After her wedding, Deesha Dyer didn’t share just glamor shots and videos on her social-media feeds. She posted a list of the vendors and small businesses she’d worked with, and proudly declared that 85% were some combination of “Queer owned & operated, Asian owned & operated, Black owned & operated, Women owned & operated, Hispanic owned & operated, Veteran owned & operated.”
This note by Dyer, the CEO of the social-impact consulting company Hook & Fasten, is emblematic of a broader cultural push over the past few years to buy BIPOC, an acronym which stands for Black, Indigenous, and people of color. In a 2021 McKinsey survey, nearly half of US consumers said companies should pledge to support Black-owned brands and vendors. More than two-thirds said their shopping choices are shaped by social values.
Decades ago, the Civil Rights Movement helped create support for minority business in the form of government set-aside programs, special loan programs, and designations for women and minority enterprises. More recently, the imperative took on renewed mainstream energy after the murder of George Floyd and the hunkering-home prompted by the pandemic, which inspired many consumers to buy local.
As the holiday shopping season kicks off this week, it’s worth reexamining the state of that support for BIPOC business. There are concerns this year, amid inflation and fears of recession, that holiday spending will decline. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report found that consumers plan to spend an average of $1,430 on gifts, travel, and entertainment this holiday season, down slightly from the $1,447 they spent last year.
Some small businesses are less than optimistic. Beverly Malbranche, founder and CEO of Caribbrew, launched the Haitian coffee supplier from her New York City apartment in 2018 before moving to a warehouse in New Jersey as her company grew. Now, she fears there’s less traction for businesses like hers. “We are seeing less engagement compared to 2020, when BIPOC brands had more visibility,” she says.
Much of the support for minority-owned businesses has been framed in charitable terms. Even government agencies stop just short of quotas and mandates, often due to court rulings challenging their legality; in New York, for example, agencies are “encouraged” to make a “good-faith” effort to work with the companies.
But the real case for seeking out entrepreneurs of color is not rooted in largesse. The reason to support BIPOC brands and vendors is because they are at least twice as good as everyone else.
What it takes to make it
Case in point: The application to receive a minority business enterprise certification requires submission of a hefty amount of paperwork, including board minutes, proof of capital investment, and two years of federal tax returns. It’s worth remembering that one out of every three businesses doesn’t even last two years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For Black businesses, it’s even harder: eight out of 10 fail within the first 18 months, and more than half of Black business owners say their business’s health is “at risk” or “distressed.”
“Words can’t even express how frustrating the whole system really is,” says Cheryl McKissack Daniel, president and CEO of the eponymous McKissack, one of the oldest minority- and woman-owned design and construction firms in the US. “I have to share everything about myself and my business to get a certification to then be called and labeled a minority business. You’ve got to work within the system that was not set up for you.”
“We are up against all of these issues,” says McKissack Daniel. “So you need to be better. You can be a mediocre white male and get a job, go get a loan. If you are a female or of color the path is just not that easy. You do have to work twice as hard. That’s your edge when you’re BIPOC and female.”
A higher level of service
Dyer, who is Black, says she favored Black entrepreneurs because “there wouldn’t be a need to explain everything all the time—cultural nuances, etc. I didn’t have to over-communicate the vibe we wanted or the vibe we were looking for. That heavy lifting of having to explain something Black to someone who is not Black can be tiring, and I didn’t have any extra patience while planning a wedding.”
Indeed, when people of color pervade decision-making ranks, they might seek out minority vendors. “I have a platform, and being able to use Black entrepreneurs was also a way I could be a mouthpiece and validator for them,” says Dyer. “In a world where they are often ignored, I wanted to make sure I could counteract that.”
Values and purpose
I’ve seen this firsthand. In my experience seeking out diverse suppliers, from legal services to the chocolates and coffee my media company sends at Christmas, the attention to detail from entrepreneurs of color is noteworthy, but so is the alignment of values: In supporting one another, we’re also supporting the BIPOC communities these business are a part of.
During a recent reception we held at a bar in Los Angeles, the owners (one Asian, one Latino) stayed open later for us because they supported our mission as much as we supported theirs. And it’s worth mentioning, above all, that their food, space, and service were also pretty incredible.