Bifties is the online store making it convenient to shop Black-owned when gift-giving. Founded by Constance Panton, Bifties evolved from a small, digital gift exchange into a platform curating unique presents with products from Black-owned merchants.
A few years ago, Panton noticed an increase in digital gift exchanges made possible by social media. She also realized that the door was open to use the annual holiday transactions to empower the community.
With a mindset of innovation, she initiated the first gift exchange with the requirement of shopping Black-owned, however, the results varied.
“There were so many challenges. To me it didn’t matter if you were Black, all I wanted to do was support Black businesses so I invited everyone,” Panton says to theGrio. “I went to my Facebook and I invited everyone that I knew. What happened was, a lot of my non-Black friends were like…they just didn’t respond because they figured ‘I don’t know any Black-owned businesses so I’m not going to partake in this.’ Then some of my Black friends were like, ‘Where do I go to shop? Some of them are like, ‘My girlfriend sells Mary Kay, and I bought her stuff, is that considered Black-owned?'”
She continues, “Some people go into a department store and purchased African print material [items] from Macy’s, sending that as a gift. Then I have people who were just starting making their own bath and body products and they would send that as a gift. Mind you, their packaging wasn’t anything successful, like they were just really making it in their home. I thought, ‘This can’t be what’s happening right now, it cannot be.'”
Panton then began “scanning the internet” and social media for “quality gift ideas from Black-owned brands.” She created an Instagram account for the cause where she could “post suggestions to the group for a gift exchange.”
Following the well-intentioned but flawed Black-owned sourced gifts, Panton hit the drawing board to create a solution. Shortly thereafter, Bifties was born. Birthdays, engagements, new babies, and more all have Biftie boxes. Custom options are also available.
“On my e-commerce store, I think of things as a brick and mortar. I fill [the store] with items you may see in a Hallmark store, but of course, all the products are Black-owned,” Panton explains. “So, when I look for brands, I look for brands that are aesthetically pleasing, fun, functional, or sentimental, or a combination of both. Before deciding I’ll ask myself, ‘Would I like this as a gift.'”
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As with all endeavors, Panton’s path to success with Bifties was not a straight-line journey. Some products are harder to find from Black-owned businesses. She finds that while our communities thrive in areas such as beauty, home goods, and apparel, other frequently gifted items are currently rare finds in Black companies.
“I was preparing my baby box. I wanted to include a stuffed animal, and I couldn’t find any Black stuffed animal companies. The same with candy. I wasn’t able to find a wholesaler for you know lollipops and confectionery type products. Those were a little bit difficult to find,” she shares with theGrio.
Panton continues, “When you look at other big boxing services, they have a lot of variety in those, like, we seem to be really heavy in the makeup and the hair and the skincare and, you know, stuff like that. But as far as those specialty items or novelty items, not so much.”
Hopefully, brands like Bifties contribute to a shift in a wider Black-owned market. Uprisings across the globe fighting for equality and against racism have caused a recent digital surge calling for support of Black-owned patronage. In the current climate, Panton encourages all parties to not let this be a singular moment but the markings of long-lasting change.
“When we highlight ourselves and continue to highlight ourselves, I think that’s where it helps us maintain that momentum and not let it die,” she says.
Shopping Bifties not only enhances the profile of Black-owned businesses, a portion of revenue directly benefits predominantly Black communities and organizations. Panton commits a percentage of sales to charitable causes. For Panton, it was not a question to include philanthropy in her business model. Five percent of all income is donated to Black neighborhoods.
“We know that when you buy and support Black-owned brands, it helps the community that they’re in,”she remarks to theGrio. “It helps the family, it helps all that stuff. I wanted to make it one step further and then donate to actual charities doing work to keep economic power in our communities, a little bit longer.”
Despite some setbacks from COVID-19, Bifties continues to grow in 2020 and beyond. Coronavirus lead to temporary cut-backs from both partners and consumers. Panton hopes that as society continues to adjust to the new normal, Bifties continues to pioneer new methods of gift-giving and amplifying Black-owned companies in various industries.
“My next step would be to add flowers. I also want to expand on my gift cards,” she says. “Right now, we offer gift cards for my store only, but I want to start to include gift cards from other brands, like spas, bed and breakfasts’, restaurants, things like that. Because not only does it allow me to grow my partnership with brands, but it also allows me to connect with brands without taking on additional inventory. I’m still growing.”