William Blair Kicks Off 2021 I&D Speaker Series with Co-Founder of Inclusive Bandage Company

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Intisar Bashir of Browndages and Erin Murray Butler of William Blair
From left, Intisar Bashir, co-owner of Browndages, and Erin Murray Butler, head of William Blair Workplace & Real Estate Management and event moderator.

Essential to creating a more inclusive culture is understanding just how the smallest gesture or idea, something as simple as developing bandages for varied skin tones can make a difference, co-founder of Browndages told colleagues at William Blair’s inclusion and diversity speaker series.

“Such small, minute things can have a large impact on people,” Intisar Bashir of Browndages, a family owned company that creates bandages for people of color told the virtual gathering held March 17. “So try to go about your day with that in the forefront of your mind, knowing there’s little differences between everybody. As long as you are respectful of them, I think it will make a more enjoyable workplace experience.”

Bashir and her husband Rashid Mahdi of Columbus, Ohio, launched Browndages in 2018 when they realized that none of the bandages on the market blended in with the skin of their family members. They decided to do something about it with the ultimate goal to provide a better experience for their three children. Browndages come in five complexion tones: caramel, mocha, wheat, ebony, and sand.

“It was an unconscious bias for at least 100 years of just offering one shade of bandage to consumers,” Bashir said.

I&D speaker series

Bashir kicked off the 2021 I&D speaker series which is hosted by the William Blair ONE Alliance, a business resource group supporting a workplace where all voices heard. Past speakers have included leaders in the Chicago arts community Heather Ireland Robinson of the Jazz Institute and Josephine Lee with the Children’s Choir; Rendel Soloman, an executive most recently with an investment firm that focuses on minority-owned businesses; and Patricia Mota, CEO of the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement.

A family of entrepreneurs

Bashir and Mahdi relied on their entrepreneurial network and business experiences of family and friends to bring Browndages to market, a journey that only took about a year.

Bashir’s father has owned and managed a men’s clothing and shoe store in Columbus her entire life. Her grandmother and aunt have been restaurant owners and operators. And within her surrounding community, extended family members and friends, many were entrepreneurs too.

“If you don’t see something that you need, then you do for yourself,” Bashir often says of how she was raised. “You figure out what needs to be done to provide that to your community. That’s essentially what we have done with our company Browndages.” 

It wasn’t until June 2020, after 100 years of marketing adhesive bandages that Band-Aid expanded its shade ranges, some two years after Browndages started.

Since its launch, Browndages has increased its offerings to include first-aid kits, a natural healing balm, and its popular character bandages. The initial characters were created in the likeness of their girls Yasmine, an aspiring veterinarian, and Nailah a future chef, and son Tahir, a future astronaut—a twist from the traditional superhero and princess characters featured on other brands. 

The characters have planted seeds in her children’s minds of what they can aspire to become, Bashir says. She went on to cite several stories from customers who had similar family experiences.

“Until you see these images that reflect you, you may not ever consider yourself being in that role as you grow up. Children are very influenced visually. If they see themselves in it, they believe it.”

The challenge

A graduate of Smith College with a degree in computer science, Bashir works from home in computer networking. Her husband works in logistics full-time. They are raising three young children, all who are learning virtually over the past year due to COVID.

“One of the things that I’m enjoying most about this entrepreneurial journey is the challenge of it. We are figuring it out as we go along, especially since the product we are producing and the focus of our brand doesn’t align with any other aspect of my life,” she says. “It’s OK if we lose a couple hours of sleep because at the end of the day this is another one of our babies.”

The wife-and-husband team are passionate about Browndages and Bashir acknowledges they have a long way to go to reach success. But her hopes are high if they stay true to their core mission, the possibilities are endless. Today, most of their customers are in the U.S. but she knows that children and adults around the world would welcome the representation of Browndages.

“I would love to see us expand and that would be a true definition of obtaining some success,” Bashir says.

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