What Black History Month means for the make-up company with an anti-racism focus

10/10/2020

Railway arch business Beautonomy’s commitment to anti-racism causes means Black History Month is ‘a punctuation’ rather than a main event.

For founders Kiemu Salmon and her partner, Tom, one of the joys of having their own business is that they can exercise choice and control over what and how they support issues that matter to them.

Kiemu said: “I think Black History Month is a really important punctuation in the year and gives us an opportunity to think and reflect. It can provide a framework for discovery. I enjoy hearing bits about it on the radio and exploring new books with my son around Black History but raising awareness is now something we try to do throughout the year.”

As a new company in their arch in Camberwell, Beautonomy is focussed on creating jobs and building a successful business that will inspire young people around them. Beautonomy enables customers to design and customise both the packaging and contents of their make-up palettes. As it is an online business, they were in some ways less impacted by the pandemic than others have been – but interruptions to their supply chains meant they were unable to meet demand and could not operate for five months at the start of the year.

When the death of George Floyd in the United States sparked protests across the world, Beautonomy took an active anti-racism stance. Kiemu said: “The fact that we had our own small business meant we had a platform to contribute to the conversation in a small but meaningful way. I’m a mixed-race black person and these are not new issues to us but it’s a subject we care about and felt strongly that we wanted to contribute to.

“We tried to find ways to do that and wrote a letter that was sent out with 2,000 orders to all our customers, making them aware we support the Black Lives Matter movement and providing resources they can use to find out more. We told them about the charities we support and highlighted the shift in our own way of talking about racism. It no longer feels enough to say, ‘I’m not racist’, so we are challenging ourselves to demonstrate our anti-racist values more consistently. In the past, I might have shied away from difficult conversations, which can be draining. But I no longer feel that it’s ok to compartmentalise in this way. So, I am trying to do better by having those difficult conversations as and when issues come up.”

The two charities that Beautonomy actively supports are NAACP Legal Defence and Education Fund in the USA and the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, both chosen for their history and established reputation of fighting racism. They have also hired an intern who is a young Black woman from their local community in a pilot scheme that they hope will become long term.

Moving into their railway arch in the middle of a pandemic was never part of their plan, but it hasn’t held them back. Beautonomy began as a collaboration with a large corporation, which then decided not to proceed. Kiemu and her husband decided to take it forward together. For Kiemu, it meant leaving her job as an anaesthetist in the NHS.

She said: “I loved my job, but I love this now. The inspiration came from fact that most make up companies promote the idea ‘be yourself’ but then sell you all the same stuff. We recognised there is a new generation of make-up lovers who are really creative and have lots of ideas.

“It’s a lot of hard work, long hours, but with loads of reward in terms of feeling like we are working towards putting something empowering into the world and doing a great job. Our team is growing and they’re happy, and we get loads of great feedback from customers, it’s a great feeling to be building that.

“We chose the Arch because we need a multi-purpose space for multiple functions – to store our product, and the big industrial printers we use, as well as a bit of office space, so it’s perfect for that. And its five minutes from where we live, which is amazing for our quality of life. It has cut out four hours of commuting every day which is a big bonus.”

And one side effect of the post lockdown world – is that even people working from home want to look good. Kiemu said: “Even in these desperate times, people want to wear make-up because it makes them feel better. With Zoom culture and the mask culture, eye make-up is even more important than other products, and we specialise in eye shadows, so we ve