Umoja African Crafts and 6th & Trade Clothing Boutique are settling into the Downtown Arts District.
The boutique, named for its location inside of a building at the corner of Sixth and Trade streets, opened several months ago. Umoja opened its doors last April.
“We’re just trying to bring together different cultures, different backgrounds, different environments and give them a cool place to shop,” owner Isaiah Jackson said of 6th and Trade, his first business venture.
The boutique carries a variety of clothing from various brands. Jackson said he sells fashion inspired by the hip hop, country and rock ‘n roll music scenes.
Jackson, a New Jersey native with a longtime love of fashion, said that owning a store was always been a dream. He saw it realized after meeting Ron Bailey, who owns the building in which the store sits.
“He showed me this space and gave me a chance to make nothing into something,” said Jackson.
Jackson said Bailey has also provided much-needed advice and guidance, as have the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership and his father, Tory Jackson, who owns Ladies First Shoe Boutique on Peters Creek Parkway.
“Everybody sees the same thing I see,” Jackson. “They see that this could be something great, this could be something that Winston-Salem gravitates towards.”
Jackson invested his own money, hiring G&S Services to remodel the space with wood and marble flooring and brightly colored walls decorated with a brick pattern reminiscent of the building’s exterior. There is also a giant, eye-catching red, yellow and green light display that puts shoppers’ in mind of the traffic light that is visible through the shop’s window. BrandMakers was tasked with creating the slick slogans on signs posted around the store.
Jackson said the store – which carries items from hip labels like DYNT, Vampire Life and Blvd. – is still a work in progress. Some remodeling is still to come and the official grand opening won’t be until April. But 6th and Trade is open for business and attracting more and more customers every week. Jackson has a part-time employee but tends to man the store himself.
“Right now, I’m living my dream,” said Jackson. “It sounds crazy and cliché, but it’s the truth …This doesn’t feel like work when I come here, because I enjoy it. Opportunities like this don’t come all the time.”
Just a few doors down the street, Purity Ruchugo is pursuing her own dream at Umoja. She’s the founder of the nonprofit Sister2Sister International Outreach Ministry, which mainly helps women and children in her native Kenya.
The money made when local customers buy the authentic African art and crafts sold at Umoja funds the nonprofit, which feeds 81 Kenyan orphans and pays school fees for five students. (In Kenya parents must pay for their children’s high school education.) Sister2 Sister also helps Kenyan families become self-sufficient by helping women learn to farm and teaching them to create crafts to sell.
“I open the door everyday knowing that somebody will walk in and buy something, then I can send money for those kids to eat, then I can send school fees for those kids to get an education,” said Ruchugo, who said sometimes, though rarely, the nonprofit also receives donations.
In the 1990s, Ruchugo operated a for-profit African craft store, under the same name, that carried jewelry she made. Now, Kenyan women assisted by Sister2Sister show their appreciation by making items sold at Umoja, including colorful necklaces made with paper, woven baskets, jewelry made from bone and hand-crafted purses.
“(We are) making sure that the things that they make are not just sold in the local markets where they are, but are good enough to be marketed worldwide,” Ruchugo said. “And that’s a way for them to earn a living. Instead of waiting for someone to come and help them, they can participate in their own lives.”
Though the store gets a steady stream of customers, Ruchugo said sales aren’t yet sufficient to offer all the services she’d like to provide to those in her homeland. Her dream is to open a home for orphans in Kenya, which doesn’t have a social service system to assist children left orphaned.
“I want it be a home where they grow to become something, not just meeting their basic needs,” she said. “It’s giving them hope they will grow and go to get an education, and that’s why I want it to be a children’s home.”
Jill Gatewood is trying to help Ruchugo make that a reality. Gatewood, a nurse whose family is from South Africa, has
made some of the jewelry sold at the store. She was looking to take a mission trip to Africa when she discovered the store. Gatewood will embark on a Sister2Sister-sponsored mission to a Kenyan medical clinic this summer.
“The world would be a better place if we had more things like this,” Gatewood said of the store.
Jackson has several ideas in the works to bring more attention to the store, including holding classes in Kiswahali, a common language in Kenya, for kids.
Umoja is located at 535 N. Trade St. and is open 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday. Learn more at sistersinternationalwomen.org. 6th & Trade is located at 545 N. Trade St. and is open from 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday-Saturday. Learn more at sixthandtrade.com.