The DC pop-up festival celebrates black-owned businesses

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About 80 Black-owned vendors and creators gathered Sunday in DC for Black on the Block’s first immersive pop-up festival, a Los Angeles-inspired event to showcase Black-owned businesses that often have limited access to exhibit their work.

“It can be really difficult for Black-owned businesses, especially small Black-owned businesses, to get a foothold on the ground,” said Lanie Edwards, CEO of Black on the Block. “To be able to give them a platform to do this consistently, every single month is our goal.”

Edwards, who has a small clothing line in Los Angeles, said she’s the only black company in several pop-ups she’s been invited to, so she set out to create a space for and by black people, not just about herself to showcase their work, but also to create a network where clients interested in the work of black creators can always find them.

At DC’s recently renovated Franklin Park at K and 14th Streets NW, visitors were offered options to purchase goods including clothing, art and jewelry, which were displayed at dozens of booths by DC owners and owners from other East Coast areas. The festival included live music, food trucks, gated areas for VIPs and opportunities for small business owners to network.

In partnership with National Football League star Stefon Diggs and the Downtown DC Business Improvement District, Black on the Block hosted its first free event and expects to continue each year, Edwards said.

Behind tables of unique clothing designs, personalized salves and art, entrepreneurs spoke not only about the business, but also a story of resilience through which they create opportunity as Black entrepreneurs.

Co-founder Tyler Lee said he and his business partner created Black Is Love, a clothing brand focused on t-shirts, to increase love in black culture. They are based in Northern Virginia but sell their clothing online nationwide.

Holding a T-shirt that read “Black women are superheroes,” Lee said he remembered watching cartoons and movies growing up that had the word “Black” and even black characters in them were associated with negative connotations.

“People look at the word ‘black’ pejoratively, so we called it ‘black is love’ to kind of change that narrative,” he said.

FTK – For The Kids – founders Gerald Jackson and Andre Revell said their clothing brand takes pride in fashion and honors educators.

Jackson and Revell said they were raised by educators, so they wanted to combine their passion for art and community service while helping teachers who work in schools with insufficient resources to pay for their school supplies.

“We believe that no educator should pay for school supplies out of pocket, so a portion of our proceeds goes to underfunded educators,” Revell said.

Alexandra Arnold, 32, co-founder of SOLV, a shop that offers self-care products like candles and crystals, said that in partnership with other women entrepreneurs, she has transformed her personal healing journey into a small business that sells products with elements of black spirituality.

“I wanted to create something that would allow our voices and our unique cultural experiences through the lens through which our spirituality is seen,” Arnold said. “While we don’t exclude anyone, we create these products through the lens of Black women and Black creators and our spiritual experience.”

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