Creating Community at Strength in Shades

Activism, Outreach and Education

The wind whipped through rows of white tents as people drifted from booth to booth. Above the sound of flapping canvas, people were chatting and laughing. From earrings to salsa, crystals to skincare, the Juneteenth Strength in Shades market showcased some of Utah’s best BIPOC businesses. With a belly full of Big South’s fried catfish, potato salad and baked beans, I wandered down to see what handmade goods I would inevitably spend my paycheck on this week.

Full-time moms, full-time small business owners and now full-time Strength in Shades co-organizers, Alicea Arnold of Defined Skin and Kris Ayoso of Kris Heals Wellness radiate a go-get-em optimism that can’t be stopped. As POC, they’ve navigated how to take up space— now, they’re on a mission to make it possible for every person here in Utah and beyond.

Both Utah transplants, Arnold and Ayoso found “friendship at first sight” when a short conversation revealed startling similarities: new Utah residents, mothers, women of color, small business owners, handmade artisans, holistic living advocates—the list goes on.
Photo: Gilbert Cisneros

Both Utah transplants, Arnold and Ayoso found “friendship at first sight” when a short conversation revealed startling similarities: new Utah residents, mothers, women of color, small business owners, handmade artisans, holistic living advocates—the list goes on. After selling their products at local markets, the two were equally dissatisfied with the Utah market scene. “We were the loudest people there … I think it stems from our culture—she’s Afrolatina and I’m Latina,” Ayoso says. Moving from New York and Los Angeles, they both longed for a certain energy that they’d left behind. “No matter where we went to sell our products, it just didn’t really feel like home,” Ayoso adds.

“Alicea and I didn’t have a space, so we created one.”

A state severely lacking in racial diversity, Utah presents a formidable challenge to BIPOC individuals eager to find a home. “In New York and California, I didn’t have to look too hard to find other people of color … I didn’t have to drive miles to figure out where to buy hair stuff,” says Arnold. Ayoso adds, “When I first moved here, I felt like I couldn’t be myself. I felt like I had to look and talk a certain way … There is just this insane pressure culturally in Utah that made me feel like I had to be different things that I wasn’t.” The more they talked with others like them, the more these women realized that something needed to be done. It was time to start shifting the culture of Utah and make it a more welcoming and accepting home for the BIPOC community. “Alicea and I didn’t have a space, so we created one,” says Ayoso. Thus, Strength in Shades was born.

As a leadership team, they quickly found a natural balance. Ayoso tackles behind the scenes, planning, coordinating and running social media accounts. Arnold shines on the marketing and branding front, brainstorming ideas and creating graphics. When the first SIS market launched in February of 2021, it showcased 22 local vendors and was a huge success. Unable to keep the emotion from her voice, Ayoso describes this first event: “Everybody who was there needed it … The spirit of the market that you feel when you come in just feels beautiful, welcoming and accepting,” she says.

Strength in Shades markets are like ““a BBQ that everyone’s invited to and there’s always a seat at the table.”

Now a monthly staple, SIS markets provide a much-needed space of diverse community for anyone. Arnold says, “Having all those cultures in one room is eye-opening to people where it’s their first time being in that kind of setting.” And, of course, these markets are just a damn good time! With food, loud music, high energy and plenty of vendors, it’s like “a BBQ that everyone’s invited to and there’s always a seat at the table,” says Arnold. Ayoso says, “It feels like you’re in LA and NY. It’s just a party!”

You can hang out with SIS at their upcoming markets on July 23, August 20 and September 17. If you’re interested in selling at a market or volunteering, you can find applications on their Linktree. Keep up to date on Instagram @strengthinshades where they announce times and dates of markets. You can also learn more about Arnold’s and Ayoso’s respective businesses here: @definedskin and @kris.heals.

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