Stylist’s Woman of the Week is Janet Oganah, the founder of Janet’s List, a marketplace for businesses owned by women of colour and the co-host of the Make Money Moves podcast.
The door is open at the Janet’s List pop up shop on 103 Redchurch Street in Shoreditch. You can’t miss it: it’s the boutique with the purple door. Rain, hail or shine, and to be honest, it’s been mostly rain thus far, the door is open and founder Janet Oganah will be sitting behind the till, ready to have a conversation about the array of brands she has for sale, of which are run and owned by women of colour.
“I think of it more as a lowkey personal shopping experience,” Oganah says. “I don’t think I’ve talked as much as I’ve talked since the store opened, and I was a barrister for seven years! But people want to hear the stories, they want to learn about the brands, they want to know about the founder. That interaction and that conversation has been wonderful. This is what we’re trying to achieve.”
The pop up shop is the culmination of a busy year for Oganah. The former family law barrister founded Janet’s List, an online marketplace for brands owned by women of colour, in Novevember 2017 after quitting the bar.
The idea, Oganah explains, was actually a series of small brainwaves pieced together into a “jigsaw” of inspiration. Oganah wanted to provide a space to amplify the work of women as colour as well as stock products that retail directly to them. Flora & Curl, for example, is a line of haircare specifically for curly, kinky and afro hair. Then there’s Sheer Chemistry, whose ‘nude’ tights for brown women greatly expands the range currently on offer for women of colour. But Janet’s List also spotlights homewares brands, artwork and jewellery from female-run businesses.
“I feel like there’s a gap where people think that businesses by women of colour are only for women of colour. They’re not, they are for everyone. They are business owners like everybody else,” Oganah says. “You don’t tend to see these businesses in mainstream magazines. You don’t see them in Boots or Superdrug… So it’s about connecting consumers with businesses by women of colour.”
There is a lot of “unconscious bias”, Oganah adds, facing minority ethnic female business owners. In the US, less than 1% of black women founders get funding for their ventures from venture capitalist firms. It’s why she was so keen to open her pop up shop in a central London location right before Christmas. “It was a very difficult thing, but it was so important,” Oganah explains. “It has to be in a mainstream space, where everyone can access it and discover our products.”
If Janet’s List was a “jigsaw” moment, then launching her podcast Making Money Moves was a “lightbulb”. The inspiration came when she was scrolling through the iTunes podcast charts in the business section looking for something new to listen to. “The list was very white,” Oganah recalls. “And very male.” They were also littered with the stories of uber-successful business people, the kinds of figures making millions and millions from their ideas.
“Where are the stories for the woman who is thinking of leaving work, who wants to start a business, who wants to learn how to deal with money?” Oganah asked herself. So she decided to launch her own, and Making Money Moves was born. On the day its first episode aired in April, the podcast reached the 34th spot on the top 200 list. Since then, two series of episodes have aired. “I wanted to create a space for women to have open and honest conversations about business and about money,” Oganah adds.
Juggling the podcast and the pop up shop has been a bit of a Herculean feat for Oganah. As she puts it: “2018 has been a really hard but rewarding year.” The 35-year-old will be focussing on growth in 2019, building on the foundation she’s already fortified this year. But after the pop up closes on December 16 and the new year she’ll be taking a well-earned break. “I’ll be putting my laptop in a box, and I’m going to put my mobile phone in another box, and I’m going read and chill and eat lots of food and just relax,” she says.
But before then, she wants to welcome as many curious shoppers across the Janet’s list threshold as possible. She’ll be blasting Whitney Houston and Tina Turner on her record player. She’ll be telling people about the exciting array of brands she has for sale. And she’ll be hoping to sell some Christmas presents so that she can pass on a Christmas present of her own to her female brand owners.
“I’m hoping that just before Christmas I’ll be sitting, typing away on my laptop, sending money into women’s accounts,” Oganah says. “I want to tell them: ‘You’ve had this number of sales in our pop up shop, and I’m putting it straight into your account.’ What could be a better Christmas present than that?”
The Woman of the Week series is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, dedicated to raising the profiles of women who are making a difference to society and to celebrate their success. See more Visible Women stories here.