Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person's skin colour, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we're passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they're using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: Funmi Scott, the founder of Untapped Creatives, a company that represents a diverse portfolio of Black-owned luxury beauty, jewellery, and lifestyle brands. In 2021, Untapped Creatives partnered with Selfridges London on an Afro-Luxe concept, which offers a curated collection of over 20 Black-owned brands displayed prominently at the iconic retailer.
By profession, I'm a finance lawyer, specifically working within mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in boutique firms. Because of that, I always tend to have a sense of business having seen the transactions and equally seeing who and where money is invested. Untapped Creatives happened out of an ideal that who and where money is invested should be expanded to include Black-owned businesses, and I wanted to address the underrepresentation of Black-owned brands in the luxury space.
A few years ago, I started making handmade organic candles, just to relax. However, I have Nigerian heritage (I have Nigerian parents, and I grew up in Scotland), and anybody who knows any Nigerian means that they always have a side gig. So the Nigerian in me said, "Oh, perhaps I can see if I can sell these." I joined a pop-up that attracts and advertises African and Black-owned brands. I discovered a lot of really great brands also selling at the event. However, I realised that the business structure didn't make sense for the luxury, handcrafted products. There were a lot of expensive ingredients and craftsmanship going into these products, but because of the environment in which they were sold, customers didn't come to pay the premium prices the items deserved. Similarly, the event was quite cluttered. I thought, "You're all incredibly talented, and you're all fantastic representations of African creativity, but being in this very cluttered space isn't the best place for you to be." I knew that there should be a better platform for Black creatives.
Knowing lots of Black creative people bootstrapping their way through business, I felt that they needed somebody else to try and help elevate their story and bring them to a platform.
Last year, with the Black Lives Matter movement and seeing retailers publicly state that they acknowledge that there is an underrepresentation and a disparity for Black creators within the luxury space (and within all spaces, if we're honest), I put together a proposal containing a portfolio of fantastic Black-owned brands to make it easier for these retailers to follow through.
Selfridges was a great first approach because they had already started a diversity board, which was a great way to promote communication. The Untapped Creatives proposal aimed to take it to the next level with a tangible impact as Black businesses need more promotion, more elevation, more representation, and investment. Statistically, which I say all the time, investment in Black business is significantly disparate compared to comparable white business, with only 0.02 percent of venture capitalist investment in the UK going to Black-owned female businesses. That is an incredibly unfortunate percentage.
Knowing lots of Black creative people, the impact of such a statistic is that the majority have to bootstrap their way through business. I felt that they needed somebody else to help elevate their story and bring them to a platform that facilitates long-term business growth. By bringing together a curated portfolio of Black-owned brands within Untapped Creatives — where we've done the research and present them to luxury retailers — the retailers can select from our portfolio, making a much easier process for buyers to access inclusivity. That's when Untapped Creatives was born. Jennifer Leslie, who helped me at the beginning of putting together the platform, came up with the name when we were talking about the abundance of creativity in the Black community that has been untapped.
When it came to putting my proposal together, my legal research skills came to good use, but I also knew that visual representation of these great brands was also necessary — using high-quality assets from the brands we already had relationships with. Authenticity is at the core of Untapped Creatives's branding, I didn't want to dilute our vision of Black being luxury, so we used Black models in our proposal and promotional materials. I also spent a lot of time on writing and reviewing the proposal. And then I had, I call it, a dogmatic/stalkerish approach to getting it into the right hands. This included an old friend of mine — through the magic of Facebook and LinkedIn — who forwarded our proposal within Selfridges group. They were interested, and the rest is history.
That's how things worked out. Set a goal, work really hard for it, try to be as genuine as you can, set expectations, ask for help when needed, and be willing to do the work. It's been a lot more work than expected because it's grown quite quickly. But, because the objective and work of Untapped Creatives is bigger than me, I feel a real sense of responsibility to ensure that I grow to match this pace, so everybody can benefit. Take the Selfridges project — Selfridges's buyers selected 10 brands from our portfolio, which are now available in Selfridges stores and online. We also had a great Selfridges online and social media feature with the high-end department store interviewing six of the brand founders, and their stories made it onto the homepage of Selfridges's website. Also, the jewellery buyers created a ministory with our jewellery brands when Selfridges reopened in the summer of 2021.
At this present moment, we have around 30 brands that we look after, and they are doing really well. One of our brands just had their fifth reorder and a huge Christmas order from a luxury retailer.
We want to share stories of joy and success because it's impossible to invest in Black creatives if you think there is only one dimension to them.
Launching a business in the midst of a global pandemic, weirdly enough, wasn't too bad in the sense that everybody was in the same space — it's 100 percent been a Zoom business. Zoom has been a great tool to unite us all, and now that things are slowly returning to normal, I've met some of the brand founders in person. Having a personal connection with the brands we look after is really important to me.
As for the future, I'd love to work with other retailers — we have a fantastic selection of luxury brands that I think will fit well into Net-A-Porter and other retailers. Similar to this, one of the things that we're looking to do is have our Afro-Luxe Concept Stores pop-ups hosted in luxury hotels, who we are currently in talks with. We also want to draw more from brands that are actually based on the continent of Africa — a source of inspiration for many of our brands. We recently signed the brand Kente Gentlemen that's based in Cote d'Ivoire. It's a fashion brand taking a unique approach to African prints and textiles, and everything is made in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana.
We've just done a soft launch of what we call "The Edit", a curated selection of our favourite items from the Untapped Creatives's brands. A few come to mind: the stunning and sustainably made Baba VI Pink Suit by Kente Gentlemen, the lovely vegan and ethically sourced Gold Shea Butter body cream by Liha Beauty, and the stunning Pilastro I gold ring by Aymer Maria — a real investment piece. "The Edit" provides another avenue for brands to have sales channels on our website
[The Untapped Creatives journey so far has] been quite wonderful, and it's been received incredibly well by Black-owned businesses, which have been contacting us since day one. It's been great to see the abundance of creativity within the Black community. It's a first step, and we hope that it will just replicate itself.
Far too often, there can be one story of Blackness or Africanness, and that story tends to consist of difficulty and struggle. Untapped Creatives is passionate about redefining Black people's stories — we want to share stories of joy and success because it's impossible to invest in Black creatives if you think there is only one dimension to them.
I believe that stereotyping is one of the reasons why Black-owned businesses haven't been given the opportunity to flourish. As a society, we don't really think about how diverse the Black community really is. Untapped Creatives proves that if you give Black businesses the same opportunities as others, they can succeed in all spaces.