Page content Site navigation
ELIE - employability:learning through international entrepreneurship ELIE on Facebook ELIE Homepage ELIE on Twitter
Home > Life Stories > The Ethnic Non-Food Entrepreneur - UK - 1

The Ethnic Non-Food Entrepreneur - UK - 1

This category of entrepreneur is one that is interesting. Many non-food ethnic entrepreneurs are providing goods and services to their own communities but others have an extremely diverse clientle. These might include ethnic tailoring or clothing; saris, salwar kameez, niquabs or modest swimwear for example. Other businesses include mehndi artists (henna), travel agents specialising in trips to Hajj, delicatessens selling only Polish foods, money transfer companies for remittances home, martial arts Dojos and Chinese medicine practitioners. However, while initially these businesses were providing goods and services within their own community there is evidence that in multi-cultural Britain the client base for many of these businesses is developing to include British people as well as other nationalities. This aspect is particularly noted with Chinese traditional medicine which is now a common feature of many British high streets.

The case of Miss H is a good example of the move from a business catering for fellow immigrants to one that serves a far wider community. Arriving in the UK just before her second birthday she started her company at the very young age of thirteen. She loved art and began providing mehndi for her school friends and then the local community, specialising in weddings. At first she concentrated on traditional designs and worked exclusively within the local Asian community in a North-west town. However, as she got older fashion trends moved increasingly towards body art, with tattooing becoming mainstream and women increasingly prepared to use body art. Miss H was a good artist and developed designs that her English friends liked. Mehndi offers a temporary tattoo, lasting up to a fortnight and her business rapidly expanded, doing designs for parties or events. Miss H now has a style of free-hand henna art that is related more to European pop culture and advertises her service at youth venues, clubs, markets and festivals. Ms H markets her business at younger women who want body art without the permanence of a tattoo. This art form is hugely popular at festivals and events and Miss H has more work than she can manage so now Miss H is considering training others to work for her and setting up shops to offer this service.  

One important issue that Miss H wanted to share was the role of trade fairs in business promotion. She was offered a stand at such a fair, but lacked knowledge to make best advantage of this. The promoters asked first what she would charge per customer who visited her stand and then said they needed 30% of the charge as part of the fee. Miss H agreed to this but later realised that this made her costings incorrect. She feels that easy to access advice on financial planning for small businesses, especially those being run by young people would have been a great help. She did look online but found things were too time-consuming and difficult to benefit from when needing some quick advice.

Miss H had not got any language barriers but she did comment that it is older immigrants in her community that tend to run businesses that only serve their own community. She feels that in England there is a culture of ‘just do it’. She did not think it strange to start her own business so young because her father, uncle and older brother were all in business too and had never worked for an employer. Her brother helped her in the early stages by making her some business cards and advising her about how to transport her materials safely (on public transport) as well as going with her to open her own bank account for her takings (when she was 14).

Education and Culture Lifelong Learning Programme
© 2011 ELIE Project
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.