Old School, new hub for young black entrepreneurs, artists and designers in Philly
On the first floor of Kréate Hub Philly, Iyonah Stringfield’s chic suite of hair and personal care studios kills him in style.
On the second floor, Amyronn Desvignes-Pope uses 3D printers and a team of five associates to create, manufacture and personalize ashtrays, key chains, plaques and all kinds of promotional items at his headquarters. Allsides Designs solidify.
And upstairs, the painter and tattoo artist whose professional name is She Lamb – one could say that canvas and skin are his favorite media, except that he also makes clothes – illustrates the free spirit and eclectic energy of Kreate Hub. This new affordable workspace in Port Richmond attracts dozens of ambitious young black entrepreneurs, artisans and designers and others from across the city.
“It’s great to be here,” said Lamb, 31, whose paints and ink possess a thrilling exuberance. “This building is full of creatives.”
The pandemic delayed the grand opening last spring, but since Kreate Hub Philly debuted on August 1, the long-standing vacancy Thomas Powers School was alive again. The granite monument on Frankford Avenue and Somerset Street is where young women and men launch start-ups and home-based businesses or branch out into bigger and bolder ventures. Even in the midst of economic turmoil, they are at work around the clock to meet their goals and achieve their aspirations.
“Before that, I used to do drawings in my bedroom,” said Desvignes-Pope, 24, who graduated from Penn State with an economics degree. “I take this job seriously, and being in this building gives commercial legitimacy.
Stringfield, 29, said she chose Kreate Hub Philly “because it fit in perfectly with my idea of not having a traditional hair salon.” She wanted a place where professionals like Milan, a rising star of the Philadelphia makeup scene, “can express their individuality and their clients can have privacy.” Stringfield plans to add a retail component to it Yon Cosmetics and Beauty Shop; the building is already home to a number of other hair and makeup businesses.
Alison Herdoon, spokesperson for Kreate Hub, the New York-based company that developed the Philadelphia project and opened a similar facility this year at a former warehouse in the Bronx, said the pandemic has spurred demand for flexible, affordable (rents in Philly range from $ 300 to $ 1,500) and stylish to accommodate fledgling businesses in urban neighborhoods.
“Kreate Hub is a place where artists and entrepreneurs feel safe and comfortable and able to do their creative work,” she said. “It’s a place where they can come together. We don’t call them tenants. They are members of a community.
Previous redevelopment plans called for the transformation of the former public school into residential condos; Kreate Hub Philly was first designed as a studio space for artists. But entrepreneurs of color from city neighborhoods are flocking after hearing about it through social media and word-of-mouth. The building is approximately 70% leased and houses over 60 small businesses. There are plans for a cafe.
“We have fashion designers, musicians, creative service companies, and people who make their own skin care products. We have a wonderful wig maker here, ”said Iva Kelman, director / curator of Kreate Hub Philly. “We have also aroused the interest of sculptors, illustrators and people from other disciplines. We welcome everyone.
Kelman, who lives in Northern Liberties, is an artist herself, and even behind a face shield, her enthusiasm for Kreate Hub is infectious. The tenants “are young, and they’re not afraid,” she says. “They inspire me.”
The school building opened in 1899 and is located at National Register of Historic Places. Its high ceilings, shiny parquet floors and spectacular windows create a bright, airy and friendly atmosphere conducive to networking. Chance conversations in hallways or stairwells facilitate collaboration.
Desvignes-Pope works, for example, with Cliff Jeudy, one of the owners of Full-Force, the company that provides security for Kreate Hub. “We are developing a website to host his business,” Desvignes-Pope said.
Elsewhere in the hub, longtime friends have become business partners Shanna henderson and Khalif Wilkins are the two forces behind Echelon Studios. She designs and manufactures custom wigs, he is a makeup artist and they both do hair.
“Anything the customer wants,” said Henderson, 21. “I’ve been doing my hair for a good five years. I was doing hair at Cheyney College. It took me going to college to figure out what I wanted. So I went to hair school.
Wilkins, who is 22, said he and Henderson both quit other jobs to start Echelon on August 1, the same day Kreate Hub opened. They had looked at other spaces, “but none of them were so welcoming,” he said. “Kreate Hub gave us the opportunity to create whatever we wanted.”
To Jalen Hollerway, a 20-year-old music producer who also performs his own material under the name Smoke, Kreate Hub provides an indispensable home base – one with a pleasant, yet professional atmosphere.
“I used to work in a sort of warehouse space,” Hollerway said. “There is no stupid stuff or BS here, I come and do my job.” What at that time was “mixing and mastering a song”.
Two days later, the song, titled “Remember That”, was released.
Being surrounded by commercial and cultural projects or constantly developing products helps keep hub members motivated to do their best, Desvignes-Pope said.
“AllSides was formed during the pandemic,” he said. “I had nothing to lose, [my associates] had nothing to lose – it was, “Let’s put our heads together and take something off.”
“So we put that in place,” he said. “I can’t be bored, because I’m doing something new all the time. And sometimes I scream with happiness.
This story was originally published in The Philadelphia Investigator and is reprinted here as part of the SoJo Exchange of the Journalism Solutions Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting on responses to social issues.