Businesses owned by women of color connect at monthly Utah markets

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Co-founders Alicea Arnold (left) and Kris Ayoso (right) pose for a picture at their latest market they held for Strength in Shades, a community hoping to empower women of color entrepreneurs. (Strength in Shades)

Two Utah women are bringing the state’s women of color entrepreneurs together through monthly small business markets.

Strength in Shades was founded by Kris Ayoso, a Latina owner of Kris Heals Wellness and Alicea Arnold, a Black New York native and owner of Defined Skin.

Ayoso said after being in Utah for several years, both she and Arnold felt that people haven’t responded to certain conversations about diversity in the way they had hoped.

“We were longing for a place where we could feel like home and not feel judged for being our authentic selves,” Ayoso said. “We got tired having to dim our light just to make others feel comfortable.”

Strength in Shades was launched in January 2021. It hosts markets each month with businesses owned by women of color, creating a community of diversity and empowerment.

According to World Population Review, almost 14% of Utah’s population are people of color. Ayoso said this lack of diversity, especially to women of color in business, can make it difficult to feel accepted.

“We really wanted to have a support group for women, for entrepreneurs and for women of color because it’s really hard in Utah to find a community where people are uplifting and understanding of your culture,” Ayoso said.

The most recent market was held March 20, with another planned for April 17.

One of the vendors at the March market was Zaewild, a creative shop owned by Hawaii-born Utah local Angela Smith.

Smith is half Black and half Hawaiian. She was adopted by white parents and has lived most of her life in Utah.

Smith said she felt like the “odd one out” growing up in Utah since she looked different from everyone else.

Smith started her business in July 2020 in hopes of using her creative products to help provide more representation of female entrepreneurs, diversity and mental health.

Angela Smith is the owner of Zaewild, a shop that sells creative products. She attended as a vendor for the market that Strength in Shades hosted in March. (Zaewild)

“When I first started my business, I would make stickers to raise money and help people, including those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, the Stop Asian Hate movement, and those within the community struggling with mental health issues,” she said.

Smith said her main objective isn’t to make money from her business. “My main goal is to create for myself, but also to help create for other people too.”

One of Smith’s favorite parts of the market is being able to meet her customers face-to-face.

“I like connecting with my customers because my business is online,” she said. “I think connecting with the people and seeing their reactions and to see that they like my art is the best thing.”

The response to the markets has been overwhelmingly positive. With 22 women of color-owned businesses and vendors at the last market in March, Ayoso and Arnold are now expecting 52 vendors at the upcoming April market.

BYU global supply chain management student Alec Cutler said attending the market in March was an amazing experience with a large turnout and happy environment.

“We need to have more active advocacy for women of color who own businesses,” Cutler said. “The people who organized the market is called ‘Strength in Shades,’ but really, it was an example of strength in numbers.”

Cutler said one way to amplify the voices and businesses run by women of color is by supporting them financially.

“We should share about their products when we buy them, and let money do the talking,” he said. “I can repost about certain businesses but if I don’t go there and spend my money, I really haven’t done anything that shows that I support the movement, the people or their businesses.”

Information about the April 17 market can be found on the Strength in Shades Instagram page.

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