Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice.
Before we kick off this interview with Ammin, here's a bit of background context to help set the stage:
- In 2015, Ammin Youssouf and co-founder Haweya Mohamed launched Afrobytes - an international tech marketplace connecting business and technology leaders, founders, investors, policy experts, and the media - to the African tech industry.
- In 2018, both Ammin & Haweya were added to Fast Company's Top 100 Most Creative People list (ranking 94 & 95 + marking the first time two French co-founders made it onto this list at the same time) as well as Entrepreneur.com's 50 Most Daring Entrepreneurs list.
- In 2021, they launched The Colors, an online community whose mission is to contribute to the future of diversity and inclusion in the fashion and beauty industry.
How is Afrobytes connected with The Colors?
From the start, we wanted to build an ecosystem made of several connected brands. We started with Afrobytes and created its narrative arc. Then, after building a solid network and expertise in the African tech ecosystem, it was time to develop a project more connected to our status as minorities in the West. That's why we decided to introduce another narrative arc with The Colors this year.
The two brands are separated but have strong connections. With Afrobytes, we explore how Agritech can be more sustainable for the environment, a social impact for the populations, and more transparent for consumers with traceability (IoT, Blockchain). And what is Beauty and Fashion if not Agriculture? Natural cosmetics like Coco, Karité, Hibiscus, Argan, and so on are 100% agricultural. Same thing for Fashion: environmentally-friendly cotton, hemp, pineapple, banana fibers and all the new sustainable textile innovations are changing the fashion industry.
Building a consistent and virtuous ecosystem takes a hell of a lot of time, but we believe it will be a very profitable bet in the end. Lucky ones have access to "patient capital". Minorities in Tech do "patient bootstrapping" ;-)
What makes The Colors such a special event?
The Colors is a multicultural and multidisciplinary gathering of people leveraging and sharing their expertise to achieve the same mission: contribute to the future of Diversity and Inclusion in the Fashion and Beauty Industry.
Because it is much more than a single event in the year, we prefer to call it a Momentum instead of an event. Indeed, in physics, momentum is the strength gained by a series of events also defined as "mass in motion." This is exactly what we offer to people who join The Colors community: a platform to drive and accelerate change.
The annual event - held in person & online this September at Station F in Paris - will be the catalyst of multiple initiatives developed all along the year: programs for entrepreneurs, prizes to reward the best of them, monthly online meetups and networking, collaborations with tech companies and media.
Can you tell us more about your programs?
To support the entrepreneurs, we launched two programs: La Fabrique for Beauty and L'Atelier for Fashion. We will offer the classics: Office hours with our partners, Networking activities, Personal coaching and mentoring, Thought leadership sessions, Operational support, and Demo Day showcase.
But when you build a program for diverse founders, you have to create something different and design from your own experience as a minority founder in tech.
You have to adapt your program to the reality: the huge investment gap facing diverse founders. For example, in the UK, between 2009 and 2019, all-ethnic teams received an average of just 1.7% of the venture capital investments made at seed, early, and late-stage over this decade. Data show the racial inequity persists after George Floyd, and for example, Black women and Latina entrepreneurs get less than 1% of venture capital in the US. And in France, first, it is not even a topic of conversation, and second, you would need a Ph.D. in quantum physics to report any activity when it comes to funding minority-led startups.
Considering this situation, it would not make sense to focus too much on content such as "getting funding from VCs" since it will overwhelmingly lead to a statistically proven dead-end for most of them. Instead, we focus on how minorities can concentrate on the overlooked consumers' expertise and leverage technology to capture this market. In a way, the Music Industry case is very inspiring. The Majors overlooked minority artists and their Hip Hop culture, but now it is the same minorities lead the game in this sector.
Can you share a bit of background with us about how this event came to be?
This photo could have been taken in any major city in the Western World. Is it Paris? London? Amsterdam? Stockholm? San Francisco? Barcelona? Toronto? We live in a multicultural society. Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice. I would even say, "it is a strategic and economical choice".
The USA's population, the largest consumer market, comprises +40% of people of African, Asian, or Latin descent. By 2044, those minorities will become a majority simply because Gen Z and Gen Alphas are in their vast majority from those communities. And what about the fact that 85% of the world's population lives in emerging countries with the most dynamic markets and fast-growing and connected middle-classes.
Understanding Gen Z -the first generation of true digital natives and composed primarily of people of color- means understanding multicultural consumers.
In other words, the corporates’ Gen Z problem is a multicultural problem.
What inspired you to focus on the fashion & beauty industry?
The Fashion and Beauty sector is sensitive to affinity marketing, but brands' products and services don't fully satisfy multicultural consumers' aspirations because of the lack of diversity.
Diverse entrepreneurs, especially women in these sectors, create products and services but are poorly supported, highlighted, and financed.
Our ambition is to support them in developing digital skills to accelerate their direct to consumer business and to excel in customer relations.
Can you tell us about the format of this event?
We will focus on creating an online experience for each specific category of the public. Digital authorizes a more interesting personalization of the attendee journey:
- Investors might want to know the minority-majority market size, untapped market opportunities, and how startups deploy to seize them.
- Corporates might wish to understand the culture better and identify the touchpoints with the multicultural Gen Z.
- The General public might want to discover new brands, the stories behind them and possibly buy from them during the event.
- Tech companies might want to understand better how to connect with and offer services to a new breed of entrepreneurs they rarely meet.
Digital offers the possibility of having a larger audience and creating more connections. Recently we organized a session between a Senegalese Designer, a Fashion Tech expert from New York, and a Beauty brand from Ghana. The conversation was so refreshing and insightful for the audience! It resulted in immediate online sales for the Ghanaian beauty brand, requests for mentorship for the Fashion specialist and partnerships for the designer.
Why did you decide to launch a membership plan?
The Colors is a community of people sharing common interests and values. A paid membership helps to build and finance a better experience for them. With a continuous dialogue with our community, we want to better understand their needs and tailor their online event experience.
We also want to engage our audience better, be more accessible, provide support, get feedback. We believe our community should be invited to shape our brand's future and influence speakers' choice and themes.
In short, we want to build relationships that go beyond a single event in the year.
Who would be an ideal speaker for this event? Who’s on your wishlist?
Our ideal speaker is Thando Hopa, a South African model, activist, and lawyer. She is the first woman with albinism to be on the cover of Vogue. She perfectly interrogates us on Diversity and Inclusion.
For the wishlist, I would mention:
- Rihanna: for the genesis of Fenty Beauty, her deal with LVMH, and Social Media's impact on her business.
- Berry Gordy: for creating the world’s most famous record company, the Motown Records, with 800$, but also no access to banks, media, investment
- Vivienne Westwood: for creating a ground-breaking social enterprise collaborating with local artisan across Kenya, Nepal, Burkina Faso & Mali, with the aim to provide a sustainable stream of work, in place of charity.
- Serena Williams: for creating a fund that invests in companies that embrace diverse leadership, individual empowerment, creativity, and opportunity.
Find out more about The Colors online at TheColo.rs!