For the country at large, it may seem as though it wasn’t until last summer that prioritizing support for Black-owned businesses became a popular trend. However, that is hardly the case for this Houston-based marketplace.
BLCK Market was founded back in 2017 with a mission to provide a safe space for small Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs to showcase their quality brands and curate a vision of financial literacy, support, and creativity for the local community.
The marketplace, considered Houston’s largest gathering of Black-owned businesses, started out holding in-person events in some of Houston’s Black museums like the Houston Museum of African-American Culture and then moved onto the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum.
According to founder Jeremy Malone (who also goes by J.O.), he created this powerful concept to find a positive outlet for his creativity and also give back to his city in a way that makes a statement for all Black businesses.
“Being a creative in Houston is a lot different than trying to be a creative on the West Coast or in New York,” he tells AfroTech. “So the [question] for me was how can I stay creative while everybody else has a 9 to 5?”
He found his answer in the form of a marketplace whose main objective is to keep circulating the Black dollar within our communities. According to him, he not only wanted to find a way to help Black entrepreneurs sell their products, he also wanted to create a brand that looked to elevate the cultural significance of Black entrepreneurship.
“BLCK Market was created to fill a void so now we just try to stay ahead of the game,” he says of institutions that have just begun to express huge support for Black-owned businesses recently. “It’s kind of crazy because it feels like a lot of people are late to the party.”
The motto that BLCK Market emphasizes is to not buy Black, but shop Black because according to Malone, “when you come to our events it’s an experience.” He adds, “that’s what we do at BLCK Market, it’s [about] going to enjoy our community and getting the full Black American experience.”
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While the marketplace started in-person only — holding marketplaces every first Friday and second Saturday — it found a reason to pivot to an online platform last year that was encouraged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though 2020 was a year full of uncertainty for businesses all over the country, BLCK Market found a way to survive and then some. “Our community [in Houston] was already supporting one another [prior to the pandemic]. So in a sense, we were looking to [continue] supporting one another and grow out of that space,” Malone says. “The way the pandemic kind of worked was either you were a business and you [closed] or you had your best year.”
The latter was true for his company as it was able to lean on the support of technology to help not only keep the BLCK Market name alive but also continue keeping other Black brands open for business as well.
BLCK Market’s digital database, which supports over 3,000 Black vendors, offers an interactive experience for customers to buy directly from sellers while also discovering new businesses to satisfy their everyday shopping needs.
Through its online platform, BLCK Market has helped several businesses adapt to the rapidly growing e-commerce space amid the pandemic. “BLCK Market Houston is not only a place where you can sell your products, it’s also a place where we teach our vendors that [e-commerce] is the way,” Malone shares. The company has even been instrumental in helping some of these businesses launch their own brick & mortar to support their growth.
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As the world begins to open back up, BLCK Market will continue to hold its in-person events with more of their industry-focused expos that aim to cater to the Black American experience beyond shopping by focusing on aspects like beauty, fashion, food, health and wellness, and more. More importantly, its goal is to continue growing its digital platform to support more and more businesses in e-commerce.
“[Our goal] is to continue to grow our in-person events and our [database] to truly be a competitor with Amazon and have high-quality brands,” Malone shares. “Quality is everything for us – we say shop Black, shop quality. We believe that if you put our Blackness and culture and match it with quality, nobody can touch us.”
Looking ahead, BLCK Market also has plans to open its first retail store in just a few months that’s expected to bring the company more structure. Malone says, “As we continue to grow we want to be able to scale these retail spaces and provide these opportunities 365 [days a year] to Black-owned businesses across the country.”