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by Victoria Monari

Victoria Monari meets the boundary breaking new organisation My Runway Group.

Walking down London’s notorious Carnaby Street, amongst the chains and camera wielding tourists you can occasionally stumble across a treasure. I found my self in this position of discovery recently one October afternoon, when I (almost) walked by a newly set up shop space with a sign that reads “Black Owned Businesses”. Immediately after reading that I was filled with an inner sense of joy and elation. Being a Black woman as well as a participant of the recent Black Lives Matter revolution this summer, seeing a shop on a major high street which aims to specifically promote and nurture Black entrepreneurship, made me feel like the racial tide could be turning. That all of our efforts as persecuted Black individuals, not just this summer but also for the past 400 years was indeed not in vain.

As I walk in to a wonderfully lit room filled with a variety of goodies from water bottles, to homeware, hair products and coffee table magazines I’m already brimming with curiosity and excitement to what I will walk away with that day. I’m Immediately greeted by Kojo Marfo and from his winning smile, confidence and sense of pride in relation to the room
anyone could tell he is a part of the team behind this special project. Little did I know Marfo is the founder and creative director of My Runway Group which is a youth empowerment organisation set up in 2013, which has aimed to cause effective change by promoting diversity and forging opportunities for young people of colour. With 7 years of diversity driven work under their belt, the My Runway Group Carnaby pop up is just another instance of the consistent positive change that Marfo and his team have played a part in instigating.

By appearing on a major shopping street in the UK, My Runway Group’s Carnaby is changing the way we think of Black entrepreneurship simply by allowing us to see these brands and companies, not just as “Black-owned” businesses but within the same ream as any other mainstream and respected business on the same street. Also it is easy and almost naive to think that this pop up has come at a conveniently timely moment, as we are currently in Black History Month. However unlike the UK government’s banal and misplaced effort to honour BHM by painting post boxes Black (a sign of clear performative allyship at the most); we are blessed with My Runway Group’s pop up at least until the end of 2020.

Stocking an eclectic and diverse array of over 50+ Black owned brands such as Nubian Skin (lingerie), Calico Fibre (feminine hygiene products) and LAKEY (streetwear). I recently caught up with Marfo to discuss his hopes for setting up the Carnaby pop up, current inspirations in his life and aspirations for the future of My Runway Group.

Tell us what inspired the My Runway Group youth organisation and eventually the Carnaby pop up?

I will say the LACK OF! There are a lot of creatives from under privileged backgrounds who require support and direction in their career journeys. We created MRG to provide practical solutions to meet these problems.

Why do you think Black entrepreneurship should be nurtured now more than ever?

Young people need to see it to believe it. Words are not enough! They should be able to walk into a space and leave knowing it is possible.

People who you have looked to for inspiration?

Dumi Oburota, founder of Disturbing London
Kanya King from MOBO’s
Ozwald Boateng

Do you think society has reached a place of progression; as 5 years ago many especially in the Black community wouldn’t have imagined a completely Black owned store, promoting specifically Black businesses and entrepreneurs?

I think we are making progress as a community. Everyone has a role to play. We aren’t where we deserve to be but yes there is progress being made.

How has the response been from a customers perspective?

Very supportive! It beats my mind every time.

Why do you think London is the ideal place for a pop up like this?

London is the most culturally diverse city in the world. It’s a perfect hub for a tester. So we can replicate this elsewhere.

What’s next for My Runway Group after the massive success of the pop up?

We have a lot of projects we are aiming to run in 2021 to showcase even more black creatives.

My Runway Group Carnaby will reopen after lockdown on the first week of December 2020 at 56b Carnaby Street, London – 10am to 8pm Mon to Sat, 12pm to 6pm Sun. 

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