When Francine Bahati launched her cosmetics line three years ago, she started looking for ways to let the world, and Manitoba, know her business existed.
With a catchy name — Queenfidence Cosmetics by Francine B — and an extensive line of vegan, cruelty-free makeup, Bahati began applying to trade shows and makers’ markets around Winnipeg. Sometimes, she was rejected, but the times when she was able to set up a table, she saw she was often the only Black entrepreneur in sight.
That wasn’t right, she thought.
"I didn’t see Black businesses, and it’s not that they don’t exist," she said in a phone interview this week. "We have amazing Black creatives, professionals and artists (in Manitoba)," she added. "But do people really know about them? How can we find them?"
A few weeks ago, Bahati — along with her sister Odette, a home stager, and their friend Ima Ekanem, a graphic designer— came up with a solution to that problem: Black Owned Manitoba, an online directory for Black-owned businesses of all types, from dentists, to restaurants, to landscaping companies, and everything in between.
The purpose of the initiative is to empower and uplift the Black community through economic support and growth, Bahati said. And while the idea was borne out of years of frustration trying to gain a foothold in their own respective industries, it was spurred on by what the trio had seen going on lately.
Mass protests against police brutality and against anti-Black racism drew crowds of thousands in cities across the world, including in Winnipeg, where some 15,000 people gathered outside the Legislature for a peaceful demonstration organized by Justice For Black Lives on June 6.
“We have amazing Black creatives, professionals and artists (in Manitoba). But do people really know about them? How can we find them?” — Francine Bahati
While those rallies went on, many social media users began posting messages of support and allyship. Those messages are welcome, Bahati said, but she wanted people to go further than using a hashtag or sharing an Instagram post.
"I find allyship and solidarity goes beyond just sharing anti-racism or standing with the movement," she said. "It’s about supporting the economy of Black-owned businesses in Manitoba."
Less than two weeks after the directory began collecting information on local businesses, more than 100 have registered, with more coming each day. The website is launching later in June, but the Free Press spoke with four businesses that already signed up.
E-Mpn Generation Media
Owner Eric Ndahura Mpangara has always been more comfortable putting others in the spotlight than he is when the attention is focused on him.
In 2012, while living in Uganda, Ndahura Mpangara started shooting videos, realizing quickly it was something he was passionate about. He envisioned starting his own business, and soon after he moved to Winnipeg in 2013, he launched E-Mpn.
With classes from the Winnipeg Film Group, he trained his eye and his lens, shooting music videos, events, films, weddings, and corporate media. He currently works a day job, but dreams about working in videography full-time. "It’s my passion," he says. "When you turn the camera on me, I’m shy. But when I’m taking other peoples’ pictures, it’s when I’m happiest."
Group Fitness & Personal Training
It’s not an easy time to run a gym, but owner Rich Thomas isn’t one to shy away from a challenge.
In 2014, he launched Shinobi Fitness at 328 King Street, entering into an industry populated by giant chains where the competition is fierce. Six years later, the gym is still kicking.
For Thomas, whose parents are originally from Trinidad and Aruba, supporting local businesses is vital, and supporting Black-owned ones is just as important. He hopes the directory helps connect new customers to his gym and other companies listed.
"Knowing we have a strong Black community in Winnipeg, I feel like this is a genuine opportunity to allow my voice to be heard," he said.
Miss Christine’s Kitchen
Jamaican Street Food Restaurant
Christine Pattison would love to feed you.
In September, the Jamaican-born chef opened Miss Christine’s Kitchen, located at the Chalet Hotel on Archibald Street, and has been doling out authentic Jamaican dishes like jerk chicken, oxtail, curried goat, and whole snapper.
She thought the business directory was a great idea, especially since she’s long wished for a service just like it. "It’s a wonderful tool," she said. "Instead of searching, you can go right on and punch in African food, hairdressers, real estate brokers."
"I’m just pumped there’s a place people can go and find everything Black," she said.
Bahati says the feedback for the site has exceeded her wildest expectations. The site’s Instagram page is nearing 4,000 followers, and community members have been excited to sign their businesses up.
"This isn’t about me, or just the three of us," Bahati said of herself and the other co-founders. "It’s about our community. I want them to be supported, and I want them to be found."
When Amy Offurum moved to Winnipeg from Nigeria in 2013, she didn’t know where to go to get her hair done. Most salons she found didn’t know how to treat her curly locks, and they often charged exorbitant amounts for sub-par service, using too much of the wrong products.
So she started saving up, putting her business management degree to good use, and in 2019, opened Fairlane Studio at 141 Sherbrook Street. It’s a place "where curly-haired women and men know their hair will be taken care of properly," she said. "I want my salon to be a one-stop beauty place."
After two months being closed under COVID-19 precautions, Fairlane reopened May 4, launching online booking. By the end of the day, the entire month was booked solid. There are still slots open for July, and Offurum is hoping to move to a bigger location later this year to keep her business growing.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.