Although Kwanzaa passed months ago, Catherine Gallardo practices the principle of Ujamaa -- cooperative economics -- all year round. She says the key to the success of her family business, Fashion & Natural Beauty, has been the outpouring of support from those in the NE Portland community and the gratitude her family has shown in return.
"There's no word to express our gratitude for all that we see here every day and we need that support to continue to be here and bring the nice and affordable clothing, skincare, fashion and jewelry to people," says Gallardo.
Fashion & Natural Beauty features authentic African clothing, jewelry and natural beauty products. The store is located on 4606 NE MLK Jr. Blvd.
Gallardo operates the business with her husband and three children. They opened up their current location in Aug. 2012.
The family emigrated from Cameroon, where they own a similar shop, almost 10 years ago. Gallardo started selling her products in the Portland area in 2009 while she was employed as a social worker with Lutheran Community Services Northwest. Initially, she was selling her products out of her garage. She says she would travel from her home in Hillsboro to work in the Northeast Portland area and after her shifts were over, she would take the products she packed in her car and deliver them to customers' homes.
Gallardo says that her job as a medical case manager was integral in establishing the attitude she brings to her business today.
"My work was to help people with chronic diseases to live an independent life," she says. "By doing that work, I truly understood the support you bring to people and the love that they can see when they look into your eyes was more important than anything you could give them. Being over here and doing what we do here, it's serving the community differently and we can see all the things people are doing back to us."
The relationships that Gallardo built through social work were a determining factor in why her family chose the location for their business. She wanted to make things as accessible for her customers as possible and says that it was an optimal location for connecting with people from the African diaspora.
Ultimately, she says it was the best decision she could've made. Although the business specializes in African products, Gallardo says she's gotten support from all kinds of people representing a wide spectrum of races and ethnicities.
Her daughter, Sophie, who serves as the store's sales manager, says this is what separates their business from others.
"I think that most striking and important thing about this shop is the diversity," she says. "Different people can come here and find something that they want no matter where they come from.
"A lot of people here are interested in African clothes. You have people from India. You have White people. For example, purses. You don't need to be African or Indian to like these purses."
The family prides itself on providing its customers with products that they can't find easily anywhere else in Oregon. According to Gallardo, they import 90 percent of their products. Most of their clothing and handmade jewelry is made in Africa in places like Cameroon, Senegal and Mali, to name a few countries. Some clothing even comes from Dubai. Also, they get handbags from places as far as Italy and China.
The store puts an emphasis on natural cosmetic products. Gallardo points out that not just are these products better for people's skin because they don't contain toxins and/or chemicals, but they are also more cost friendly than non-natural products you might find at other stores. She says you can look no further than her children to see the long-term effects of choosing to use natural products.
"We didn't have enough money to go to the store and buy all the expensive products but just having the natural products like coconut oil at home or maybe Shea butter, mango oil, avocado oil, all of that mixing together and putting it into the skin, they have very good skin," says Gallardo. By doing that, we realize that not only does it keep the skin healthy, overall you're not putting more toxins in your body and then it keeps the skin younger, moisturizing and skin disease free.
"It's also very less expensive. If you buy eight ounces of coconut oil, you can use that for about six months, which doesn't cost very much. If you buy five dollar Shea butter, that is going to last for a very long time, 6-8 months, and there are no side effects. Anyone can use that."
Gallardo is quick to point out that her store has benefited from people going out of their way to support the business. This has come in many forms, including people taking business cards and distributing them throughout their communities and others simply stopping by to lend words of encouragement. She says one man's willingness to come in regularly and share his wisdom inspired her to call a customer and thank the person for supporting her business.
Another woman, who was unemployed when she came across the business, was so eager to support what the family was doing that she encouraged Gallardo to make posters that she could then distribute. Gallardo says this woman has been going around the community and various community colleges and putting up posters, passing out business card and meeting people and talking about the store.
She also says a man she met at the Oregon Small Business Fair last year has been a champion for her store. When he met her and her husband, heard about their business and saw they had no credit issues, he was eager to help them succeed. Since, he has been the driving force behind their marketing and social media, all free of charge.
"He has never spent a week without coming here and seeing what's going on," says Gallardo. "This is what we call supporting people from your community."
For more information on Fashion & Natural Beauty, call 503-281-6264 or visit their website.