SU alum organizes used vintage pieces for the Black Citizens Brigade
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Trips to mother-daughter thrift stores during the pandemic started out as a way to pass the time for Cjala Surratt and Sarhia Rahim, but ended up having lasting impacts on the duo. These shopping trips inspired the creation of a local business and eventually became a way for Surratt to pay homage to her seamstress ancestors and practice sustainability.
Surratt, a Syracuse University alumnus, has built her business, Black Citizens Brigade, through the pandemic. BCB is a curated vintage and second-hand clothing company that operates online and in local pop-up stores. Surratt said BCB’s mission is to fight fast fashion through the sale of unique, well-made second-hand clothing.
“Supporting the Brigade by purchasing from our collection of curated and graduate apparel is a conscious approach to intervening in a small but lasting way that impacts broader systems,” Surratt said.
Surratt’s daughter and SU freshman Rahim models for BCB and works at corporate pop-up events. Rahim said a variety of customers visit the pop-ups and they all like the clothes. She said she associates a community feel with the pop-up events and speaks fondly of her mother’s brand.
“At its core, BCB isn’t just about clothes, but providing a space for people to connect,” Rahim said.
At the Syracuse pop-ups, Rahim said customers often say they wish Syracuse had more events like this. When they encounter out-of-town shoppers, they’re often surprised that events like BCB pop-ups exist in Syracuse.
The BCB line features vintage leather jackets, chunky sweaters and patterned shirts that reflect current styles while maintaining retro aesthetics and quality construction. In addition to pre-owned apparel, Surratt envisions BCB “working with BIPOC artists and creatives on additional new products that complement and align with our brand.”
The inspiration behind BCB stems from Surratt’s connection to second-hand clothing history, she said. She added that she resonates with the story because her family traditions include “people making clothes, getting used clothes, and passing things down.”
“Going to places like thrift stores has been something that has been part of a community that needed to have those resources available to them because they didn’t necessarily have access to some of the stores, and didn’t have no economic access to some of them either. their white counterparts did,” Surratt said.
Historically, affordability and economic inequality have kept marginalized groups out of certain clothing stores. Buying second-hand and reusing used items was a practice born out of need for the community.
“Looking at settlements that were downtown re-inserts us into the narrative, and not just the narrative from the perspective of the common one, which is rundown neighborhoods and violence,” Surratt said. “And while there were those social challenges, there were successful businesses dating back to the 1940s that were integral to the economy and a safe place for black people to travel across the country.”
Customers can shop the collection on Instagram or at local pop-ups in Syracuse. The most recent pop-up took place on March 20 at the Westcott Theater. Two upcoming events include the Anti-Fast Fashion Show at the Little Shop of Hoarders in Rochester on Friday April 22 and a pop-up in Albany featuring the Vintage Roundup Market on Saturday April 30. Additionally, Surratt plans to open a brick-and-mortar location on East Washington Street and has a September move-in date.
As an entrepreneur, this isn’t Surratt’s first venture, but it will be her first brick-and-mortar venture in which she will join a legacy of black homeowners in downtown Syracuse.
“It’s important because growing up here, there are a lot of times that newspapers will share retrospectives and images of downtown Syracuse, and it’s quite shocking not to see blacks and browns” , Surratt said.
Part of the shopping experience is the story and story behind each piece, and Surratt said she delivers conversations through every piece of clothing she sells. The story is central to BCB’s marketing strategy and is shared on the company’s social media platforms.
The promise displayed by BCB was recently recognized by Caeresa Richardson, founder of sustainable fashion company Ecodessa. Richardson created the Retail Incubator Program to support African-American retail entrepreneurs in downtown Syracuse, through which the Black Citizens Brigade received funding to grow their start-up, Surratt said.
Retail Incubator Program applicants present their business plan and explain the intended use of the funding before the recipient is selected. Richardson said BCB submitted “a stellar application and business plan that showed they were poised for future success,” which is why she chose them.
As a woman of color, starting her own business was no small feat for Richardson. Today, Ecodessa is a successful company whose mission is to “empower women to express their social values through their personal style”.
“It’s important to me to make sure that I help build a foundation that helps the next group of business owners so they don’t face the same hurdles to ensure they succeed in their years. startup,” Richardson said.
For BCB, the challenges of opening a brick-and-mortar business are ongoing, but Surratt said she feels “validated and empowered” with Richardson’s support.
“I’m learning new things about building codes, permits, and things I wasn’t necessarily familiar with, but I’ve found that there are a lot of resources here to help people support projects. people who wish to enter these spaces,” Surratt mentioned.
Published on April 7, 2022 at 00:40