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Stronger together

There’s something special happening at 539 South Avenue, and it’s called Women of Color New York. Over the last eight months, the collective that operates out of the ground floor of the three-story building located in the South Wedge has focused on offering fashion, beauty, and wellness solutions to its customers.

“I was inspired by women, their businesses, and the lack of opportunity for us,” says founder Connie Marple, who also owns and operates Charlie Style New York in the space.“I believe iron sharpens iron, and working together just made sense.” When COVID hit in 2020, and others started to shutter their businesses, Marple decided to act on an idea she had had for six years, writing down her vision and building a team. She wanted to offer products and services that would add value to the lives of women while also empowering women-owned businesses under one roof.

“I decided who by recommendations from family and friends, because the only business owner that I knew prior was my niece, Olivia,” says Marple. “Everyone else came from people I knew and trusted, and that’s how Women of Color New York came to be.”

Along with Marple on South Avenue are T’Hani Wade of Bae’s Bags, Jeana Philabounkhoun of Blink Beauty, Olivia Travis of Beauty by Olivia, Sylvia Johnson of Ivolve Me Wellness, Candice Simmons of Goddess Glow Botanicals, Lauren Barley of Light My Candle Company, Victoria Best of Pure Best Fine Soaps, and Shayla Johnson of Shayla J’s Dessert Bar & Bistro.

By joining forces, the nine businesses bring something distinctive to the collective, and their spirit of collaboration has led to their success.

“This space is important to me because it’s a sisterhood where I can connect, collaborate, and learn with like-minded female entrepreneurs,” says Barley, who had previously sold her nontoxic hand-poured soy candles and home fragrance products online and in several area boutiques. “We are able to ask questions, share concerns, and celebrate with each other.”

Best, who offers soaps that are free of all GMO ingredients and parabens, loves that Women of Color is located in the city that she grew up in.

“As brick-and-mortar retail businesses continue to decline, [Women of Color New York] was built as a space for minority women small-business owners to showcase and provide support for one another,” says Best. “It’s proving to be a major asset in bringing unique, quality products to our community.”

Follow your passion

For Marple, fashion has always been a passion, but as a full-time business it took a backseat as she fell into a career in dentistry. As she recalls the story, she worked at a bank, got laid off, and ended up working as a dental assistant. A doctor she worked with at Eastman Dental encouraged her to become a dental hygienist, and the rest is history. After spending twenty-five years in a career that was fulfilling and good to her and her family, she retired and started to think about that next chapter.

“I was walking on my treadmill, watching Downton Abbey, admiring the fashion and decided to go get what my heart had always wanted,” Marple says.

After that episode and her workout was over, she enrolled at SUNY Buffalo State College, and in December 2020 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fashion textile technology. By April 2021, she found the space in the South Wedge, and Women of Color New York was opened by August of that year.

“Here I am with my fashion degree living and loving my best life here in our boutique,” Marple says. “Together, we are also overcoming the myth that women cannot or will not work together for mutual success and growth.”

The community has responded positively and loves the business model. And when it comes to being a one-stop shop, Marple says it’s pretty close, but her search will always continue, because she believes it’s important to offer a variety of services and goods that their customers are looking for.

“Our products are amazing, and our events and customer service is top-notch,” says Marple. “We are so blessed to have this opportunity for ourselves and future women entrepreneurs.”

It’s that next generation that Marple hopes to focus on over the next year. She wants to pay it forward and bring in and mentor young female entrepreneurs just getting started who are following their passion like she did.The goal for the collective is to grow their businesses while giving back to each other and the community.

“This has been the best experience of my professional life,” Marple says. “Life is great, and we are excited to see where we go from here.”

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