The first event of its kind in Portland, My People’s Market brought together nearly 100 local vendors and business owners of color for an evening of live music, networking and shopping on Nov. 9, 2017. The event was so successful, a second iteration of My People’s Market was held June 30, 2018 at the Rose Quarter Commons in Northeast Portland.
Developed by four local nonprofits (Mercatus, Prosper Portland, Travel Portland and Partners in Diversity), the first My People’s Market in 2017 connected Portland creators of color with the travel industry and professionals who could help expand and scale their businesses. The event also served as an early kickoff to the holiday shopping season, drawing more than 1,200 attendees who shopped, ate, drank and danced throughout the evening.
“Events like this are incredibly important,” said Inger McDowell-Hartye, founder of the local gift curating service With Love, From PDX and a speaker at the event. “Doing something like this and the energy around it to bring them all together … shows the depth of business here and it’s important for all these businesses to know they’re not going it alone.”
“Per capita, Portland has the highest percentage of people of color entrepreneurs. It’s a small demographic, but people that are here are doing amazing things. It’s part of Portland’s spirit,” said Michelle Comer, Travel Portland’s community relations manager and one of the event organizers. “One thing I hear is ‘How do I find my community in Portland?’ So we thought it would be great to have an event for everyone to come together and make connections to people in their community.”
The 2017 My People’s Market
The pop-up marketplace was set up within The Redd East, a space owned by local environmentally-focused nonprofit Ecotrust. Y.G.B. (Young Gifted Black and Brown) Portland curated a lineup of live performers, including local musicians, artists and dancers, who performed in both the warehouse space and the large tent next door. The night’s MC, Carlos the Rollerblader, zoomed between guests and tables with a microphone in hand as vendors shared their artwork, products, cuisine and services with shoppers.
One of these makers was Courtney Morentin, founder and baker behind local small-batch bread business Wyld Bread. Morentin, who is Colombian and Mexican, moved to Portland from Southern California in 2016 to launch her business. Upon arrival, however, she found herself missing the diversity of her community in California.
“I’ve never lived anywhere where the majority of people are white,” Morentin said. “I grew up in a place where most people were Mexican or Latino and from different cultures. It’s the only thing Portland’s really lacking.”
Fortunately, Portland’s DIY culture helped Wyld Bread thrive. “There’s something in the air in Portland, I swear, that just makes people want to create and be part of it,” Morentin said. “People here are so incredibly kind and give their time to other people. More often people here will tell you ‘you can’ instead of ‘you can’t,’ and it’s nice to be part of that community and to feel supported by one another.”
Intermingling with the scent of Morentin’s freshly baked breads were aromas evoking traditional cuisines from around the world. These included freshly poured, single-origin Mexican coffee steeped in cinnamon and brown sugar by Revolución Coffee House, platefuls of steaming chili verde tamales by Tamale Boy and fragrant curry samosas pulled straight from the fryer by Spice of Africa.
By the end of the evening, more than 1,200 attendees had eaten, drank and — most importantly — shopped their way through the marketplace. Many of the participating vendors sold out of their products, indicating there’s a strong local craving for events like My People’s Market.
The future of My People’s Market
The first My People’s Market provided a rare opportunity to see so many locally made goods in person, as many of the vendors don’t have brick and mortar stores to sell their products (at least, not yet). The event was so successful, its creators were inspired to hold more iterations of the market (and events like it) at least once per year.
My People’s Market returned June 30, 2018 to the Rose City Commons from noon to 8 p.m., and more than 80 local artists and creators participated. The event was free and open to the public.
“I love the theme of this event… and I hope that it becomes an annual event,” said Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish. “To all the people that are chasing a dream and who want to grow a business in Portland, we want to do everything we can to support you … [and] in a city that celebrates small business, we have to do everything we can to help the vendors here be successful.”