Women have long remained the subject of sexism and misogyny in various facets of life. Being Black in particular, has historically added an extra layer of difficulty for those trying to access higher education, affordable healthcare, and long-lasting career opportunities.
However, International Women’s Day is a time when society as a whole can celebrate the achievements of women. It is a time when we can appreciate the ubiquitous challenges and inevitable hardships that many of us are forced to contend with on a regular basis due to nothing other than our gender. But more importantly, it is a time when we can bring to light some of the accomplishments of those who are often silenced.
Below are some female-run businesses by Black-Irish women who are making astronomical changes in their field. While existing in vastly different industries, they all share a hunger for success and a desire to continue leaving a positive mark on Irish society.
HBA Studio Hair & Beauty Salon
Salon owner Adizat Oseni, was first inspired to embark on her entrepreneurial journey ten years ago. While the Nigerian-born businesswoman started hairdressing under her mother’s roof in 2013 after discovering a gap in the market, she has since then opened a remarkable premises in Smithfield, Dublin.
“Growing up, there wasn’t really a hair salon for black people in Ireland,” she says, “and I felt that we needed somewhere where we could go to get our hair done, and also have it be a professional setting.”
The Dublin-based entrepreneur who says professionalism is the ethos by which her business is run, also drew from her own experiences to offer a much-needed hair service to the Irish market.
“I think diversity should be something that every salon should be able to cater to, they should be able to do every type of hair,” she explains, “and that was another one of the reasons why I decided to go ahead and birth HBA Studio because I’ve never been able to walk into normal hair salons and when I did in the past, I was turned away due to a lack of knowledge of afro hair”
The young salon owner who says “it probably wasn’t part of the curriculum in the years past because there’s only been a rise in the afro community in Ireland in the last 15 years,” also admits she often had to travel to the UK to have her hair needs met. As it stands, her biggest goal is to have multiple HBA Studio locations across Dublin and in other parts of the world.
Nigerian-born visual arts photographer Tessy Ehiguese cut her teeth at photography during transition year in secondary school. The 26-year-old says while she recognised transition year was a good time to help her explore this option as a potential career, she feels this was always on the cards for her due to an interest in photography “being in the family.” The visual arts creative also says she adds a uniqueness to the Irish photography scene that separates her from others.
“I think for visual arts photographers, what I have noticed that sets me apart is the amount of colour I use in my photos, the amount of digital editing in them as well compared to other visual artists who take more raw imagery or a more documentary-style approach,” she explains.
The 26-year-old whose work was included in The National Photographic Archive by Photo Museum Ireland in 2022 says that it wasn’t all smooth-sailing for her as some of the challenges she faced as a freelance photographer were around her race.
“In the past, I’ve been hired to create projects that promote diversity. But the same people that hire me for diversity would not reach out for anything else. I think it’s good to highlight that Black creatives — photographers in this case — should be hired because of the work we do not only to prove that a brand can be diverse,” she advises.
The TU Dublin graduate who says she doesn’t have anything specific in the pipeline, is currently part of a scheme that will allow her to focus more on being creative.
Emerald & Wax by Virtue Shine
50-year-old Virtue Shine says she always dreamed of having her own fashion house. The fashion designer was first inspired to bring African print to the Irish fashion scene back in 2016 after noticing a lack of bold colours and prints.
“At the time, I saw women here wearing a lot of plain colours, there was a lot of black and brown and grey,” she explains, “and I felt and hoped that these women yearned for colour and bold expressions, and I had a feeling or hoped that African wax print may be exactly that.”
The fashion enthusiast who says her shawls are one of her best-sellers, recently launched a new collection that combines African print with Irish tweed.
“Because Irish tweed is soft and warm, it just proved to be such a great combination with African print, which is also very cosy, and unapologetically bold.” she shares.
“But also, it’s a part of me. It’s a part of my story. I am married to an Irish man, and we have Irish-Ghanaian kids. I really wanted them to be proud of both of their heritage, but I wanted them to do it in a creative, artistic way so that it will always be tangible for them, if not mental and emotional.”
South Side Moves by Lapree Lala
Galway-based dancer Lapree Lala first launched South Side Moves back in 2018 after being inspired by Twerk after Work dancer Bami. The 24-year-old says she always struggled to find pure afro dance classes prior to attending a twerk class in Dublin, and she has since then created a community where people from different backgrounds can learn various afro dances.
“The whole point of the classes is because of the lack of and then obviously over time, it became a thing where I just wanted to teach people the culture,” she explains.
The events & public relations student whose dance classes are frequented by White Irish, Africans and Brazilians says it is important to give people a cultural understanding of certain dances too.
“I remember at a recent event, I was like ‘I’m going to teach amapiano this coming Tuesday,’ and one of my students asked ‘what is amapiano,’ and I told them it is the style you have been doing on TikTok,” she explains, “and I’ve noticed that because of social media and TikTok, or anything that’s trending, everybody jumps on dance trends, but I feel like there’s a lack of knowledge and people don’t have information as to what they are doing or why.”
The Zimbabwe-born dancer who grew up in South Africa before coming to Ireland, also says it’s important to highlight that afro dance isn’t just for Black people.
“One of my students from Denmark, she performed for her family for her grandfather’s 90th birthday, and she did a piece from Congo which is called ndombolo. She literally sat everyone down after the performance and educated them, I thought that was so cute.”
Elayor Jewellery by Ro Chigoze
31-year-old doctor Ro Chigoze was first enamoured by jewellery from a young age. It therefore comes as no surprise that she turned to jewellery making as a “creative escape” during stressful times in medical school.
“My jewellery business started when I was in medical school,” she explains, “and it was a creative escape from all the exams and the usual medical school stress. I’ve always loved jewellery, so it was just for myself back around 2018 – 2019, and then when I started working, I just continued with it and it slowly picked up.”
Her fortuitous path to becoming a jewellery maker started off by selling some pieces on Etsy, but she has since then partnered up with someone to open a gift shop in Galway where they stock locally made hand-crafted gifts, which gave her a different avenue to showcase her products outside the online space.
The multi-talent business owner who says it all “happened organically,” admits that she finds a lot of inspiration from women. “I love to see women express themselves through jewellery. So I think just women: young women, middle-aged, and older women are my biggest inspiration,” she shares.
YJ Service by Wivine Kabasele
Congolese native Wivine Kabasele launched recruitment and career development agency, Your Journey Service (YJ Service) during the pandemic after identifying HR consultancy is a skill that comes naturally to her.
“I always helped my family, my cousins and my siblings on how to construct a CV, and on how to apply for jobs. I used to help them get summer jobs so easily, so I was doing it already, and when March 2020 came, and I had completed the professional communication course, I told myself, ‘why not do something that I always liked, something that I was passionate about?’
The 34-year-old who has a passion for helping others pursue their career goals, also feels it is important for that message to shine through in her brand.
“My brand is called Your Journey because it highlights the whole career path of a person,” she explains “It highlights the life cycle: so you start from primary school, you go secondary, you get the leaving cert done, you’re in college, you’re graduated, it is a whole cycle. When the person enters into a career, it’s a journey that they have started already, so my purpose is not just to have a name, but it has to be meaningful too.”
The Meath-based entrepreneur who has a degree in business accounting says that while she wants to see her business expand, it is also important for her to set a good example to her kids.
“I’m a mother, so when I see my kids cheering for me for what I’m doing for me, it’s just like, ‘Okay, I’m doing something good,’ because I’m setting an example for them and then they can see that their mother worked hard for them,” she says.