DALLAS- This weekend, Black business owners and vendors from all across the Dallas-Fort Worth area gathered together for the Afro Soca Marketplace- a convention designed to promote and support Black-owned businesses.
Afro Soca originated in southern California, but now hosts marketplace events across the United States. This is the second time Dallas hosted Afro Soca this summer. The last time, back in June, dozens of Black business owners and vendors filled the ballrooms of Gilley's Dallas, a venue with a max capacity of 4,000 people.
Below, I wrote about my experience at Afro Soca Love Dallas and some of the business owners I had the pleasure to speak with.
Pieces of Us by Us
Pieces of Us by Us is a puzzle manufacturing company that turns the designs of Black artists into playable puzzles.
Michelle Risby, the founder of Pieces of Us by Us, started the concept due to a scarcity of Black representation in puzzles.
"I love puzzles. I'm a huge puzzle fan," said Risby. "After years of collecting them, though, I noticed that I could hardly find puzzles that featured us [Black people]."
Risby was disappointed by this realization but chose to use it as motivation to begin a business.
"I think what makes our puzzles so different is we use original designs by Black artists," Risby said. "I even designed a few of these myself."
Risby sells her puzzles at marketplace events such as Afro Soca as well as through the official Pieces of Us by Us website, which can be found here.
Prizes for the puzzles vary between $25-$40 and are well worth the price given the intricate nature of the designs.
To discover more, give them a follow on Instagram!
BlackLIT CEO and culture-conscious librarian Nia-Tayler Clark also made an appearance at Afro Soca Love Dallas. There, Clark promoted BlackLIT and her upcoming store grand opening.
BlackLIT is an online and mobile store that specializes in sharing literature written by Black authors with bookworms around the globe. BlackLIT is the first monthly subscription box to exclusively highlight both Black authors & entrepreneurs. On a mission to eliminate the literacy gap, lack of positive representation, and the barrier to access that currently plagues the Black community, BlackLIT intentionally curates resources and outlets that highlight Black culture.
Through the BlackLIT website, users are able to subscribe to a BlackLIT box full of enlightening, empowering literature.
BlackLIT was founded in April 2019 and has generated quite the following in just a few years. BlackLIT has been highlighted in Oprah Magazine and has also received press from Dallas Morning News and Voyage Dallas.
Next month, Clark plans to open the first BlackLIT on-site location in Addison.
"We did somewhat of a soft launch already," Clark said to me at Afro Soca. "Our sign isn't up yet, though, so we will have a big grand opening soon. Hopefully September 24th."
For more information on BlackLIT and how to subscribe, visit the official website here.
Tyler McCray, founder of Blxck Sheep Ministries, is a comic artist based in Shreveport, LA.
In his second Afro Soca appearance of the summer, McCray debuted Reaper 101, his newest comic creation.
"I released this in July and I'm really proud of it," McCray said. "I worked hard on it and am just excited to share it with everyone."
Reaper 101, a series about a young man that becomes a reaper to rid himself of the demons that regularly torment him, is available for sale on Amazon.
To keep us with McCray's artistic journey, follow his artist page on Instagram!
Her Sweet Stitches
Her Sweet Stitches, a custom rug-making company founded by San Antonio native Symphoni Boston, was also present at Afro Soca.
Founded less than a year ago, Her Sweet Stitches is still relatively new to the scene, but has quickly generated a large following.
Boston initially began stitching as a hobby, but eventually morphed it into a business after getting requests for custom pieces from her friends.
"It's just something that I enjoy doing, to be honest," Boston said. "It's still kind of weird to think of myself as a business owner but I'm glad people like my customs."
Her Sweet Stitches specializes in both rugmaking and embroidery. The smaller pieces are usually pieced together using a process called stitching, while the larger pieces require a tufting gun.
"Making the bigger orders can get a bit loud, but it doesn't bother me," Boston said. "Once I pop my AirPods in, my tufting machine essentially becomes white noise."
Boston has recently begun making more elaborate designs and Her Sweet Stitches is open for commissions. To place an order or learn more about the brand, visit the official website here.
Patrick Rudd, founder of Alex Deon clothing, was present at Afro Soca and had plenty of merch on hand.
"Alex Deon is a clothing brand unlike others," said Rudd. "All our threads focus on empowerment while keeping you fly at the same time."
When I asked where the brand name stems from, Rudd cited his kids as inspiration.
"I actually named the business after my kids, my daughter Alex and my son Deon," Rudd said. "It's wild because I named it after my kids, but it also has the double meaning of defender of God, which aligns well with my brand."
Visit the official Alex Deon website to shop their latest threads!
Brands by Brie
Author and brand strategist Brieanna "Brie" Daniels was also present at Afro Soca.
There, she promoted her two novels, The Black Girl's Guide to Living on Purpose part 1 and 2.
The Black Girl’s Guide to Living on Purpose offers Bible-based guidance for your spiritual, emotional, professional, and physical well-being to help you discover your true purpose and start enjoying the life God handcrafted just for you.
"I originally wrote the book to help young ladies, but once I saw how many grown women enjoyed it, I decided to make another edition for them," Daniels told me.
Daniels also promoted her strategic business planning business alongside her books. Daniels meets with people who are eager to begin a business but require a bit of guidance as to how.
To learn more, please visit the official Brands by Brie website here.
Author I.K Dockins promoted his book series Eleanor's Wicked Epiphany at Afro Soca. Dockins has already published two novels and his third book is scheduled to release next week.
For more on his story, you can follow him on Instagram here.
Clutch by B
Arguably the most fashionable brand at Afro Soca, Clutch by B, a luxury eyewear and fashion label, arrived at Afro Soca in style.
Clutch by B specializes in eyewear, handbags, and wallets. All Clutch merchandise are original concepts by the founder, Brittany.
"All of the designs I do myself," she said to me. "That's what gives them flavor and why the designs are atypical to what you see in stores."
If you are in need of a good pair of sunglasses, which most Texans are, visit the official Clutch website!
The next Afro Soca Marketplace Event will take place in Durham, NC this Friday, August 26th, followed by stops in Sacramento and Los Angeles next month.
Afro Soca will return to Texas in October with a marketplace event in Houston.