Straight Out of Harlem, Inc. (SOH) was the sole creative outlet among retail stores and bodegas in Sugar Hill. When it opened in 2005, the SOH storefront was an integral part of the community, addressing its broader needs by producing public programs, exhibitions, and salons that explored contemporary cultural issues, and by promoting and selling the work of more than 250 local and global artists who created functional and wearable art.
Unfortunately, by 2009 the recession deepen and store after store closed and by the summer of 2009 SOH, like so many other entrepreneurial ventures in the neighborhood, SOH closed its storefront, shut down by escalating, prohibitive rent, and a consumer base decimated by rising unemployment.
For the past five years Janet Rodriguez, SOH proprietor, has devoted her time and expertise to empowering underemployed, creative individuals and training unskilled workers with limited access to higher education and few opportunities for employment.
SOH's new on-line shopping site features some of the creative entrepreneurs Janet has worked with in the past five years, as well of artists who sold their wares at SOH and others.
Jacqueline Puello-Raboy began sewing at 13 and has never stopped. In 1985, she joined Veronica’s Fashion, formerly based on East 125th Street in Harlem. During her 10 years with Veronica’s Fashion she mastered the art of sewing by learning from the most seasoned seamstresses in the business. Her work ethic enabled her to secure a production manager position towards the end of her tenure. Jackie was part of SoHarlem’s Creative Entrepreneurs' Program where she helped design, fabricate, and test hundreds of bags while simultaneously teaching local youth and women.
BMR Designs was established by Betania Medina Rivero, a second-generation artisan who has been producing crafts since childhood. Betania has preserved the traditions of her mother (a seamstress specializing in wedding and cocktail dresses) and her late sister (a macramé artist), by incorporating textiles into her gemstone and silver jewelry designs. She prefers to work with turquoise and silver to create affordably priced jewelry inspired by Southwestern designs.
Dionese Banks specializes in the creation of corsages, christening gowns, children's wear and fabric embroidering. She established Looking Sew Good in 2011, drawing from traditions of needlework passed down through generations in her family from Tildon, Georgia. Since learning to sew at the age of eight ,from her mother, Vera Henderson, Dioneses has honed her craft through practice, experimentation, reading and studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology.