When COVID-19 threatened her company Aisha Taylor brought 5000 square feet of Black excellence to a major shopping mall.
“We never imagined that we would have a store,” Taylor told HelloBeautiful. “This is something that really came out of a need that we discovered as we tried to re-strategize our service options in a COVID environment.”
The Sistahs in Business expo founder opened The Sistah Shop inside The Mills at Jersey Gardens providing small business owners with shelf space capable of stabilizing their companies after being forced to suspend the traveling events.
Taylor created the tour to give entrepreneurial women of color affordable platforms to connect with consumers in multiple cities. “They provide a wonderful selling opportunity, for our vendors to be able to engage, to generate sales, to network, as well as to learn and not being able to host those events has had an impact, not just on us as a business, but on the women in business that we serve. And so we were kind of just brainstorming and praying and trying to find a way where we could still do that without necessarily hosting large scale events,” she said.
The Sistah Shop store allows those vendors to sell their goods on consignment and offers rotating pop-up shop slots. “We have over 50, vendors who are on consignment and over a hundred who are in the queue to vend with us on the weekends,” said Taylor.
“We are not just the only Black owned business but the only Black woman owned business here in this particular mall. And that is not uncommon. Retail is generally looked at as the untouchable part of business ownership or something that people aspire to do, but don’t think they can ever get to,” she continued. She acknowledged that “It comes with a lot of the high costs and overhead and expenses.”
Taylor approached opening the retail space with the same innovation she brought to developing the tour. A low cost model was imperative, she wanted to create access for businesses in all stages of growth.
“Us doing this model was taking away that factor from business owners who want to see their products in a retail space, but don’t necessarily want to take on the risk and all of the costs associated with that.”
The risk was high for Taylor and her team who, like many businesses led by Black women, endured significant challenges raising capital despite their successful track record. “Getting funding is always a challenge,” she said.
“Creating a retail space is a huge undertaking. Being able to ensure that we were putting ourselves in a safe and good position to create this opportunity was important to us. We didn’t want to go into it blindly or unpreparedly.” They used a crowdfunding campaign to help meet their goals.
“The shop is what it is because of the sisters who have created businesses and who have trusted us to be partners in helping them to grow and scale those businesses. So we definitely give all credit and things to the sisters who trust us, just like they trusted us three years ago when we launched our first expo.”
As statistics about the decline of mall culture dominate the news cycle The Mills at Jersey Gardens is consistently bursting with consumers. The airy entryway of The Sistah Shop welcomed a steady flow of passersby eyeing the wooden handbags, sequined boleros, and fluorescent sweatshirts on display during its opening weekend. “If you come to this mall four to five of the seven days a week, it’s packed, the parking lot is full. You can’t find a parking space,” said Taylor, who researched a number of locations before settling on the second largest shopping mall in New Jersey. “The mall sees over 79 million visitors annually. And so we knew that being in a space like this would guarantee foot traffic for our vendors.”
Black women and girls have flooded dollars into the facility since it opened in 1999. Now they have an opportunity to support their Sistahs by shopping boutique brands like Signs Candles, Natrabella Skincare, Emish Company, and Vision Words. They also have a chance to keep them employed. “This is the first time that we will have full time, hourly staff,” said Taylor. “We’re really excited, not only to be providing opportunities for our small business owners, but to also be providing job opportunities for people who are looking for work.”
She plans on expanding their relationship with the real estate company that owns the shopping mall, Simon Properties who controls facilities in 37 states and Puerto Rico. “Simon properties has definitely come on, not just as a landlord, but as a partner, they’re very supportive of the work that we’re doing. They’re very supportive of Black owned businesses and small businesses. And they were actually eager to do something like this to begin to bring businesses like this into Simon properties,” said Taylor. “This is definitely not something that we intend to do as a one and done.”