Imagine walking into a store where everything on the shelves is made by a black person. Such a store is a reality, thanks to Michael and Mak, proud owners of Melanin MRKT in Pickering, Ontario.
Creating wealth within the community is at the core of the Melanin MRKT mission, but the idea was birthed out of parental frustration. "The store started basically because we had a hard time finding black dolls for our kids," says Micheal. Mak adds that they always try to go out of their way to support the black community and the power of the black dollar. “But there was no central place we could just walk into that had everything. We thought we would create that place since there wasn't one."
Melanin MRKT opened Dec 2, 2017 inside the Pickering Flea Market (located in the back of aisle H) selling items such as games, gifts, dolls, books, gift cards, natural skin care products, glasses, cups, jewellery, and art.
"We would like to run programs out of the store eventually, but right now we use it as a platform for other entrepreneurs to put out their products," says Micheal. Mak adds, "It's basically for black entrepreneurs to be able to showcase their businesses but also for consumers to be able to find representation."
"If you want to support the black community, you can come into Melanin MRKT and know that you are putting your money back into the community," says Mak. "At the same time, if you are an entrepreneur, you know that you are creating a stream of revenue for yourself from your community."
Mak says the greatest obstacle they had was finding entrepreneurs to fill the space. She believes this is because a lot of black entrepreneurs haven't had space, they didn't think of it as an avenue that they could go by. "We want to put our money where our mouth is. That's the point of the store really." She points out that it's easy to say that we support stuff online. It's easy to like and repost but it's about actually getting out and spending your black dollars within our black community for the greater good.
Mak and Michael feel Melanin MRKT is a big part of their contribution to this ‘greater good’.
"We want to grow our business," Mak says. They would like to have multiple locations across Canada. "The more stores we have, the more black businesses we can carry. The more black businesses carried, the more black businesses grow. The more black businesses grow, the more jobs our children have, and the more entrepreneurial minds we can spark and inspire to create their own."
Melanin MRKT invites black entrepreneurs to pitch their products. "They could come right into the store and meet us directly and showcase their products to us here," says Michael.
Michael says one thing they consider when taking on a vendor is what their packaging and label looks like. They also consider what value this product would contribute to the cause. Mak adds, “Be a perfectionist when it comes to your business because we are not starting on a level playing field. Be a perfectionist and provide your people with a better quality product.”
"Always stick with it. Stick with your business and purpose," Michael says. Mak stresses that if this is what you want to do, then be well versed in it. “Educate yourself in business. Find successful people you look up to and follow their story. Always think about how and where to market it, who needs it? Always have a whole plan in place."
The market is open only on Saturdays and Sundays because both Michael and Mak are still working full-time jobs and plan to do so until they can completely sustain their families through the business. The goal is to motivate entrepreneurs to create more goods, thereby turning this into a full-time endeavour. In May, the store will be doubling in size, to include more vendors.
Mak says a lot of times people's biggest issue with supporting black business is that they feel the cost is too high. “Yes, the cost may be higher, for now. But the more you support black business, the more quantities we can buy and the cheaper we can buy them for. The cheaper we can get our goods for, the cheaper, in turn, we can sell it to you. This is why other demographics have such a stronghold on certain areas. They buy large volumes because they have the capital to do so. The more we support, the cheaper it becomes, and we can compete with other markets. We have to understand that just like in the civil rights era, they weren't sure they would see the fruits of their labour but that didn't stop them from moving on ahead. Likewise, that's where we are at this point. If we want to do better for our children and create better opportunities for them, then it's not even an option. If we even want to begin to level the playing field at all, we have to get serious about supporting each other.”
Lucy Oneka is a playwright and journalist. She has covered many stories for Toronto based newspapers such as the East York Observer, the Scarborough Observer, and the Toronto Observer. Lucy’s other passion is music. She is a two-time semi-finalist of the prestigious UK Song Writing Contest and recently released her own debut gospel album, “You Are Faithful”.