Sisters-in-law Ashley Billings and Zoe Baker both knew they could be strong business partners. After talking all summer last year, Baker took their discussions to another level in an email.
“The email was the incorporation of our company and the application for our business license,” Billings recalled. “It was the moment when I thought, ‘We’re actually going to do this. We’re going to make this happen.’ And it was exciting because, coming off the social justice movement, we had been conscientious about buying Black and supporting small businesses. And now we were going to jump into the fray.”
Six months later, in May, she and Baker launched A+Z Collections, an online apparel boutique that provides affordable luxury vacation wear that can be worn on the beach or at dinner.
“We love fashion and we love to travel,” Baker said, “so it’s two passions coming together as a business. Also, the social justice movement inspired a buy Black movement and it inspired independence and doing for self. So, it all came together for us.”
Their journey to business ownership reflects a surge in Black entrepreneurship after the first month of the pandemic. Businesses were initially crushed by the shelter-in-place orders. But out of necessity and inspired by the Black Lives Matter-led social justice movement after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, more Black workers became business owners compared to workers of other races, according to Robert Fairlie, a researcher and professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Fairlie’s data, based on an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, shows there was a 38 percent increase in new Black business owners across the country from February 2020 to August 2021. Latino business owners increased by 15 percent in the same period, while white entrepreneurs fell by 3 percent and Asian entrepreneurs by 2 percent, according to Fairlie.
This follows his report last year that showed Black business ownership had fallen 41 percent in the first month of the pandemic. That initial report earned Fairlie the Bradford-Osborne Research Award for research in support of entrepreneurs of color.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Curtis Bunn