It was an honour to speak with Funmi Scott for Issue #019 of AMBITION. Funmi founded Untapped Creatives, a brilliant platform that represents Black-owned luxury lifestyle brands and helps them thrive through fostering relationships and securing long-term sales channels. Funmi, who is also a finance lawyer and a mother, shares with us how her culture loves a side gig, how she finds a work/life balance and how she’s using her day job to help black creatives. 

Where does your ambition come from?

Quite easily, my ambition comes from my Nigerian parents and our culture. Although I grew up in Scotland, my upbringing was rather Nigerian. There’s a real entrepreneurial spirit in Nigeria. Generally speaking, Nigerian culture fosters a sense of ambition and very specifically, my parents certainly do. They are both quite high achieving. My dad’s a professor and my mum's a doctor. My mum became a doctor and had 4 children all before she was 30, and in addition to that she always had a lot of different interests and business. The ability to just try something, and the work ethic to keep going at it, is that go-getter ambition that my siblings and I all share. 

Tell us about the moment you decided to create Untapped Creatives. Why was it so necessary to the industry? 

Many years ago I was really stressed with work so I wanted to find a relaxing outlet, so I learnt how to make candles. Being Nigerian, this turned into “maybe I should sell these candles”, and I participated in a well known pop-up market. The table was quite expensive and the foot traffic wasn’t great. I ended up making a loss that day. But, I met the wonderful women around me, many of which were Black female entrepreneurs that were trying to build their creative businesses. I just remember thinking ‘this isn’t the place for your business’, as many of their products were luxury products with gorgeous designs and unique perspectives, such as a fine jewellery brand handmade in Kenya. This is where the seed of Untapped Creatives started to develop - I thought I would love to help bring these brands into the right spaces where they would do really well. 

Then in 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement happened and retailers were stating that they wanted more inclusivity in both their marketing and their supply chain. I noticed Selfridges were one of the retailers that took a tangible step in starting a diversity board. Although it focused on their internal workers, it was a step in the right direction. So, I put together a book of fantastic luxury Black-owned brands (many of which came from connecting at the pop-up market many years prior) and I pitched to Selfridges an ‘Untapped Creatives’ collective pop-up at Selfridges. Thankfully, the pitch was really well received and it grew from there - the pop-up idea turned into an introduction to a number of buying teams. These teams reviewed our Brands Book and selected brands that they thought would make great long term suppliers to Selfridges. It’s been 2 years and 13 brands in 7 departments later. 

Untapped Creatives is necessary to the luxury space because our success is proof of concept that when independent Black-owned luxury brands get the opportunity to present in luxury spaces, they can do extremely well, for the benefit of the luxury consumer, luxury retailers, and the brands!

What is the company’s mission?  

To show the world the abundance of Black creativity. And my personal mission is a cultural change. I do feel there can be assumptions about different cultures, and in my experience, such assumptions can lead to omitting the Black consumer and Black-owned brands from the luxury space, as well as a failure to give fair value to the works of highly skilled African artisans. I love that Untapped Creatives can help that cultural shift and help the world see the cultural impact of Afro-Lux. Black creatives being able to fully express themselves in their work and in their own voice is an added benefit. 

As founder of Untapped Creatives, what is the most rewarding thing about working with and supporting Black Creatives? 

I work with outstanding brands. Being able to be that conduit that helps these amazing women and men sell in places like Selfridges is fantastic. I love to see them receive the validation they deserve and to see their joy and excitement during the process is wonderful. 

Which project or collaboration was the biggest ‘pinch me’ moment for you and your company?

It has to be our inaugural partnership with Selfridges! #UCusatSelfridges! It moved from a pitch for a pop-up at Selfridges to a long term relationship. I mean their accessories buyers decided to launch four Untapped Creatives accessories brands within the grand post COVID reopening of Selfridges flagship at Oxford Street. We were given a prime location on the ground floor opposite Dior! I think that was a ‘pinch me’ moment for all of us. Especially being escorted into the store before the doors opened to take media photos. 

Another ‘pinch me’ moment was when the Untapped Creatives x Selfridges partnership was given the banner on landing page for a whole weekend. This included a Selfridges interview of myself and 6 of our brands. There was also coordination with Selfridges’ social media team posting about Untapped Creatives and our brands. For us to be given that space and that voice was super exciting. 

And yet another ‘pinch me’ is the success of the partnership to date in terms of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of sales! 

What has been the biggest challenge in your career thus far? How did you overcome it or learn from it?

Time. Untapped Creatives grew quicker than expected which was wonderful, but that also meant it required more time. Career-wise, as a lawyer, being a black woman in a space that is predominantly white men is an interesting place to be. It’s always been that way for me though, so I wouldn’t say it’s the biggest challenge but I would love for that to change. 

Can you share any insights or trends you have observed in the luxury lifestyle industry, particularly in relation to Black-owned brands? How do you stay up to date with industry developments?

I feel that younger consumers are more thoughtful and want what they buy to be more of a reflection of who they are and their beliefs. They are willing to pay a wee bit more for products that match their belief systems, be it sustainable products or products that are ethically made. 

How do you prioritise sustainability and ethical practices within the brands you represent? What steps do you take to ensure that these values are upheld?

Prior to being signed on to our creative collective, we ask brands where their products are made and how their products are made. We also work exclusively with independent brands and I find that sustainability is inherent in their production practices. Most, if not all, make their products in small batches to minimise waste. Similarly, a lot of our fashion brands use traditional practices, such as Ghanaian Kente weaving, making them inherently sustainable and ethical. We’ve had a number of lovely brands approach us that simply don’t fit in with our ethics about sustainability and so we don’t take them on. 

How the brands represent their culture is also very important to us. A big thing for us is that we want to focus on Black joy and creativity. We aren’t ignoring the painful news story, but we want to add a joyful, positive, and creative voice to the conversation. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received - career related or otherwise? 

Don’t overestimate your abilities and underestimate others abilities. This might come across as a wee bit negative but it’s not! Ultimately it means be open to learning from others, give people their dues, and know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. 

If you had a microphone and the whole world was listening, what would you say?

You don’t have to understand someone (or their life) to respect them and be kind to them.

Where will your ambition take you next?

For Untapped Creatives, there are two things that I want to do. One of them is to move internationally, placing some of our Black British brands in Barneys or Bergdorg Goodman. 

Secondly, I would love to be able to help facilitate financing for our brands by marrying my two worlds and make introductions to people who might want to fund UC brands. Statistically, Black female owned brands are the least likely to receive financing for their business. This tallies with the fact that the majority of our brands are self-funded. Although being stocked in a luxury retailer is an amazing achievement, it does require a fair bit of working capital given traditional retail terms like wholesale margins and waiting months for payment. Financing will help to both ease this burden for the brands as well as help the brands expand and move to the next stage. I’m starting to think about how and when we can do this as one of our next big projects.  

Thank you to Funmi Scott for sharing her story with us. Keep following the Untapped Creatives story here. Subscribe down below to get AMBITION straight to your inbox!