South Asian activists on the BIPOC small brands that make them feel powerful
Practicing my values in all aspects of my life by shopping from BIPOC-owned small businesses.
By Sahana Mehta, Contributor
This past holiday season, I focused on investing in products from small BIPOC-owned businesses for myself and my loved ones. After digging through lists of BIPOC-owned businesses to support, I found more than a few with products I had to get my hands on. Whether it be Nazar earrings from SAYRAN, colorful sweat suits from Selva Negra, curated skincare routines from Haldi Skin, or curl essentials from EcoSlay, shopping with these businesses brought me joy amidst the chaos and anxiety of 2020. Not only that, but I feel better knowing that my money is going towards small businesses that value each and every purchase, and are paving the way for ethical and sustainable BIPOC beauty.
As a community organizer, it is important to me that I practice my values in all aspects of my life, including self care and beauty.
Shopping with these small businesses is one small way I can divest from industries that exploit BIPOC workers across the globe, and instead invest in the traditions, ingenuity, and power of our communities.
I spoke to 4 South Asian activists and community organizers to find out which beauty products and fashion items from BIPOC-owned small businesses make them feel ready to take on a new day.
What makes Anjali feel powerful: Body butter from byToni Naturals
photo credit: byToni Naturals
As an event planner and content creator, Anjali Chakra (@anjalichakra) is no stranger to the ins and outs of running a small business. Anjali came across byToni Naturals (@by.toni_) after a friend recommended their body butters, and she was immediately drawn to the glowing testimonials all over Toni’s Instagram page.
Toni created her products for her own skin after struggling with eczema. The products are all handmade, and come in four scents named after songs Toni loves. She also runs her brand in a values-based way: every month she donates a portion of her profits to different causes. Most recently, she used 10% of her proceeds to purchase stamps from USPS, and donated them to Books Through Bars, a nonprofit that sends reading materials to people who are incarcerated.
Anjali applies the body butter right after she gets out of the shower, when her skin is still a little damp. She reports that within two minutes of application, her skin completely soaks up the formula—leaving no greasy residue behind.
She has always gone out of her way to shop at small businesses whenever possible. In the past few months,
Anjali has taken that commitment a step further to prioritize Black-owned brands.
Small business owners are often product designers, website builders, expert marketers, accountants, and more all in one. Connecting with small businesses, buying their products, and sharing them with her online audience felt like one way to maintain long term support for the Black community even after this summer’s protests fell out of the news cycle. Anjali feels lucky to have gotten to know some of the entrepreneurs she’s purchased from, on a personal level.
What makes Priya feel powerful: Clothes from POORLY CURATED
photo credit: Poorly Curated
Priya Florence Dadlani (@priya.florence) is a cultural worker and organizer who is dedicated to dismantling white supremacy and reimagining new worlds through the transformative power of art. She founded SPICY, a creative collective working at the intersection of arts, justice, and independent publishing in 2018. She is also on the Grassroots Action Team of Jahajee Sisters, an organization fighting force gender justice in Indo-Caribbean communities.
Due to the pandemic, Priya has not been able to thrift or purchase any funky second hand clothes, so she decided to shop through Jamie Espino’s Poorly Curated (@poorlycurated), a vintage shopping experience that curates the best items and wardrobes. Not only is shopping with them sustainable and allows her money to go to independent creators and curators but she also gets the funkiest, one-of-a-kind pieces. Priya says:
"As an anti-capitalist girl in a very capitalist world, it’s hard to find ways to shop sustainably and nonviolently."
Shopping vintage has always fulfilled Priya’s glamour needs in a harmless way.
What make Sharmin feel powerful: Dress from Nigerian designer Busayo NYC and Rings from Backwoods & Woven Treasures
photo credit: Sharmin
Sharmin Hossain (@sharminultra) is a Bangladeshi queer Muslim artist and organizer, from Queens, New York. When she's not shopping all over the world, she's the Political Director of Equality Labs. You can shop her closet on Instagram @shopsharmin and follow her @sharminultra on Instagram & Twitter.
Sharmin spotted this fabric at First Fridays at the Brooklyn Museum, and instantly fell in love. She learned that the design of the dress’ fabric is called adire: a hand-dying technique locally sourced from Nigeria, that reminds her of ikat fabric from Indonesia and India. The dress is custom made by Busayo Olupona (@busayonyc), a brilliant textile designer. The above image is from Sharmin’s travels in Tulum, where the fabric was the perfect compliment to the sunshine and breezy nights.
photo credit: Sharmin
“These rings are the most sacred part of my closet,” Sharmin says.
Two of them were sourced from a Turkish shopkeeper who owns Backwoods, a popular hole in the wall for unique jewelry in New York. The third ring, the hand of Fatima, came from Parvez, an Iranian shopkeeper who owns Woven Treasures (@woventreasuresphilly) in Philadelphia. These rings may be Nepali, Burmese, or Tibetan, and are made from coral, turquoise, and amber.
What makes Meghana feel powerful: Matte Lipsticks from TanaÏs Beauty x Perfumes (formerly known as Hi Wildflower)
photo credit: Meghana
Meghana (@meghanahh) is a South Indian femme, community organizer and researcher. She organizes with collectives working to end violence and systemic oppression against and within South Asian communities, including internal hierarchies like caste supremacy and ethno-nationalism.
For Meghana, supporting BIPOC owned businesses, especially those with radical politics, feels like an extension of her values of community building and care.
Meghana receives care in the form of thoughtful, ethical products that she is able to enjoy. And she offers care through her support and uplifting of these products.
Transitioning to being more mindful of where she directs her funds has given her a meaningful opportunity to further apply her commitment to social justice while also enjoying really great products and getting to know new businesses!
Meghana first learned about Hi Wildflower, now TanaÏs (@studiotanais), when a South Asian mentor gifted her their “Gulabi Gang” lipstick as a graduation present. Not only is TanaÏs BIPOC-owned by a Bangladeshi-American writer and community organizer, but they also center their leftist politic in everything from product design to marketing and beyond. TanaÏs Beauty x Perfumes is launching in March 2021.
If you’re looking to explore the world of BIPOC-owned businesses, I recommend checking out these lists to begin:
About — Sahana Mehta (she/her) is a South Asian community organizer based in NYC and D.C. She recently graduated from Scripps College, where she studied Feminist, Gender, Sexuality Studies and International, Intercultural Studies. Sahana is obsessed with haircare, skincare, and boba. You can find her @falooda_revolution and @boba_revolution on Instagram.
Cover photo credit: Sharmin Hossain, @sharminultra