The Cornrow - weaving content and commerce
Tell us about yourself and your startup
Hi I am Kemi Lawson, co-founder of The Cornrow. My background is in investment banking, having worked for Goldman Sachs and EY Corporate finance. I am also a wife and mother of two. Eighteen months ago I undertook a major career change and started The Cornrow, alongside my sister Lara, whose background is in digital marketing for global retail brands. The huge pivot was because I wanted to work in a business more aligned to my passions and to create something meaningful I could pass onto my daughters.
Today, The Cornrow is an online site www.thecornrow.com selling a curated edit of the best of affordable home and lifestyle products, from cushions to chocolate, which all showcase modern Black brands, culture and aesthetics. We have been thrilled by our impact since launch, having been featured in publications such as Evening Standard, Metro and Elle Decoration as one of “four retailers changing shopping for good”.
Tomorrow, The Cornrow will be a global ecommerce platform spearheading a proven business model where “content meets commerce” which in our case means we will create and share Black cultural content which is shoppable, informative and entertaining. We will become the first place you go when looking for lifestyle products which celebrate Black stories.
What lead you to where you are today?
Shopping the UK high street for Christmas angels that looked like my two daughters. Angels with dark brown skin and afro hair.
It proved impossible and I realized that the lack of representation that had affected me all my life was now going to affect my young daughters and I decided to do something about it. I also knew that this problem did not just occur at Christmas and it did not just affect little black girls and that a platform was what was missing. Specifically, a beautiful, created platform where you could buy products that represented the modern Black British family.
After launching we quickly realized that retail was only half the solution. What we also were passionate about were the plethora of (often underrepresented) stories behind each one of the products we curated:
From the stories of the goddess Oshun and Mami Wata which formed the basis of our popular Black Mermaid cushions, to the injustice of the global cocoa industry which lay behind our hunt for Black owned chocolate brands. We realized that the interlinking of commerce and content is a powerful way to grow the business and share these stories and hence we are looking for funding in order to create our dream platform.
What has been the biggest highlight in your founder's journey so far?
So many highlights (alongside the invariable le mistakes). To list a few: spending much more time with my younger sister and realizing what an accomplished entrepreneur she is, getting our first online sale and hearing that Shopify ker-ching; our magazine features; lovely and heartwarming customer feedback; meeting so many lovely brand owners and being able to promote the products on the website and finally being able to sharing black stories on our instagram platform and newsletters.
What lessons have you learnt that you would like to pass on?
I still feel I am very much in the learning phase of the journey but here are two lessons- one practical, one mindset - (1) take control of your finances straight away, we use Xero accounting software and it really helps us track everything. We also found an accounting firm to help with returns etc from the get go. (2) Be confident, in your business and in yourself, approach investors with the mentality that they are lucky to invest in you, not just the other way round. They are investing in you as a person as much as the business, so your passion and knowledge really counts. Think of the entrepreneur Sharmadean Reid who pivoted from a hair and beauty booking site to a social platform, and her investors stood by her because they believed in her!
If you could invite anyone to join the Black Valley community, who and why?
Living or dead?! If anyone from history we would love to invite Madame C.J Walker or Mama Tinubu, two legendary black female business women from history who definitely did not lack in confidence!
If living then Sharmadean Reid who is always full of advice for fellow founders.
We are really enjoying the Black Valley programme so far. It has been lovely to meet the rest of the cohort and are enjoying all the learning sessions.
We are really thrilled to have been allocated Chantelle Bell as our mentor. From the start she was invested in the story behind The Cornrow and she has already given us so much great advice and encouragement.