Online directory offers a one-stop shop for Black-owned brands

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Cara Lawton, founder of Black Owned 365, created the company to make it easy to buy Black. The website offers affordable products with payment plans. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles
AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
msayles@afro.com

Following the protests after the murder of George Floyd, Cara Lawton noticed a surge in publications creating lists to highlight the top Black-owned businesses to shop from. On the surface level, the inventories appeared to be beneficial to the cause, Lawton said many of the publishers were garnering their content from directories made by Black creators without giving them credit. 

“For the most part, when they run that content a lot of Black people get excited because they feel like they are being affirmed, but they don’t realize that they’re actually making money and commodifying it for content,” said Lawton. She also observed that companies and organizations were engaging in performative activism to capitalize on movements, such as Black Lives Matter.

This motivated Lawton to convert a Black-owned business directory she created in 2014 into a website called Black Owned 365, which she officially launched in 2021 to serve Black-owned brands. Lawton relied heavily on her directory to curate the brands for the website and has been able to draw on support from consumers that have employed her directory in the past. “They understand that there is a need for this,” said Lawton. “We need to really help recirculate the dollar in our community.” 

Although some Black-owned brands have been able to make their way into big-name stores, like Target and Walmart, they don’t typically survive on the shelves, according to Lawton. Those that are successful are often offered a buy-out from competitors, and when they decline, mainstream brands create a similar product to defeat Black contenders. 

Black Owned 365 helps Black businesses avoid these injustices. It hosts a number of products that include personal care, home cleaning and office and school supplies. Several of the items are also vegan, which Lawton attributed to her sister’s influence. 

Currently, the website is running a “Black2School” sale that takes 20% off of school supplies’ purchases. NikNax, a Black-owned stationery company, has been one of the biggest partners for the promotion. The brand incorporates modern designs with inspirational themes. 

Lawton’s favorite item in the collection is the Black Professionals Matter notebook. At present, she said Black youth are constantly exposed to entertainment and content creation careers, which leads them to think these professions are their only option. The NikNax notebook showcases broader opportunities, like becoming a writer or biologist. “It’s very important to have something like this to help stoke the flames of their curiosity so they can start asking,” said Lawton. 

When a customer selects an item from Black Owned 365, they can choose from either standard shipping, which will deliver the product to them in four to five business days, or express shipping, which delivers in two business days. The website also offers payment plans for orders between $50 and $100, which allows customers to divide the cost into four interest-free installments.

Black consumers are pacing to spend $1.8 trillion across all industries by 2024, according to a Nielsen report. For most cases, these patrons are not buying from Black-owned businesses, and the money is not reinvested into Black communities to fund education, health and culture, according to Lawton. For her, this statistic showcases the wealth and value of Black consumers. 

“If you continue to be a patron of big-box entities that do not give back to your community, you are literally contributing to your demise,” said Lawton. She hopes that Black consumers can acknowledge their power during the 2021 holiday season and take pride in purchasing from Black-owned businesses. 

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