An online store opened a window of opportunity when the pandemic hurt Francine Bahati’s makeup company, Queenfidence. “I’ve seen so much support this year, and it has helped me to grow as a business owner and helped me to see how I can impact people as a brand,” says Bahati.
During a difficult year, COVID-19 restrictions saw the closure of brick-and-mortar stores that sold Queenfidence makeup in Winnipeg and Toronto. The pandemic cancelled trade shows, one of Bahati’s major marketing methods. The stay-at-home movement and face masks also impacted makeup. Sales plummeted for lipgloss, which smears on masks, while sales were stronger for Queenfidence’s long-lasting matte lipsticks, as customers realized they could wear a mask during a commute and then remove it to display their unsmudged lipstick. The brand is also known for Soul Sisterz, its colourful eyeshadow palette.
Better business news came as customers reached out to Queenfidence through online sales across Canada. That was partly propelled by a movement to support Black-owned businesses, although Bahati notes the momentum has subsided a little. “Retailers reached out to me to carry my products, even if I had reached out to them before and been rejected. I started selling out and couldn’t meet the demands of the new retailers.” Bahati designs her makeup in Winnipeg, then works with an Ottawa lab for testing, with production at an overseas factory. Limited cash flow during the pandemic made it a challenge to reorder merchandise that had sold out. However Queenfidence received a Manitoba Bridge Grant that helped Bahati with the funds to invest in restocking sold-out goods and creating new products, along with living expenses.
As a business leader, Bahati was a driving force behind Black-Owned Manitoba, a business directory. Her next goal is to arrange more mentorships to connect new small business owners with experienced entrepreneurs. “After three years, many small businesses close down, sometimes due to a lack of funding or marketing,” says Bahati, who comes from an entrepreneurial family. Originally from Congo, Bahati lived for ten years in Uganda, where she sold products door to door as a child before the family arrived in Winnipeg in 2012 as refugees. “My sisters and I, we grew up with the idea of being an entrepreneur, to have money for yourself and also as a blessing for others in the community.”
When Queenfidence launched in 2017, Bahati originally envisioned her makeup products suiting dark skin. Still, it turns out the colours look great on dark, brown and light skin tones (the store’s Instagram feed shows examples). The products also go beyond gender: beauty for everyone. “I have a really diverse customer base. It’s important that people find themselves in the brand,” Bahati says, choosing her words carefully. “It’s about knowing they’re part of the brand. Everyone should be included. Don’t just put one group aside and not cater to them.”
Bahati’s focus for 2021 is to improve her website’s e-commerce capability and SEO, along with social media. An upcoming media collaboration will be unveiled shortly, although she also wants to attain distribution in major stores and expand the Queenfidence line. She also plans to start working with a charity to donate a portion of sales: “As a former refugee, I’ve struggled, and I know how it feels to lack education.” She hopes the wave of support for small and local business owners continues for 2021, even after the pandemic.
It fits with an entrepreneur who has always tried to use the beauty industry as a way to remind people to have the self-confidence of a queen. “I always purposely name my lipsticks to inspire people through the products,” says Bahati. She has three lipstick names to inspire people through the coming months: “Fearless; it speaks to my heart as to what has happened this year, where we’ve had to be resilient. Be Kindl which means the challenge this year to be kind to others and to ourselves. And Blossom; which speaks to pivoting, to blossom where we are planted,” says Bahati. “Even if there were no pandemic, there’s always some challenge to face.”
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