blk box toronto

Black businesses aren't getting enough love and this Toronto woman wants to change that

Black-owned businesses in Toronto can use all the love they can get right now, and one woman is on a mission to give them the exposure they deserve.

Jenelle Fraser sadly lost her job as a full-time client services representative last year when the collective of boutique production agencies she worked for called Mile Inn closed in July 2020. She also works as a brand ambassador for various agencies, but work has slowed due to the pandemic. 

However, she found a silver lining in being able to devote time to a project she is passionate about: Blk Box T.O.

She says the project's main goal is to amplify Black businesses – starting with local Toronto ones – through highly curated gift boxes, and it's kind of like a subscription service but without the commitment. The project operates on bi-monthly limited release drops you can opt into.

She was inspired to start the project by the Black Owned Toronto Instagram page started by Kerin John.

"Before then, I had always searched for Black-owned companies but found that there wasn't a database or any place to really find them," Fraser tells blogTO. "When researching the companies that I have purchased from, I noticed that none of them were owned by Black people."

"Even the products that were marketed toward Black people weren't even made by Black people. I often wondered if there were any out there at all."

She started keeping a personal list of Black-owned Canadian businesses to support that she could refer back to, and found that by the end of 2020 the list had swelled to hundreds of businesses.

"It wasn't easy. I searched through many web pages, blogs, websites, Facebook and Instagram pages to find these companies," says Fraser.

"I wondered how I hadn't heard of any of these companies before in my life. This is when I thought of Blk Box T.O. This is when I thought, 'Hey, what could I do to help these businesses gain the exposure and recognition they deserve?'"

Each limited-release Blk Box has a theme, and the first one, which just dropped, is a bath and body box for $85.

Half a dozen products from local Black businesses are included in the box.

There's a eucalyptus lavender candle from Essentia Candles in Scarborough, Raw African Black Soap by Cicco Aroma based in Vaughan and Brampton, lip exfoliant and bath soak by Brampton's Empressence, body wash by Toronto's Cicada Skincare and butter balm by Brampton's Ellie + Ma.

"I wanted to first introduce people to GTA businesses that sell great quality products, had fantastic customer reviews and who didn't have a huge social media following yet," says Fraser.

The products come bundled in a sleek but sturdy, repurposeable black glossy mailer with a faux-leather cord, which Fraser also chose because "the colours represent some of the various skin tones of Black people."

Fraser is also behind Handy Kitz, a care package program for people experiencing houselessness in Toronto that she started up prior to the pandemic.

If you're more into sprinkling salt onto your food than into your bath, however, the next themed drop is for you. Being released on Aug. 4, the flavour box should contain products like sauces, spices and marinades created by Black Canadians. Follow along on social media for hints on exactly what those might be.

"My goal is that Blk Box T.O. not only helps these businesses gain recognition and profit, but also shows people that Black-owned businesses deserve to be included in more conversations when it comes to great quality products and services," says Fraser.

Lead photo by

Hayley Andoff

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