LONDON — For Aimée Felone, whose children’s bookstore in London stocks tales with ethnically diverse characters, the Black Lives Matter protests last summer were, in a word, overwhelming.
“We had attention like we’ve never had before,” Ms. Felone said. People across the country clamored for books about antiracism and sought out Black-owned businesses like her store, Round Table Books, as a way to help reverse years of economic racial inequality. In early June, the store’s sales went through the roof.
But pandemic restrictions had shuttered the store’s warehouse. After two weeks, the four-person team was struggling to fulfill online orders. A publishing company affiliated with the bookstore, which Ms. Felone also co-founded, sold out of every book it had published. New customers grew impatient.
“The sales were wonderful,” Ms. Felone said. The problem was “the additional stresses that I think a lot of people don’t realize they’re putting” on the small Black businesses they are trying to help.
the largest social movement in U.S. history and quickly spread across the globe, businesses are looking for ways to convert that chaotic surge of interest into regular, reliable sales.
In Britain, one effort was created by Swiss, a British rapper. He calls it Black Pound Day, and the idea is simple: Once a month, people should spend money with Black businesses.
according to a study conducted by Jamii, a company supporting Black businesses, and Translate Culture, a marketing agency.
pardner. Small groups still use it to save together outside the banking system.
Swiss, 38, whose real name is Pierre Neil, grew upin South London. His grandparents had come to Britain from Barbados and Jamaica. At 17, he found fame with So Solid Crew, a garage and hip-hop group with dozens of members. In 2001, their song “21 Seconds” topped the British charts.
But the group’s reputation was always entwined with gang culture and violence — a point Swiss pushed back against in “Broken Silence,” a song he co-wrote describing how the group felt that it had been mistreated by the media and government and unfairly blamed for its low socioeconomic status.
“I’ve been making socially conscious tunes from back when I was a teenager,” Swiss said, adding that he was inspired by the rappers Tupac and Nas.
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Swiss said he had mulled over the idea for Black Pound Day for years, noting how few businesses that Black people appeared to own.
A study by the British Business Bank, a state-owned bank supporting small businesses, and the consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that entrepreneurs who come from an ethnic minority background face systemic disadvantages, and that the average annual revenue for a Black entrepreneur was 10,000 pounds less than it was for white business owners in 2019.
0.02 percent of venture capital money invested in Britain from 2009 to 2019 went to Black female founders. That’s 10 women in a decade.
Those barriers contribute to large income and wealth gaps between Black and white households in Britain. The total wealth for a median household headed by a white British person (including property, investments and pension) is £313,900 ($436,000). For a Black Caribbean household, it’s £85,900 and just £34,000 for a Black African household, the national statistics agency estimates.
Ms. Ismain, the founder of Jamii, which offers a one-stop shopping site for Black businesses, said her organization and initiatives like Black Pound Day sought to remind consumers to keep Black businesses in mind even when antiracism protests weren’t front-page news.
“When it’s not trending, you don’t always think about it, you fall into old habits, and if you can’t find alternatives to things you are already buying anyway it’s just not very sustainable,” Ms. Ismain said. “That’s the thought process behind Jamii — making it super easy to find businesses.”
For Afrocenchix, a hair care brand for natural Afro hair, Black Pound Day has been transformative. Every month on Black Pound Day, the company gets two or three times its normal sales. To promote the day, it offers customers free delivery and a packet of tea and biscuits — a.k.a. cookies in the United States — with their order.
“We got trolled a bit on the first Black Pound Day by lots of people telling us we were racist and not British,” said Rachael Corson, a co-founder of Afrocenchix. So in response, she said, she and her co-founder, Jocelyn Mate, thought: “What’s more quintessentially British than tea and biscuits?”
Since the first Black Pound Day, they have doubled their number of customers, and in 2020, Afrocenchix’s sales were five times that of the previous year.
“It made a huge difference in terms of brand awareness for us,” Ms. Corson said.
And the influx of customers and revenue should help Afrocenchix’s founders with their next goal of overcoming the venture capital fund-raising odds. They are trying to raise £2 million.
For others, the advantages of Black Pound Day have dipped with time, and they speculate that consumer interest has been spread across more Black businesses. But Natalie Manima, the founder of Bespoke Binny, a housewares brand sold online, said the attention her company had gotten since people sought out Black-owned retailers during last summer’s protests had been “life changing.”
The interest “didn’t end,” Ms. Manima said. “It’s not the same barrage that it was, but I have not ever gone back to pre-protest level of sales.”
She recalled the day in early June when she woke up to hundreds of orders for her products, which include lampshades, oven mitts and blankets. It took her a few days to track the source of the surge — a list of Black-owned businesses circulating on Instagram at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.
Because Britain was under lockdown, the manufacturer of her products was closed, as was her daughter’s nursery school. So Ms. Manima was packing orders herself, late at night and early in the morning, until she sold out of everything and had to pause taking orders.
But once the manufacturers reopened and her business was running smoothly again, customers have kept coming back. She has since moved into a larger office (twice) and hired a team.
“I have gone from a one-woman show to this, and I know that it’s all down to what happened in June,” she said.
That said, the experience at Round Table Books, the children’s bookstore, is a testament to how hard it can be to permanently alter people’s spending habits, even with the help of initiatives like Black Pound Day. The store has been shut all winter in line with government restrictions. It sells books online, but it’s still hard to compete against giants like the British bookseller Waterstones and Amazon.
“When you don’t have the physical bookshops open, I find that a lot of the attention goes to the bigger brands,” Ms. Felone said. But she said that the store will reopen in early May and that she still supported Black Pound Day.
President Biden is expected to unveil a $1.5 trillion “human infrastructure” plan next week that will focus on education, child care and paid leave for workers, among other things. It would be paid for in part by new taxes on the rich, including the end of a tax break that lawmakers have tried to eliminate for years.
The White House will propose a major change to capital gains taxes, with people earning more than $1 million per year paying the top marginal tax rate on their investment gains. Mr. Biden wants to raise that rate to 39.6 percent.
The carried interest loophole might finally disappear. Profits earned from funds owned by real estate investors and managers of private equity and venture capital firms are taxed as capital gains at about 20 percent, instead of as regular income, which is taxed at more than double that rate when state levies and other taxes are taken into account.
Financial industry executives and their lobbyists have long asserted that carried interest merely represents a return on investment, not income, an argument that survived challenges as recently as 2017. (Here’s Andrew back in 2007 writing about how lawmakers were trying, unsuccessfully, to end the “longstanding, but little understood, practice.”)
In a 2015 DealBook Op-Ed, the law professor Victor Fleischer, a top proponent for raising taxes on carried interest, estimated that such a move could raise $180 billion.
In a 2011 Times Op-Ed, Warren Buffett decried the treatment of carried interest, which allowed him to report a lower tax rate than his secretary. A minimum tax on millionaires was proposed shortly thereafter and dubbed the “Buffett rule.”
JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon has been a regular critic of carried interest, even though it benefits many of the bank’s clients. In his latest letter to shareholders, he said it could be seen as “another example of institutional bias and favoritism toward special interest groups.”
Other changes to the tax code could be in the works, including to the estate tax. Private equity executives are also worried that the Biden administration may limit the tax deductibility of corporate interest payments, which would be another hit to their business model.
they may be on board with eliminating some business tax loopholes. The White House wants that tax revenue to fund the infrastructure bill it unveiled last month. But another group of Republican senators yesterday proposed a much smaller infrastructure bill — $568 billion, versus Mr. Biden’s $2.3 trillion — that would do away with any corporate tax increases.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
U.S. health officials may soon lift the pause on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. A committee of outside experts will meet today to discuss whether to resume giving the shot; they’re expected to vote in favor. But the damage may be done: The Biden administration has reportedly written off the J&J shot’s importance to U.S. vaccination efforts.
President Biden sets a new climate goal. At the first day of a climate summit that the U.S. convened, he pledged to cut America’s emissions in half by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, and offered more funding for developing countries to help them meet their targets. Swiss Re estimated that climate change could cost the global economy as much as $23 trillion in the coming decades.
Airlines see clearer skies ahead. Carriers expect travel to return almost to normal levels by the summer, with the largest airlines expected to offer as many seats this July as they did in July 2019, by one estimate. The industry plans to call back thousands of employees and hire hundreds of pilots.
Scrutiny over a fatal Tesla crash intensifies. Two senators asked regulators to create recommendations for autonomous vehicle software, following the deaths of two men in a Tesla, in which police said no one was behind the wheel. Consumer Reports said it was able to trick Tesla’s Autopilot into operating without anyone in the driver’s seat.
AT&T gains ground in the streaming race. The company added 2.7 million subscribers to HBO and HBO Max in the first quarter. Also worth noting: AT&T collects nearly three times more revenue per streaming user than Disney, and trails only Netflix by that measure.
reckoning on corporate political donations that will be a prominent feature of proxy season, with many shareholder proposals demanding greater disclosure of company spending.
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“Companies are reading the writing on the wall,” Thomas DiNapoli, New York State’s comptroller and trustee for the state’s public pension fund, told DealBook. “Political and social polarization are bad for their business, and they need to decide if political donations are worth the risk.”
“Time will tell if their increased attention to these issues is lip service or if it represents a sincere change in corporate culture,” Mr. DiNapoli said. “At a minimum, investors need disclosure of this spending.” New York’s public pension fund is the third-largest in the U.S. and since 2010 it has filed more than 155 shareholder proposals on political spending, winning more than 40 adoptions or agreements, including from Bank of America, Delta Air Lines and Pepsi. Three of five resolutions it has advanced this year have already been withdrawn, with the companies agreeing to make changes without putting them to a vote. That’s a 60 percent hit rate, and companies that wouldn’t engage before are now at least responsive, a spokesperson for the fund said.
The fund got CMS Energy, a Michigan public utility, to agree to be more transparent about political spending, DealBook is first to report; First Energy, an Ohio utility, and the multinational brewer Molson Coors also agreed to more disclosure.
“Companies are now expected to have core values — almost personalities,” said Bruce Freed, the president of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit that partners with shareholders on proposals. Recent agreements, like the ones brokered by Mr. DiNapoli, are a “strong indication” that corporations are feeling “real pressure,” he said. Nine of 30 companies (including those noted above) have agreed this year to provide more disclosure on political donations. Last year, eight of 40 companies facing similar proposals agreed to act instead of putting the question to shareholders in a vote. The Capitol riot “raised the stakes,” Mr. Freed said, and the pressure on companies has not relented since.
read this comprehensive account by The Times’s Tariq Panja and Rory Smith.
Chicago, Flat Rock, Mich., and Kansas City, Mo., through the first two weeks of May. The Kansas City factory makes the F-150 pickup, Ford’s most profitable model.
G.M. has kept its factory in Kansas City, Kan. — which makes the Chevy Malibu sedan — closed since February, and has cut production at other plants.
Daimler has temporarily halted production at two plants in Germany that produce lower-cost C-class vehicles.
Jaguar Land Rover, Britain’s biggest carmaker, will temporarily shut two of its factories there starting next week.
Renault scrapped production forecasts, and said it was prioritizing the manufacturing of its most profitable models.
The shortage is unlikely to end anytime soon, according to Intel’s C.E.O., Pat Gelsinger: “This will take a while until people can put more capacity in the ground,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
In the papers
Some of the academic research that caught our eye this week, summarized in one sentence:
Exclusive: Master P to invest in racial equity
Percy Miller, better known to hip-hop fans as Master P, plans to invest $10 million in companies led by or serving people who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, DealBook is first to report. He sees ownership and equity as keys to bridging racial wealth gaps, and wants other investors to follow his lead.
“This is all about economic empowerment,” Mr. Miller told DealBook. Early in his career, Mr. Miller opened a record store from which he launched No Limit Records, once one of the largest independent labels. More recent projects have been aimed at social entrepreneurship, like an “Uncle P” line of food products to replace Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s (both have since been renamed) that would dedicate a portion of profits to supporting Black communities.
Mr. Miller wants to invest in an array of industries, with education, including financial literacy, a priority. “I always tell people, product outweighs talent — at the same time, education and wisdom are so important,” he said. “That’s the longevity of my success.”
UBS will help connect him to potential prospects. “Our DNA is around entrepreneurship, and our DNA is around facilitating capitalism, and that’s exactly what we’re talking about here,” said Mark Wilkins, a private wealth manager at the bank. The two are treating the initiative as an investment, on which they’re planning to make a return.
THE SPEED READ
Blackstone reported $1.75 billion in profit in its latest quarter, setting a record and swinging from a $1 billion loss a year ago. (WSJ)
L Brands may seek as much as $5 billion in a sale of Victoria’s Secret, far more than the failed deal with Sycamore Partners last year. (Bloomberg)
Politics and policy
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously limited the F.T.C.’s ability to seek financial relief for consumers wronged by deceptive business practices. (CNBC)
Union officials reportedly told Senate Democrats to back legislation strengthening protections for organizing efforts — or risk losing their political support. (Politico)
Norway has led the world in going cashless. Now its central bank is testing out a digital currency. (Insider)
Is Europe’s approach to tech regulation visionary, or misguided? (NYT On Tech)
Best of the rest
Inside Elon Musk’s $150 million philanthropy blitz. (Recode)
The Hamptons property market is on fire: A summer rental went for $2 million, while a 42-acre estate sold for over $100 million. (CNBC)
Do you need to wear a mask outside? (NYT)
We’d like your feedback! Please email thoughts and suggestions to email@example.com.
When I was last in China, in 2019, I met an entrepreneur named Gao Jifan, who told me a story that I’ve been reflecting on during President Biden’s climate summit this week.
Back in the 1990s, Gao received a letter from an old friend who was living in the United States. The letter included a photo clipped from a newspaper, showing President Bill Clinton as he announced a plan to outfit one million homes with solar power.
“It was like a light bulb,” Gao recalled, as we were sitting in his office in Changzhou, about 100 miles northwest of Shanghai. Clinton’s initiative caused Gao — a chemist by training — to think that he should start a company to meet the coming demand for solar equipment. That company, Trina Solar, has since made Gao a billionaire.
For the inspiration, Gao is grateful to the U.S. But he is also befuddled by the American approach to climate change.
the sharp policy changes from one to the next. Those changes, he added, had hurt the solar industry and other clean-energy efforts: If the U.S. took a more consistent approach, the global struggle to slow climate change would be easier.
A ‘lost four years’
Many Americans have come to believe a different story — namely, that U.S. climate policy hardly matters compared with the actions of China, India and other countries that account for a growing share of emissions. As some congressional Republicans have been asking this week, why should the U.S. act to slow climate change unless other countries do so first?
But that view is not consistent with history, either the recent history of climate diplomacy or the broader history of American influence.
“There aren’t many other areas of policy where we say, ‘Why don’t we let everyone else lead, and we’ll follow?’” as Nathaniel Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund says. The U.S., for all its problems, remains the world’s most powerful country. When it wants to influence the policies of other countries, it can often do so, especially when those countries see it as being in their own interests to change.
more reliant on coal than Biden administration officials wish. But the U.S. can often have an effect. Relative to many other issues, in fact, climate diplomacy is sometimes easier: President Xi Jinping has largely rejected U.S. entreaties on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea, but he has been willing to deal on climate change.
President Barack Obama and Xi came to multiple agreements that involved both countries moving to reduce emissions. They started small, with the relatively narrow topic of refrigerants, and expanded from there. As my colleague Brad Plumer says, “There’s a reasonable argument the Obama administration’s and China’s joint agreement on climate change in 2014 helped set the table for the Paris climate agreement.”
Crucial to these efforts was a U.S. willingness to act at home: It’s much easier to agree to take economic risks when your main global competitor is doing the same. And the U.S. still leads the world in per-person emissions, about 75 percent above China, according to recent numbers.
The Trump administration slowed global efforts on climate change by dismissing it as a threat and allowing more pollution at home. A Chinese official last week mocked the U.S. for “the lost four years.” The Biden administration is now trying to reverse course, with an emissions-reduction goal that’s larger than many advocates expected.
The cynical view — that the U.S. can only follow, not lead, on climate policy — has it backward. As Gao told me, one of the biggest obstacles to progress on climate change has been the lack of consistent American leadership.
More on the climate:
THE LATEST NEWS
soccer superleague fall apart?
Modern Love: Her mind could rationalize polyamory, but her heart rebelled.
Lives Lived: Gregory Edward Jacobs, known as Shock G, was the frontman of Digital Underground, a hip-hop group that had a string of hits in the early 1990s and introduced its audience to Tupac Shakur. Shock G died at 57.
ARTS AND IDEAS
with a red carpet and an in-person ceremony. Here’s what to watch for:
More diversity. This year’s Oscar nominations are the most diverse ever, with 70 women nominated across 23 categories, and nearly half of the acting nominations going to people of color.
A historic Best Director? Chloé Zhao — the front-runner, who directed “Nomadland” — would be the first woman of color to win, as well as the second woman ever. (The first was Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker” in 2010.)
A posthumous honor? ChadwickBoseman, who died last year, is up for Best Actor for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” In a prediction roundup, The Times’s Kyle Buchanan writes: “It’s hard to imagine voters won’t seize their only opportunity to give one to Boseman for a flashy role that showcased the late actor’s immense range.”
A close race for Best Actress. Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) and Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) are top contenders.
Watch some of the nominated films using this streaming guide. And test your knowledge of Oscars trivia or fill out a 2021 ballot.
With so many people awash in content streaming into their homes in the pandemic, brands are struggling to figure out a way to connect.
That has been particularly true in the marketing of expensive luxury goods — the type of items people like to be seen wearing and using. For the last year, the parties and the cultural and charitable events, where the wealthy can see and be seen, have not been happening.
“Why do I put on a $200,000 timepiece if I have a clock on my microwave and haven’t left my house in four months?” said Chris Olshan, global chief executive of the Luxury Marketing Council, an organization that promotes luxury brands. “What’s the value of a $10,000 Brioni suit when I’m not going out and no one is seeing it?”
He said brands were being forced to explain why a new product was worth their interest and their money. “It’s, ‘Hey, you can dive in this watch, and it has this button that if you press it we’ll come rescue you off of an island,’” he said. “It has to be more than another Swiss watch. It has to have something more to justify the value.”
dates to the 1870s, has been the leading maker of golf shoes since 1945, with a classic image akin to Audemars Piguet. But that image has been challenged with social media influencers promoting more athletic-looking golf shoes.
Max Homa, a younger professional who rose to social media prominence in the pandemic with his gently sarcastic Twitter takes on people’s golf swings.
“My brand is to take the seriousness out of golf but also play at a high level,” said Mr. Homa, 30, who won his second PGA Tour event in February at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles. “I want people to understand there are a lot of ways to go about it.”
The shoemaker announced on Thursday that it was also teaming with Todd Snyder, a men’s wear designer who favors camouflage and doesn’t golf but has a large social media following and can bring in different types of consumers.
“We’re contrasting Adam Scott, who’s out of central casting, and layering on someone like Max Homa,” said Ken LaRose, senior vice president of brand and consumer experience at FootJoy. “But we’re also looking for style influencers outside of the world of golf.”
cost more than $1,000, is looking at an affluent demographic of young mothers who live in cities and will be doing a lot of walking with their stroller.
“People want to see real people using our product,” said Schafer Stewart, head of marketing in the United States for Bugaboo. “We’re looking for those people who marry up with our aesthetic. We’re never paying for it.”
(Influencers, like Bruna Tenório, a Brazilian model who just had her first baby, do get free products.)
“We’ve been talking a lot about ways to market without spending one red cent,” Mr. Olshan said. “A lot of brands are panicked about doing anything. How do you engage inexpensively?”
Brands have also been helping one another, with Le Creuset, the French cookware company, promoting General Electric’s high-end appliance brand, Café, and vice versa.
“Look, if you’re buying pots and pans from me, you’re buying the oven from someone else,” Mr. Olshan said. “We’re seeing a lot of partnerships of noncompeting brands.”
In tough times, even luxury brands need to rethink their age-old strategies.
LONDON — He is the hyperbolic news anchor with an agenda, the disgruntled Meghan Markle skeptic vying for Piers Morgan’s job, the British aristocrat insisting he is simply middle class — and those are just a few of the characters in Munya Chawawa’s arsenal.
But during a Zoom interview last month, Mr. Chawawa, 28, speaking from his London apartment in a neon hoodie, was exploring his own persona.
“I make content because I need to express how I’m feeling about the world,” he said of his comedy. “You have to have some form of catharsis when the world throws stuff at you, otherwise you’ll just go crazy.”
Mr. Chawawa’s dry sketches about racism, classism and everyday life in Britain had already found an audience before the pandemic. But in lockdown, his potent combination of singing, comedy acting and rapping has helped establish him as a sardonic voice of progressive young people in an increasingly diverse nation who are unimpressed by elitism and skeptical of the establishment.
appears in promotions for Netflix U.K.
In such a year, “humor has been a much-needed tonic,” Mr. Chawawa said. And the string of successes has fueled an ambitious goal: “I’m working toward being one of the country’s most respected satirists.”
Satire, to Mr. Chawawa — whose comedy heroes are John Oliver, Andy Zaltzman and Sacha Baron Cohen, among others — feels “like a superpower.” That’s not only because of the challenge of execution but also because of satire’s ability to extract humor from situations that are not supposed to be funny at all, he said.
“Anything you laugh at can’t haunt or hurt you as much as it used to do,” he said.
Given the state of the world today, there is plenty of material for him to work with.
When critics called food packages for poor children too meager, Mr. Chawawa was ready with a sketch about a wealthy lawmaker scrambling to respond: “We can’t feed them but we could put them in a film — ‘The Hungrier Games.’” He has parodied British journalists brainstorming headlines about the Duchess of Sussex using the game Cards Against Humanity (“Meghan Kidnapped Peppa Pig,”) and a security guard letting rioters into the U.S. Capitol upon hearing they are white: “You’re already wearing your pass! It’s called white privilege.”
debate over U.K. drill — a subgenre of hip-hop music that British authorities have tried to censor, blaming it for a rise in knife crimes in London.
For many young Black men and women, drill was an important form of self-expression, Mr. Chawawa said, giving voice to the frustrations and realities of life in a period of austerity. Mr. Chawawa said he was disturbed by the appropriation of the genre, with “posh white kids singing the lyrics” as it filtered into private schools.
Born in Derby, England, Mr. Chawawa spent his childhood in Zimbabwe, his father’s birthplace, before his family moved to a small village near Norwich, England. His first exposure to comedy was through his grandfather, whose jokes over the dinner table made him the center of attention.
In England, where his was one of the few families of color in the area, Mr. Chawawa stifled his natural extroversion, which had been encouraged in Zimbabwe. “Slowly, I stopped putting my hand up,” he said.
In college, he studied psychology but found himself spending all his time in the student radio hub. He also worked as a waiter at a high-end restaurant in Norwich, where customers sometimes complimented his English. There, he picked up useful insights into the ways of the ultrawealthy. It struck him when he moved to London that this world could be a mine of comedy gold.
is real,” he said, grinning. He said he would welcome the opportunity for the character to “get some real cultural insights.”
For now, Mr. Chawawa is enjoying the chance to lean into that natural extroversion. “My dad always used to say to me, ‘When you were in Zimbabwe you were so bold.’” Being a satirist now, he added, is “a resurgence of the guy I used to be.”