Late last week, it was announced that Gymshark is now worth a staggering $1.4billion. The founder of this global fitness and apparel brand is 28-year-old Ben Francis, who just signed a mega-deal with the investor, General Atlantic. An American growth equity firm providing capital and strategic support for global growth companies, helping Gymshark to reach across the US and Asia. And now, the owner of a private start-up business based in Birmingham has a global billion-dollar brand under his belt since journeying into entrepreneurship 8 years ago. It spurred a ricochet.
As the news hit, Mark Agyakwa – Founder of rising sportswear brand Y-Fit Wear – expressed his doubts on Twitter as to whether his brand could ever reach “unicorn status” as a black-owned business in the UK. And that possibly only in America or Africa were his only options to penultimate success.
It sparked widespread debate on Twitter as to whether the glass ceiling over on this side of the Atlantic is really the final destination for black British businesses?
The complicated intertwining’s of race and an embedded class system is inevitably still a standing construct within the aftermath of the British Empire – there can’t be one without the other. While the race remains as prevalent in African or American society like never before, particularly in the wake of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Many also believe that the glass ceiling is only as existent as our imagination and dreams will allow.
Gymshark burst onto the scene in a time of heavy-hitters like Nike, Reebok and Puma dominating the sportswear market with celebrity collaborations. But, what they did to stand out in the market next was irrespective of race limitations.
Many would say the dawn of influencer marketing (IM) began with Gymshark, as they ventured into another and untraditional realm of a celebrity at the time. They partnered with famous YouTube names such as Nikki Blackketter and Lex Griffin, which consequently saw their products reach millions of fitness fans, and catapulted them to million-dollar brand status. Their innovative designs in creating illusion and curve enhancing sportswear was an unmet gap in the market for body positivity across the board – people just wanted to feel good when working out. Now, their brand community is global and diverse.
But even with the creative and innovative designs that brands have to offer, many argue that the implications of race and class still merge within the world of investment and capital for black businesses. According to a 2016 survey commissioned by UK Finance, and executed by BDRC Continental, found that 30% of black companies were making losses in the investment sector, instead of significant gains.
Despite the obstacles, the mind-set on the way to the top is fundamental. Yes, the challenges and hurdles are there, as they have always been but what next? Just accepting them won’t ever see black businesses truly evolve within the UK alongside or even above their white-owned counterparts. It’s shifting a mentality of seemingly surface negativity, but rather practicality and strategy of what we can achieve and how we can get there to stand up to the rest.
As Gymshark continues to grow and another brand puts another brilliant entrepreneur on the map, the glass ceiling is apparently still up there for many black-owned businesses. The difference is that many black people believe that it is up to us to shatter it regardless.
This article was written by BYP blogger, Leah Mahon. She is a budding writer, Journalism graduate and blogger (@leah.mahon)