BEYOUROWN: #IWILLUSEMYVOICE X Valerie Obaze
In light of the recent events, we at BEYOUROWN want to develop our involvement with the #Blacklivesmatter movement and collectively stand in solidarity to help protect others who fall victim to racial hatred. We have put together a project with some of the UK’s leading Black female entrepreneurs from a selection of diverse industry fields, these women have written a heartfelt letter, to shed a little more light on their own personal journey throughout career and business building.
Multi-dimensional, these women highlight many aspects of the racial discrimination experienced, whether it be the invisible limitations and challenges faced due to skin colour, or the micro-aggressions, racial inequality and disgusting abuse that occurs in and out of the workplace, much of which is typically down-played, humoured and is not a true depiction of what we often see in UK mainstream media.
At BEYOUROWN we stand in solidarity, love and humanity. Furthermore, we will maintain our commitment to working consciously as a community to address and improve the conditions regards to racial inequality. We will also stand behind and support those who push for justice and fairness. We must not stay silent, for silence will simply not dismantle this alone. We must educate ourselves and others. We absolutely must protect those who are prey to racial inequality, mistreatment, pain and suffering on a daily basis. We at BEYOUROWN will continue to acknowledge our position of privilege and will use it for the greater good.
Valerie Obaze is an award-winning beauty entrepreneur. She has been hailed as an ‘African skincare trailblazer’ by Forbes magazine, her beauty brand has been featured in a plethora of publications such as Elle magazine and not only is she a savvy businesswoman, Valerie is also the founder of the Mumpreneurs network, founded in 2015. Her company, R&R Luxury, is the perfect combination of authentic products and the answer to many skincare issues. Her passion for natural skin care products and PR, Valerie has created a significant brand that has been recognized all over the world. Expanding her brand from Africa, the US to now the UK this is an exciting time for the brand.
I grew up in the UK as a second-generation Brit, but with my roots firmly planted in my homeland Ghana. I remained in London until I was 29 and moved to Lagos following my marriage to my husband who had also grown up in London but had moved to Nigeria to run his family business. I started my career in Public Relations after graduation and worked in a few agencies before co-founding an agency called RVPR with my friend and business partner in 2008. Previously I had worked for some amazing people, but I always knew that deep down my entrepreneurial spirit would not allow me to be an employee for too long.
We took the brave step of branching out on our own because we believed in our ability to carve a successful business despite the challenges that we knew we would face as two twenty-something black women in London. At the time, there were very few agencies run by black women that were not in the music or entertainment business. In England, what you often experience is not so much overt racism, but the embedded culture of tokenism which seeks to tick the diversity box but not fully understand or take seriously the responsibility of inclusivity. I always knew that in my career path there existed a glass ceiling, which is one of the reasons I decided to create my own. I’m not a “sit around and wait for you to notice my type of person,” I’m a “you’re going to hear about me whether you like it or not” type of gal. So in that respect, by starting our own business, we built our own metaphorical boardroom table and sat at the top of it. It was not easy by any means and we very much leveraged the relationships we had formed over the years in the industry to build our client base and get them the visibility that kept us retained by them. Our clients were mainly start-ups who recognised the value we brought to the table and put their trust in us to deliver results, which we did.
As life would have it, Africa called and in 2009 I moved to Nigeria to be with my husband. All of a sudden as a PR professional in Lagos, I had direct access to represent the city’s finest fashion brands, musicians and jewellery designers, whereas in London, I may never have had that chance and this reality was not lost on me. I quickly realised what a privilege it was to be part of a majority! In Africa, I could be whoever I wanted to be and get there a lot quicker because there were no racial constraints holding me back. I wasn’t there to just tick a box or make up a number, I was able to make an ACTUAL difference.
Following the birth of my first child in 2010, I pivoted from being the adviser to the brand, to become the brand. I created a product line for my family that celebrated the beauty of Africa and what it had to offer us and the rest of the world. Beyond the immediate needs of my family, I wanted us as Africans to value what nature had given to us, which is so much in rich resources that the Western world had taken advantage of for so many years, yet we didn’t appreciate what was right under our noses. My company R&R Luxury was not the first brand to create products using Shea Butter, however, we were one of the early African owned brands creating and keeping the value on the Continent. To me, R&R is way more than just a beauty brand: it is a tool to empower and employ generations of an oppressed people on the continent who have not been paid fairly for their products and have been taught to believe that everything in Africa is bad and everything in the West is good.
I would like people to know that they are more than how the outside world perceives them. That with temerity, audacity and hope, you can make a change in what you believe in. Many thought my products would only reach my direct network of people, but here we are nearly ten years down the line with more than five awards under our belt, mentions in Forbes, endorsements in Vogue and Cosmo, plus more than we can actually mention. Yet to us the journey has just begun. We have a long way to go and have met many challenges along the way that could’ve caused us to give up, but we didn’t and so we go on.
The future black female needs to see more representation of people that look like her to let her know that her dreams and aspirations are valid. Not everyone is as audacious as I was to believe that building my own table was an option, so inclusivity in the boardroom or the front cover of a magazine should be a non-negotiable. There are countless black women both on the Continent and in the Diaspora doing amazing things who deserve the visibility that their white counterparts are given freely and without a fight. The more strong and successful black voices that are given a platform, the more this will encourage those young black girls as well as help to dispel the myth that black women can never be the boss or at the top of their game – which is a lie!