are trying to get across: you can make a difference by doing little things.
How can business owners or customers get involved with Jamii?
If you’re a business owner then all you need to do is send an email to email@example.com or you can also go to the website and fill out a form and tell us a little bit about yourself
If you’re a customer you can visit the website as well and pick up a discount card*.
What is the biggest learning experience you have gained from starting the business?
The biggest learning experience has been that for me starting a business is not actually that hard; what’s difficult is the emotional side of it. So when things aren’t necessarily going your way or when you can’t see the fruits of your labour you still have to keep going and push yourself and remember why you are doing it. It can be emotionally draining over the long term – but then it can also be rewarding, because when things do go your way the feeling is amazing.
As a female founder has there been any struggles you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
I’m not always that confident – which is something that I know a lot of women struggle with. It can be a barrier as I’m not always sure what I’m doing! However, I am trying to overcome it by reminding myself how far I have come and using that to push myself forward. I just take it one day at a time, and keep focusing on the vision that I’m trying to bring to life.
Do you get to try the products you promote? If So what are the most interesting types of brands that you have?
I do, I try to buy as much as possible because I obviously want to support and I also want to understand the experience that Jamii customers get. That is probably one of the most fun parts of the job.
Without getting into trouble with the others, one that kind of sticks out to me is a company called Spill The Tea. The reason why is because producing tea is not something that is stereotypically associated with the black community – it’s different. I’ve had two of their teas and they are amazing. My mum who is a poor sleeper tried one of their teas ‘Turn Down for what’ and she loves it, it helps her so much. It’s such high quality, so they really stand out for me.
Did you always know that you wanted to start your own business?
To be honest, I’ve never really known what I wanted to do. I’ve always known that I like doing what I like to do (and so was probably never best suited working for other people), but I wouldn’t say it’s been my dream ever since I was young. I started it because I felt I needed Jamii to be started.
Who or what inspires you to keep going?
I hate the thought of regret, and so I’m inspired to keep going by the thought of regretting it if I stop. If I don’t push forward, I’ll always feel as if I’ve let myself down.
What is one piece of advice you wished someone could’ve told you when you started?
I think it would have been great if someone had sat me down at the start and said, “if it was that simple everybody would be doing it”. It’s common sense really, but there can be so many emotions involved that sometimes I need a bit of perspective. Also, a great piece of advice is to celebrate the little wins, especially if you’re just starting out. At this stage, anything we do is a win and so celebrating things like getting the newsletter out every week and having people subscribing is important to recognise.
How has the business evolved from when it first started?
We are only 8 months old, but one big evolution is that when I started it was just me, myself and I. Now my sister is fundamental to it and one more person has come on board to create our visuals and manage our Instagram. The team and the number of people that input to Jamii is growing, which is incredible because it means we are able to do more and it’s not just reliant on me and what I’m doing.
What has been the best part of your journey so far?
I think it’s a combination of being laid back and having a clear vision. I emphasise quality – I don’t bark orders at people, but if something isn’t good enough then I will let them know. I enjoy getting other people’s ideas and input, and so I encourage people to have opinions on things. However I am the person who makes the decisions and set the direction for what we’re doing.
How would you describe your business style?
I think it’s a combination of being laid back and having a clear vision of what is going enough. I emphasize on quality, I don’t feel like I need to bark orders at people but if something isn’t good enough I will let them know. I enjoy getting other people’s ideas and getting their input and so I encourage people to have opinions on things. At the same time I have most of the weighting I make all the big decisions and I set the direction of where we are going?
What is one quote that has really stood out for you?
I’m not really a quote person. The mantra that I live by is ‘no regrets’, as I mentioned earlier. However, someone did say something to me the other day that has stuck with me: “Those who want to go fast go alone, and those who want to go far go together”. As a person, I am quite independent and always prefer to do things myself. In a business however, that’s unsustainable and ineffective, and so I’ve had to force myself to accept and want the help of other people.
Over the next year, what can we expect from Jamii?
For the next year, I think we’ll just continue to grow: continue to get more businesses onto the platform, to increase our brand awareness and maybe expand out some of the things we do to help businesses. We have had one website redesign and I think we will probably do another just to keep it up to date and fresh. We have some things in the pipeline that I can’t quiet talk about yet which will be exciting.
Ultimately Jamii is about supporting black businesses and the discount card is one way in which we are hoping to do this and increase awareness which is exciting.
*For a limited time Girls Perspective readers get 30% off Jamii membership with the code OURJAMII.*