All Black Made Pop-Up Provides Alternative Selling Opportunity for Vendors
By Katrina L. Spencer
Photography By Katrina L. Spencer
About 20 canopy tents lined a parking lot adjacent to Black Pearl Books on Saturday afternoon. Underneath each was a business owner displaying their wares: body oil, customized cups, paintings, lemonade, hair bonnets, apparel, candles, jewelry and more.
While the sun beat down, 94 degrees and counting, the entrepreneurs offered smiles to shoppers at All Black Made, a “curated, retail, pop-up experience” featuring all Black makers and creatives.
The event realized a dream for Eva Rovin, who created her business, All Black Made, in February and plans to host more events like Saturday’s.
“I think that unity is something we need to work on here,” Rovin said, noting that Austin’s Black community has become “scattered.”
Her desire is to bring community, clients and networks together. “I don’t want to make a business for myself,” she said, “and see everyone struggle.”
Rovin works with 70 companies who entrust her with the sale of their products and her experience working for brands like White House Black Market, Hickory Farms and Spirit Halloween have sharpened her business acumen.
The Austin-based merchants featured at Saturday’s event do not own storefronts of the brick and mortar type, though some wish to. “I don’t know if I can afford it,” said Micki Henry, owner of MickiiMadeIt.
Henry has been in business for five years selling custom-made tumblers for beverages online at www.mickiimi.com and through markets like All Black Made.
For many, the rental of actual storefronts have proven cost prohibitive.
“I could rent a shop in the Domain for anywhere from like $3,000 to $9,000 and a lot of the places in East Austin start at like $11,000… It goes up to like $25,000, and it’s just ridiculous,” Rovin said about the cost of rental space in Austin’s historic home for Black businesses.
While East Austin once housed many Black businesses, that area has become increasingly gentrified with new businesses and condominiums while many Black residents have moved to more suburban areas and the population has become more dispersed. Austin’s population grew 22% between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, but the proportion of residents who are Black dropped from 8% to 7%.
As the Black demographics change, Black vendors are finding alternative means of selling their products and establishing community-based clientele.
LaTasha Mitchell traveled from Round Rock to attend Saturday’s All Black Made event, where she purchased two pieces of art, activated charcoal lemonade and a bracelet.
“I’m here to support the Black business owners that are here and thriving with their art,” Mitchell said.
She also is a Black business owner, and her hair salon, Something Natural Hair, will host the next event, Nov. 18.
“I wanted to see what it was like to host an event that celebrated Black artists,” she said.
On Saturday, customers discovered new businesses, and the business owners were discovering each other, too, establishing new connections.
Among those finding a new way to reach customers was jewelry designer Michelle Desiree, owner of Jewlz Baby’s Creations, who has an Etsy shop. Visual artist Amos Hobson sells his work at anime conventions. Antoinette Beckford, owner of HizzCrown, sells hair bonnets for men and is aiming to sell via Amazon. Elton Fite of Kid Shogun, who works in the comics industry, says he uses an app called Whatnot, which he described as “Home Shopping Network meets TikTok.” Painter Rhea Rose says she sells her artwork “anywhere.”
The first-time event was embraced by Katrina Brooks, co-owner of Black Pearl Books, Austin’s only Black-owned bookstore. “To the extent that we can provide a platform for Black makers and Black creatives — however we are able to do that — I’m down for that,” she said.
Rovin said she would like to host an event like this at least once a month and is trying to get the word out.
“I’m doing everything that I can think of, talking to everyone I can, so that the vendors who are trusting me, like, I’m not letting them down, like, I’m delivering what they’re expecting.”