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Celebrating Black History Month with Sonia Brissett of Willow

With Black History Month – a month to recognise and celebrate the invaluable contributions of black people to British society – in full swing, we’re featuring brilliant black business owners in Brighton city centre to learn about their experiences, celebrate their successes and hear their advice for others thinking of starting businesses too.

Sonia Brissett, owner of beautiful womenswear boutique, Willow, in The Lanes, shares her experiences below.

Black History Month evokes so many thoughts and emotions for me. I am very proud to not only be a black woman, but a black woman in business.

Having my own business has been a life long dream and goal for me from a very early age. I have been in the fashion industry for almost 45 years. My passion and confidence for style and clothing quickly grew after running my own stall in Camden which brought a lot of success.

After many successful years with my stall, my determination to open my own shop never wavered and continued to grow. I have never been afraid of challenges, setbacks or hard work; I’m a fighter and have always had resilience which has helped me to get through the difficult times and prejudices I have endured throughout my journey.

To me, Black History Month is not only a celebration, but recognition of just how incredibly courageous the generations before me were and still are. Leaving a home, loved ones and all things familiar to cross the waters to a new land with uncertain futures, huge changes and hostile environments are things I cannot begin to comprehend. My parents were part of the Windrush generation, which is particularly poignant to me, and I owe so much to these people. My parents are the backbone of my journey – they taught myself and my four siblings to not only dress well, but to be better as we would face prejudice in many forms.

Our clothes were made lovingly by my mother and she ensured that we were always on trend. My father took great pride in his appearance as did my mother, who left her home in Jamaica at the tender age of 21. Together, my mother and father faced prejudices and set backs. People came to this country believing that life would be better for themselves and their families, however bewilderment, fear and apprehension would have been just a few of the many emotions they must have felt.

I feel indescribable admiration, respect and enormous gratitude for their willingness to take such a leap of faith. They paved the way for generations to come, to stand proudly in this world and to have faith in our abilities and the determination to strive for what we believe we are deserving of.

Owning my own business I hope will indicate to the reader just how important and how much this means to me. It’s a small representation and reminder to other black women that this is possible and deserving. Remembering the generations before me is so close to my heart and I will always be eternally grateful.

My own children have been raised with the same values and lessons as I was – to always have pride, dignity, self-worth and belief, along with the courage to face setbacks and challenges. My shop is my own little piece of heaven, it’s a space I have created where all people can enter and feel welcomed and comfortable. I want all of my customers to enjoy being here and to experience warmth and kindness. I’ve owned my business, Willow for almost 15 years. I source natural fibres and ensure that there are a range of different one sized clothing in different colours and shapes. Willow is my constant reminder that I have achieved my dreams.

Find Willow at 8 Market Street, Brighton.