This Black History Month we are celebrating by recognizing and getting to know our capital city’s Black small business owners, entrepreneurs and creatives, featured in the Black-Owned Market Edmonton (BOM YEG).
BOM YEG was established to create physical spaces and virtual platforms for small, Black-owned businesses with the goal of providing valuable resources to reduce the inequality gap.
It is the first market of its kind in the Edmonton area, making incredible strides to uplift the Black community and small Black-owned businesses that lack the benefits of their counterparts, such as generational wealth and access to venture capital funding. These inequalities are due in large part to systemic racism and the legacy of racial oppression. By providing marginalized business owners with a platform to market their work and services, BOM YEG helps improve the financial health of Black-owned businesses by relieving economic disparity and increasing visibility, all while diversifying the Edmonton market.
We were grateful for the opportunity to virtually sit down with two small business owners; Ola and Revee to learn about their relationship with BOM YEG, their experiences and their goals as small business owners and how they are navigating the current reality of the pandemic.
What is your name and the name of your business?
“My name is Revée Agyepong and my business is called Rêve Naturals.”
“My name is Ola Bolarinwa. My business’ name is Art with Ola.”
What products or services do you provide?
Revee: “We are a natural product brand that strives to help individuals reduce the toxins in their lives and achieve their dream skin, hair and home the natural way. Some products we offer are a fluffy moisturizing whipped body butter, a creamy hydrating whipped hair butter, a warm and cozy room mist and a smooth and minty lip butter!”
Ola: “My business specializes in creating hyperrealism drawings. They come in portrait or three-dimensional forms of different sizes.”
Where did the inspiration for your business come from?
Revee: “After a lifetime of medications and having to undergo chemotherapy and total body radiation, I wanted to find ways to live a more natural lifestyle. My life experiences have forced me to reevaluate the products I use and have pushed me to transition implementing healthier options in my everyday life. I decided to create a variety of products full of natural ingredients to help me switch out my store-bought chemical filled items.”
Ola: “As a teenager, I spent a decent amount of time sketching. It was mostly done to pass the time. Although personal reasons prohibited me from drawing for a while, I never lost sight of getting back into it. In recent years, I have dedicated several hours a week to my drawings and have reaped the benefits. I would love to own an art studio for local and international artists to work together and also collaborate with performing artists.”
What makes your business unique?
Revee: “Something that makes Rêve Naturals unique is the story and passion that drives this business. I am constantly remembering where I came from and why I started this business to keep me motivated when things get tough. In addition to the story, our products are unique because they are natural, handmade in small batches, organic, cruelty-free and of course packed with love!”
Ola: “My business model is unique for a number of reasons. Customer service is very important to me. Inquiries are answered in short spans, total transparency, affordable prices and top-notch quality artworks. I also offer local and international shipping.”
How did you get started with BOM YEG?
Revee: “I got involved with the BOM in November 2020. It was an amazing experience to be a part of a marketplace that was for people who looked like me. It gave me a place to feel accepted as well as a platform to be recognized on. I am so thankful for all of the other amazing Black-owned brands that I’ve been able to connect with along the way.”
Ola: “A fellow artist recommended BOM YEG to me last year. He suggested I showcase my artworks at their fall event. BOM YEG has been a great advocate for Black-owned businesses. As a new and upcoming art business, it was a no-brainer for me.”
What has your experience been like so far working with BOM?
Revee: “So far it has been great! The BOM team makes me feel like family. Since the first time I was involved with them, they have recommended me for various projects and they constantly promote me on their social media. I am very appreciative of their partnership.”
Ola: “My experience with BOM YEG has been phenomenal. They have been able to respond to my inquiries, helped with publicity, and are transparent with financial dealings”
Tell us about the community support your business has received since participating in BOM?
Revee: “Since becoming a part of their network, I have seen my followers increase as their page serves as a hub for Black businesses to connect as well as a place for those seeking to support Black businesses.”
Ola: “Ever since my collaboration with BOM YEG, I have been involved in some Q&As with local publicists via Instagram live. And I’m hoping to receive more in the current year along with more virtual viewings this year with their help.”
How has your business been impacted by COVID-19?
Revee: “COVID-19 has actually been great for my business, I launched in September 2020, so in the midst of the pandemic. The pandemic actually provided me with the opportunity to slow my life down and set aside time to put my ideas on paper and start this business. There have definitely been some challenges in ensuring my production and delivery methods are COVID-19 friendly; however, I am looking forward to being involved in in-person markets when it’s safe to do so.”
Ola: “Like most businesses, mine has been impacted as well. Art exhibitions have been drastically limited to virtual shows due of the lockdown. With art, in-person rapports are influential in getting potential clients and having a fan base.”
How do you manage your mental health and wellness as a small business owner?
Revee: “As a small business owner it is so important to set time aside to take care of yourself since, for me, I have found business can take over your whole life. I currently work full time as a registered nurse and run Rêve Naturals on top of that. To manage my mental health, I have to set time aside for self-care and tune out everything business related to focus on me.”
Ola: “I am a big sports and fitness fan. Although I do not have access to a gym at this time, I have utilized home workouts to the best of my abilities. Fortunately, my home is also where I create all my art pieces. I have been able to manage it all to keep me sane.”
What does your business do to support the community? Or how would you like to eventually be able to support the community?
Revee: “To support the community, we currently donate body butter and lip butter to patients undergoing stem cell transplant. I was showered with lots of love and kindness during my stem cell transplant, so I strive to pay it forward and support those that have come after me. We collaborate with a sickle cell organization called Not Just You in Edmonton and in the future we will be contributing products to their patient hospital bags. We also hope to periodically donate a portion of our sales to support the foundations initiatives.”
Who or what has been your greatest business or creative inspiration? And why?
Ola: “My greatest inspiration is a Hyperrealism artist called Kelvin Okafor. I have been a great fan of him for many years. I believe he is also the best artist out there. Having spoken to many other artists around the world, the most important advice I received is to always take my time with every piece. Not enough time and patience can be detrimental to any creative art piece. Details Matter!!”
What advice do you have for aspiring Black entrepreneurs and creatives in Alberta?
Revee: “I would say to stay consistent! We often think that starting is the hardest part but in reality, continuing is the hardest part, well at least it has been for me. There’s always a layer of excitement when it comes to launching a business but when things get tough and the momentum has decreased it’s so important to stay consistent and keep pushing. Your reward is around the corner!
Ola: “Black entrepreneurs and creatives should be open to uplifting other businesses alike and grow together. The hope is to have allies for the progression of black owned businesses everywhere.”
What made you start or grow your business in Edmonton? Do you envision it expanding across Alberta and beyond?
Revee: “I was born and raised in Edmonton so naturally this would be the perfect place to start a business since I already have so many connections here. I think that Edmonton is a great starting point for me; however, I definitely would like to expand into various Canadian cities in the future.”
Ola: “I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. I have been in Edmonton for over 11 years now. It has now become my home away from home. Building an art background in a familiar setting and expanding overseas would only be beneficial for me. It is always important to have roots and know where they are. I envision having my artworks displayed in theatres, galleries, museums and sidewalks all over the world. Having a unique style of art where people can distinguish my work from others would be a dream come true.”
It was a pleasure getting to know both Ola and Revee this month and we can’t wait to see where their businesses and art takes them. To learn about other BOM YEG vendors, visit www.bomyeg.ca/vendors and stay tuned for more opportunities to support local Black-owned businesses by visiting bomyeg.ca or shop.bomyeg.ca and following @BOMYEG on social media.