Breaking down barriers with BOM YEG
How an Edmonton-based collective is helping uplift, support and build Black businesses, entrepreneurs and creatives.
By Erika Stark 12 February 2021 4 min read
The success of Black-Owned Market YEG’s first market is a case study in how a shared vision and collective effort can lead to something incredible.
When the Edmonton-based organization, (usually referred to as BOM YEG), first banded together last summer, it was a team of six people who had hardly worked together before. In three weeks, amidst the uncertainty of a pandemic and the related restrictions and challenges, the small volunteer group pulled together a market focused on Black entrepreneurs, businesses and creatives.
That first July market, inspired by a sister market in Calgary called BOM YYC, featured 18 vendors and saw more than 1,000 participants.
“It really was a community endeavour,” said Rochelle Ignacio, BOM YEG’s Admin-Ops Manager and one of the initial founders of BOM YEG. “Organizations, individual community members, businesses, they all supported in some way whether it was donating in kind, donating financially, or just showing up.”
Since then, BOM YEG hosted a virtual market in November, launched a holiday e-market, and curated “Sweetheart Boxes” from their vendors to sell in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s all focused on uplifting, supporting and building Black-owned businesses in Edmonton.
“Black businesses have been at a disadvantage, and what we want to do is really amplify their voices and create a platform and a space where they can bring their product or services to market.”
Barriers to entry for Black-owned businesses
Sara Awatta owns Oonsie Boutique and participated in BOM YEG’s first market. It offered her business, which offers fashionable and size-accessible clothing, the chance to reach a broader audience and make invaluable connections within the Edmonton community.
“BOM YEG tries their best to offer support whether or not this is your first market, first business and you’re not sure how to navigate the nuances,” said Awatta, who subsequently participated in BOM YEG’s November e-market as well as their Sweetheart Boxes.
Many Black and other marginalized business owners lack generational wealth and access to funding due to systemic racism and oppression. As a result, these businesses experience unique barriers when it comes to registering, running and selling at farmers markets, said Ignacio.
“When it comes to a lot of minority businesses, you don’t really have the same capital when you’re starting or the same resources,” said Awatta, adding that she’s heard from other Black entrepreneurs that the fee to enter a market is often the reason they’re not able to participate.
“The daily fees are pretty high, and if you’re new, it’s not something that you’re able to navigate,” she continued. “The insurance part, the setup… honestly, it can be very overwhelming if you’re a new business.”
BOM YEG offers reduced fees to enter their markets, and also provides marketing and other types of support to their vendors to help them navigate those barriers.
“We all have different expertise in business, so we do really come together to try to coach our vendors and share whatever it is that we know and pass on those resources,” said Jaysi Cuffy, BOM YEG’s communications and PR strategist.
“It’s about what equity measures we can implement that can allow [our vendors] to access a wide market that’s well supported,” Ignacio added.
Without the support from BOM YEG, Awatta said Oonsie Boutique wouldn’t have grown nearly as fast as it has.
“I’ve done other markets, and yes, I’ve attracted new clients through them, but with BOM YEG they attract people who are passionate and who want to support [you] and who want to be allies,” she said.
How to show up for Black businesses, entrepreneurs and creatives
Do your research.
“It’s something that I struggle with,” says Awatta. “You fall into the position of needing to teach people, and as an ally you need to teach yourself first.”
Diversify your support.
“Just try to think about what you do in your everyday life: what music you’re listening to, where you’re shopping, what groceries you buy,” said Ignacio. “Not everyone has financial means to support but that doesn’t mean that you can’t recommend [a business].”
Invest in your community.
“If you have the capacity to purchase from somewhere that is local, that is woman-owned, that is Black-owned or minority-owned, spending your money and your resources into your community is something that everybody should do,” said Awatta. “We have to think of ourselves as a bigger community. Don’t think of it as just supporting a Black-owned business; you’re supporting people within your community who have a lesser network of support.”
Check your bias.
“Being a Black-owned business in the city, you have to prove yourself more,” said Awatta, who also owns YEG Services, a consulting firm which offers administrative services to small and midsize businesses. “You have to go that extra measure to say, ‘I am knowledgeable, I am these things,’ that someone else may not necessarily have to say.”
“[Black] people who sell services are often not seen as knowledgeable or as qualified,” she added. “That’s something where people really need to check their biases when they see someone who doesn’t look like them.”