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Brooklyn businesses we love: Byas & Leon

amika was born and raised in Brooklyn (specifically Bushwick), a hub of creative thinkers, artists, and entrepreneurs. This borough is where we pull a lot of our inspiration from, because it’s the place we call home. Brooklyn has no shortage of new and unique ideas when it comes to just about anything, but especially businesses. In our “Brooklyn businesses we love series”, we’ll be passing the mic to small-business owners thriving and living out their dreams. Here they’ll talk about their come up, lightbulb moments, successes, failures, lessons learned, and advice.  

Today, we’re speaking to the owners of Byas & Leon Shoppe, a Brooklyn based boutique specializing in ethical and sustainable apparel.  

Introduce yourself and tell us about how you made your way to Brooklyn.

As the owners of The Byas & Leon Shoppe, Brooklyn is of great significance to us. I (Harvey Leon) was born there, but more importantly, it's the place where both of our parents came in from Haiti - ready to start new lives and contribute to the American dream. 30 years later, their sons "came in" to Brooklyn as well, ready to cement our own legacy and strive for the American dream in our own way. A tad poetic, but there’s no denying the symbolic significance of building in Brooklyn. 

What was the process like of bringing the idea for Byas & Leon to life?

Before our Brooklyn Shoppe existed, we'd already been operating as a Fair Trade apparel design/production company since 2013 - employing tailors in our native Haiti and paying them what we like to refer to as a "thriving" wage - enough funds to truly have a higher standard of living with. As we evolved and grew, we felt a strong desire to expand our mission - so the Shoppe is a manifestation of that desire to take ethical and sustainable fashion further (incorporate vintage, Zero Waste brands, hand-made locally produced goods, etc.) and to create an Afro Diaspora-focused communal space. 

Have you had an “I’ve made it!” moment yet? If not, what will make you feel like you’ve made it?

Hahaha we haven’t had such a moment yet, but we’ll probably feel that way once we’re mentioned or referenced by somebody big or influential...like Kerby Jean Raymond of Pyer Moss or Solange, haha.  

Tell us about a moment when you wanted to give up or felt you failed but pushed forward and persevered.

“Before the Shoppe existed, and we were only having apparel cut and sewn in Haiti - we would purchase all of the raw materials (buttons, tags, fabric, etc.), put it all on a truck among others on a cargo ship, and ship it to Haiti via boat. About 2 weeks into its trip, we got a call that the truck with our material ‘fell off’ the boat and sunk into the water...instantly evaporating about $10K worth of our money. What’s more likely is that the cargo ship docked into a random island, where smugglers purchase the trucks with everything in them. Big black-market vibes, lol, but nothing could be done...our money, material, and effort/time/energy we’d put into getting everything, was gone.  

That was a really low point, the most sudden and crushing blow we’d experienced - and it had us seriously wondering if it was worth continuing on this path at all. But we kept on keeping on, laid low for a while to replenish our finances and figure out a safer way to ship material to Haiti, and came back stronger and smarter.” 

What’s a lesson you’ve learned that you’ll never forget?

That social equity - the human connections forged in community and held together by love and shared ideals, is the most powerful currency there is. 

What do you hope your business contributes to the world?

Our hope is for Byas & Leon to serve as the premiere Black owned beacon for the ethical and sustainable future of fashion, while simultaneously serving as a cultural beacon of learning, connecting and love. 

Why is community important to you?

“Our work, at its essence, is the work of expanding consciousness. The work of connecting hearts and minds...perpetuating love. Love indeed, is the true currency at Byas & Leon. Our end and our beginning. And this currency flows abundantly; from our art showcase and discussion series from local artists called "Heart to He(art)", a photo-walk activity series called "Shoot & Tell" that we encourage everyone (regardless of skill level or age) to partake in, a sustainability/environmentalist educational curriculum called "Root(ED)", a number of book readings from independent authors, celebrations for Juneteenth, cooking for the neighborhood for "FriendsGiving" events we create - and so very much more. All of which is rooted in the connections between people, the connections we make it a point to create space for - which amounts to an almost infinite number of ideas being shared and relationships expanding/strengthening.” 

What’s one of the most challenging aspects about being a small business owner?

Resources, honestly. Particularly in the form of money - by virtue of being a small business, we are not backed by billionaire Hedge Funds or Venture Capital firms. Oftentimes we have to sustain the business while working full time jobs (as both Rony and I do) and caring for our families. This is exceedingly difficult as it is, but the difficulty ramps up even further during years like the one we’re only just now coming out of - COVID 19. 400,000 small businesses closed and counting, it’s truly tough out here. 

Do you have any words of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

To find the thing (the cause, the innate talent, etc.) that makes you come alive - and to develop it and pursue it with everything you’ve got...the Universe will open up, and everything (the money, the tools, the people, etc.) will manifest. TRUST THAT. 

If you have a favorite Brooklyn-born business that you’d love to see featured on The Strand, feel free to reach out!  

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