How to build a brand on diversity

Charlotte Willams founded the diversity-focused SevenSix Agency in 2019 because she didn’t see people like herself at the influencer events she regularly attended. Today, the London-based agency represents the likes of British-Bangladeshi makeup artist Salwa Rahman and former ballet dancer Ola Awosika, creating influencer-led campaigns for brands including Greenpeace, Astrid & Miyu and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty. Charlotte also runs regular talks and workshops on diversity, and co-hosts the Sustainably Influenced podcast.

A long-time fashion and beauty influencer, who had graduated from MySpace to blogging and YouTube in her early 20s, Charlotte worked in marketing for Hello Kitty makers Sanrio and the Wah London nail salon before taking the plunge as a founder. She talks about her journey from MySpace addict to founder.

  • On MySpace beginnings ‘I was always a social media nerd, starting with MySpace at school in Hertfordshire. I got really into blogging in my third year at university, around 2011, when I was living in an isolated village in Spain, but would go to Madrid’s El Corte Ingles department store every weekend and blog about the makeup and clothes I found. Over time, I got into YouTube.’
  • On the blogging days ‘Back then, it wasn’t about money yet, but about a community and the excitement of going to events and being part of the fashion world. Growing a following definitely wasn’t instant – we had to graft.’
  • On diversity ‘The idea for SevenSix came from going to these influencer events and just always thinking: Where are the people of colour? It was homogenous, and PRs would say to me that they didn’t have access to those types of people. I knew there was a problem with diversity in the advertising industry as well, and knew a lot of brands and PRs through my work. It was a case of joining the dots.’
  • On being a founder ‘It’s hard, and such a steep learning curve. I’d never dealt with the finance or legal side of things, and the responsibility of now having five staff on the payroll. I had to quickly learn how and where to ask for help, and finding a great accountant and lawyer have been crucial to the business.’
  • On funding ‘I started SevenSix with my own money, and luckily it’s always been profitable, partly because we have a lean team and relatively few overheads. We did raise £10k on GoFundMe to open a London office, but that’s on hold now so it’s become an emergency fund.’
  • On Black Lives Matter ‘It got really busy, really quickly when the Black Lives Matter movement took off last year, especially after I posted a video on Instagram about racism that went viral. Suddenly, brands were actively looking for diversity and inclusion in their campaigns. Now, we’re trying to keep that momentum; to keep the subject on peoples’ lips. It’s not a problem that will be solved overnight.’
  • On finding a balance ‘There’s still a culture of working so hard you burn out, and last year I had to take a few weeks off because I’d been going too fast. I’ve had to consciously make time for friends and family, and have used therapy as part of figuring out how to deal with stress, and what makes me go. Being grounded and balanced helps me run the business better.’

Charlotte (left) with the SevenSix team

The brands Charlotte follows

  1. Jamii, a loyalty card and online shop for black-owned businesses, is doing a good service while also being a brilliant and effective business itself.’
  2. ‘The TreasureTress hair and beauty brand is amazing, and founder Jamelia Donaldson is such an inspiration to me for growing a bedroom business, but so humble with it.’
  3. LIMA Communications is doing PR in a really fresh and modern way, and also does consulting and coaching.’
  4. Thy.self is a disruptive wellness brand with a focus on diversity and an interesting business model, from an online shop to consulting and brand events.’

For more on SevenSix’s work, see Listen to the Creative Entrepreneurs Soundcloud for our talk with Charlotte last year.