Black woman starts bag company to give kids backpacks that look like them

Welcome to Black Owned, a series that celebrates the brilliant Black entrepreneurs doing bits in the UK.

Despite the challenges, the community continues to create important and excellent work – and we’re here to make sure that you know about it.

This week, we’ve got Cilrette, the founder of Nubian Reines – a representative accessories company that specialises in putting Black princesses on backpacks and hoodies.

People who grew up in the days before Princess and the Frog are only too familiar with the ache of having no cartoons to look up to. Black and mixed girls didn’t get kissed by princes or have fairy godmothers; they didn’t exist at all.

Cilrette has decided to take matters into her own hands to ensure that her son and his contemporaries don’t grow up with the same problem.

When and why did you start Nubian Reines?

The idea of Nubian Reines came to me in 2018, while I was watching my son’s drama performance.

The children had to dress up as one of their favourite characters and I noticed that a young girl who was dressed as Goldielocks had no command of the stage.

I wondered whether the costume was the reason for her lack of confidence and if it was her inability to relate to the synthetic, straight, blonde wig that was stopping her from being as bold as usual.

That led me to think about creating a character with the same hair texture, colour, and skin tone as her. Suddenly, Nubian Reines was born!

What does the name mean?

The word ‘reines’ means queens – so Nubian Reines means Nubian Queens.

Is it your full-time job?

Thanks to a recent spike in sales, Nubian Reines now has my full attention.

Why is it so important to have Black princesses and cartoon characters?

One word: representation. 

All children deserve to feel love, have their features celebrated and their uniqueness positively reflected in fashion and cartoons. Black and mixed girls haven’t been showcased in media and fashion for some time now, so it’s especially important for them.

Representation dictates how others see you but more importantly, how you see yourself.

More Black characters allow Black children to feel seen and included.

What kind of feedback have you got from parents and children?

I often get told that as soon as the child sees one of the queens in the logo, they say: ‘She looks just like me!’. That always warms my heart and keeps me motivated.

Parents have also spoken highly of our quality. One of my aims when staring Nubian Reines was to ensure products were high in quality yet reasonable in price.

Tell us a bit more about the three young Nubian queens that the brand is centred around.

When I came up with the idea, I immediately knew the skin tones of the girls had to showcase the many skin tones of Black and mixed children. It was also important to me that their hair textures illustrated the natural hair textures of Black and mixed girls. 

Each of the Queens’ names means ‘Queen’ in a different African language; Zhenga is a South African name, Morowa is Ghanaian and Thema is Egyptian.

I chose those names so that regardless of skin tone, children could see themselves and be reminded that they’re special – and that they too are queens.

Has your identity as a Black woman created any challenges in getting started?

My identity hasn’t been the problem; difficulties have developed due to the message of the brand. I’ve been told that it was very racist of me to create a brand that only celebrates Black beauty – to which I replied and will always reply ‘First and foremost I am a Black woman. I celebrate my natural Black beauty and implore others to do the same’.

I advise anyone – regardless of their skin colour or culture – to create a brand that epitomises them. We live in a diverse society and products should cater to that. It’s not racism, it’s creating equality.

We cannot speak about diversity if we’re not all represented.

Has the business benefited from things like Black Pound Day?

The business has and I am grateful to Swiss and others who have created Black Pound Day and other groups that help bring to light Black-owned businesses.

What do you say those who claim that Black Pound Day is ‘discriminatory’ towards non-Black business owners?

Black Pound Day simply highlights to consumers and other business owners of all ethnic groups that Black-owned businesses exists.

It’s helped to provide advertising for Black-owned businesses who may not have been able to reach vast numbers of people.  

It isn’t about boycotting businesses that are not Black-owned, but rather shedding light and investing in Black-owned businesses – most of which are online and sell products that consumers will not find in supermarkets or stores.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to start up their own businesses?

Do it – but do it for the right reasons.

Create a brand, a product or service that you can boldly stand by and that you yourself would use or buy. Be consistent, always willing to learn and grow. But most importantly, be patient with yourself and your business; mistakes are not the end of the world but rather the start of the lesson.

What’s next for the business?

I am a proud (single) mother to a young Black king and will be launching Nubian Reines’ brother brand, Nubian Rois, soon. It’ll sell products aimed at boys. My son and I enjoy watching anime and feel there isn’t enough representation so I have made the characters in the Nubian Rois logo Afrocentric anime characters. 

The Nubian Reines line started with Rose Gold Backpacks but our back-to-school line has just been extended with more products.

We’ve just relaunched our satin lined hoodies to keep crowns warm and safe this winter.

For more information, you can follow Nubian Reines on Instagram.

Do you have a story you’d like to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

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