Meet the Glaswegian graduate battling racial discrimination by supporting charities with his clothing brand and providing a platform to celebrate artists of colour.
When the Black Lives Matter movement gained international media attention in June 2020, Joe Epemolu knew he needed to do something to be part of it. The spotlight on injustice for people of colour had taken a toll on Joe’s mental health and he felt an overwhelming calling to get involved and be part of a change he longed to see in the world. Inspired by the protests and voices coming forward in the face of fear, violence and injustice, and having just graduated in Project Design from Edinburgh Napier University, Joe wanted to find an avenue within the movement that allowed him to contribute but also felt natural to him.
So came Amplify Black Voices: a clothing brand and online platform created to amplify the voices of those speaking out against racial discrimination, with 100% of profits going to charities that advocate for racial equality. The brand launched last summer with simple black and white t-shirts that read ‘Amplify Black Voices’ and grew from there, now stocking numerous designs on hoodies, t-shirts and tote bags. One of the first collaborations Amplify Black Voices (ABV) saw was with Filipino artist, Leanza, also known as ‘The Line Girl’ on Instagram. The design depicted two women embracing and all profits from sales went to an LGBT+ organisation called ‘Gendered Intelligence'. This charity, alongside another called ‘Blueprint For All’, formerly known as the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Foundation, received almost £1000 in donations from ABV in June 2020 alone.
The success of Amplify Black Voices has grown exponentially in the last year and Joe only sees it continuing. But his goals are not exclusively business-oriented. As a clothing brand, the measurements of success often seen as sales, profits and margins, however, Joe thinks Amplify Black Voices has a higher calling than to just create revenue. Going back to what inspired him to start the brand, it is important to Joe that his work makes a positive change in his community, whether supporting causes financially or by starting conversations through the clothing itself.
I want ABV to become a place where people of colour can feel positive about themselves and see other people that look like them doing great and exciting things.
Joe has created a platform that not only supports black voices but actively calls out discrimination. Amplify Black Voices collaborated with the Glasgow Rocks basketball team and interviewed players to discuss discrimination against black people within sports. Three black players, who had come to Glasgow to play, opened up about the discrimination they had faced from neighbours; police called to their homes for no apparent reason, having their cars damaged and broken into. Joe speaks about this sort of aggression on the Amplify Black Voices social channels consistently.
Joe’s main focus now is to be able to use the ABV platform to further highlight the talents of people of colour, while continuing to grow the brand and its audience. At the age of 23, Joe has created a successful brand that has been acknowledged in magazines such as ‘The Best of Glasgow’ and he hopes to bring more people into the company so that it can continue to expand as a brand while he continues to develop his career. The landscape looks more hopeful in Joe’s eyes than it did when he began ABV in 2020. While there is still a long way to go, Joe believes there is increased recognition of what racism looks like in 2021.
“I know it's not always easy to start those conversations with people when incidents of racism happen, but I hope that people are more aware of it so we become more comfortable calling it out.”
You can check out Amplify Black Voices online store, and follow them on Instagram @amplifyblackvoices__