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'Buy Black' Gift Box Initiatives Tackle Pandemic, Economic Equity

GiftBox
Courtesy of Bronze Box
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Bronze Box is a gift box initiative from one of the co-founders of MKE Black, a nonprofit that advocates for Black owned businesses in the greater Milwaukee area. Their boxes include lots of snacks and drinks like cookies, lemonade and gourmet popcorn, but also candles, soaps and other products.

Gift box sales are up as people find ways to spread joy and generosity from home during the pandemic. More buyers are seeking out gift boxes with products from Black-owned businesses, in part because of racial justice protests and an emphasis on economic equity.

There are Black-owned gift box delivery or subscription boxes all over the country, some cater to a general audience and some are for women or men or kids. Here are a few:

I. Bronze Box

Bronze Box is a gift box initiative from one of the co-founders of MKE Black, a nonprofit that advocates for Black owned businesses in the greater Milwaukee area.

The boxes include lots of snacks and drinks like cookies, lemonade and gourmet popcorn, but also candles, soaps and other products.

PaulAndMazieWilliams
Paul and Mazie Wellington
Paul and Mazie Wellington started Bronze Box as a way to uplift the voices of Black-owned businesses in Milwaukee.

The original idea of Bronze Box was to amplify Black voices and support Black-owned businesses in Milwaukee, but it has expanded to include products from creators in the Midwest and other parts of the country. It ships nationwide.

Paul and Mazie Wellington run Bronze Box and say supporting Black-owned, small businesses is more crucial now than ever, as Black businesses struggle disproportionately with the economic impact of COVID-19.

According to a 2020 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, “The number of African-American business owners plummeted from 1.1 million in February 2020 to 640,000 in April,” — equating to about 41% of Black-owned businesses in the U.S. going under in the wake of COVID-19.

Mazie says, “With coronavirus, small businesses are struggling to stay open, and anything that we can do to kind of continue to help with the visibility and just getting products into people's hands. And something great about Bronze Box is that it comes right to your door. It's very safe for people right now.”

II. Black-owned Box from Street Smart Collaborative

Black-owned Box includes products like body butters, tote bags and beard oils from Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

BlackOwnedBox
Courtesy of Black Owned Box
A product of Street Smart Collaborative of D.C., a non-profit whose mission is to help end racial injustice as an economic threat, the proceeds from Black-owned Box go to local community building initiatives.

It's an initiative from Street Smart Collaborative of D.C., a nonprofit whose mission is to help end racial injustice as an economic threat. All proceeds to go local community building initiatives.

Current offerings include a box geared towards Mother’s Day, one geared towards men and a build-your-own box.

CEO Kyndra Jones and COO Khloe Washington say, "It's giving generational wealth, honey!"

IMG_0714.jpg
CEO Kyndra Jones (left) and COO Khloe Washington (right) from Black-owned Box from Street Smart Collaborative

III. Bifties

Bifties motto is “Giving B(l)ack just got a whole lot easier!” It’s an online marketplace featuring both curated and build-your-own gift boxes with products from candles to jewelry, journals to games and body products from Black-owned businesses.

Constance Panton runs the site. She went into business in January 2020 after spending four years running a gift exchange of Black-made products with friends and family. She says the idea of a gift exchange came from day after day of turning on the TV and seeing depressing news on race in this country. “And I was just like, ‘How can we? How can I collectively hug the Black community? Like, how could I give us a hug, because we're going through so much,'" Panton says.

Panton says some participants in the gift exchange said it was difficult to find Black-owned businesses. She started doing research of her own, connecting with Black makers on social media and filling that gap in people’s outreach.

Bifties
Courtesy of Constance Panton
Constance Panton is the CEO of Bifties, a gift box company that features Black-owned businesses.

Panton also discovered that some of her non-Black friends thought “buying Black” didn’t include them. “They thought it was just a call to action for Black people or something for Black people to do. And I was like, ‘No, anybody can buy Black, anybody can support a Black-owned business, you don't have to be Black to do that,’” she says.

IV. Brown Book Box: From two moms of color in Texas who envision a future where all kids have access to books with characters who look like them.

V. Unexpected Gifts : The Atlanta-based company run by a southeast Asian entrepreneur features mostly products from women-owned or BIPOC small businesses. Some boxes are entirely made up of products from Black-owned businesses.

VI. The Better Me Box: This subscription box combines self-care and books.

VII. Brown Sugar Box: These boxes are geared towards Black women, teens or kids. From Izzy & Liv, the boxes feature everything from make-up to scarves to manicure sets.

VIII. Queendom Beauty Box: These self-care boxes are created for Black women on the go, featuring small, Black-owned beauty brands.

So how much good can these gift boxes do? Advocates say that the boxes amplify small-business owners, who in turn are able to pay rent and other bills, grow their businesses and hire people in their communities. Shoppers can learn about new products and can integrate products from Black-owned businesses into their lives.

Buying products with racial equity in mind can make some people feel absolved from doing harder anti-racism work, like attending protests or advocating in their workplaces, says Aziza Jones, an incoming business professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But Jones says other people respond differently. "Other people will see what they've done, this purchase of a product from a Black-owned business and take that as a signal to themselves, as a symbolic signal, of how important this cause is to them," she says.

Jones adds it can actually then make them more likely to go out and advocate for racial justice.

Ronald Busby, Jr. of the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce is all for gift boxes and buying Black, but he says there are also larger issues at play — such as Black businesses not having equitable access to loans and Black people not being at the table during economic recovery conversations.

"No one person or no cohort of people sort of just coming out and saying, ‘Hey, I'm going to buy Black’ is inherently gonna solve the problem," Busby says.

He notes not every Black business' product fits into a gift box. Busby says while consumer activism is part of the solution, the federal government is the largest buyer of goods and services in the country. He says policies and actions leading to structural inequality in the marketplace still need to be addressed.

But when it comes to gift boxes, Busby says it's not enough to simply buy one and that's it."We want you to then actually become advocates, fans, champions of those products as well, after the fact," he says.

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