Jamaican-Canadian cousins Alesha Bailey and Samantha Newell just celebrated one year in business with the launch of branded merch.
“We’ve always been dreaming together,” says Alesha Bailey about her partnership with Samantha Newell and the creation of their one-year-old e-commerce site, Yard + Parish. The platform focuses on promoting the work of Black creatives, and features products from garments and accessories for all genders to décor and beauty.
The inspiration for the site was “born out of the frustration in not finding products that were right for us,” Bailey says. The duo hail from the suburban locale of Brampton, Ont., and Bailey says that “although we lived in a diverse community, the local stores never considered us in terms of beauty and fashion, and even food. We’ve always felt like we had to go out of our way.”
Newell recalls that their eyes were opened to the world of possibility in the fashion industry after they both moved to the U.K. for post-secondary school–Newell for fashion pattern cutting, and Bailey for architecture. “London was an eye-opening experience in terms of what’s out there,” she says, adding that after completing her initial pattern cutting program that she then invested her time in studying the business side of style.
Coupled with their education, Newell notes that mentorship has played a part in their business’s impressive growth. “We wouldn’t have been able to make as much progress as we have in such a short time if it wasn’t for us being comfortable asking questions to more experienced professionals, family and friends,” she says. “As busy as [professionals] are, don’t assume they’re too busy for you. Knowing that you’re not alone is important.”
After conceiving of the idea for Yard + Parish, Bailey and Newell scoured the internet for Black-owned brands that fit their ethos of ‘discovering the diaspora’. One novel element of the website is its Find Your Nude component, which breaks down skin tone options for customers, and also provides a Colour Match Concierge service for selecting products like Ownbrown’s undergarments and hosiery by Sheer Chemistry. “Now that we’re transitioning away from that idea of ‘nude’ being a single colour, we wanted to make it a lot easier to find your specific match,” says Newell. “Shopping online for undergarments is difficult enough as it is.”
In addition to intimates, you’ll discover an array of vibrant scarves by Life Liveth, jewellery by Relic London, and handbags by De Lovet. “We were mostly looking for things we wanted to try and wear,” says Bailey. “Products that spoke to our Caribbean heritage, that are relaxed and laid back but also luxurious.”
Newell notes, though, that through Yard + Parish, they’re committed to redefining what luxury means. “It’s important for us for the store to be accessible,” she says. “It’s not about how expensive something is, it’s about how well-made and well-thought out it was.” For example, on the site you’ll find items from Toronto-based organic skincare brand Blumseed and Bohten eyewear, which uses reclaimed wood in its designs.
You’ll also find new items that the duo devised to mark their first year in business. The Island Tings capsule features two t-shirt styles, and shares a name with the Instagram Live series the brand launched earlier this year. “We wanted to commemorate our anniversary in true island fashion,” says Bailey, noting that the plantain image found on one of the shirts was created by Toronto-based graphic designer and photographer Emilie Croning. “It’s a very Caribbean and African-unifying fruit, and it’s a great heritage piece to bring the diaspora community together.”
Bailey and Newell say they aspire to bring their community together in a physical way one day, with plans for a pop-up concept brewing–but on the back-burner for the time being, of course. “When and where is a really good question,” says Newell, pointing to the set-back that COVID-19 has placed on this idea.
For now, they’ll continue to connect with customers online. “It’s really nice to be able to reply back to them ourselves and really show them how passionate we are about our products,” Bailey says, with Newell adding that, “It’s comforting to know that what we’re doing is something that our community needs and enjoys. Even when everything is chaotic, people can rely on us.”
You don’t need to look further than Yard + Parish’s Self-Care Sampler Set 2.0, which launched last week, to understand how much the founders care about their fans. “They were curated to make it easy to take care of yourself,” Newell says of the Sets, which include wares from Tanaka, the Afro Hair & Skin Co., and Dew Woods.
Indeed, self-care has been top of mind for the pair in the last few months. “As entrepreneurs and as Black women, it’s tough to take the time out,” says Bailey. With the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, the pair have experienced an uptick in their sales–one that has illuminated the potential for Black-owned businesses to cultivate their space in the design landscape. “The most important thing is putting thought and consideration into the products that you buy,” says Bailey, adding that consumers also have to “acknowledge that [being] a Black-owned brand doesn’t necessarily mean it’s only for Black people.”
“Now that we’ve seen what can be, there’s no going back to the way things were,” Newell says about ensuring this interest is sustained. “I encourage everyone who was supporting in the last few months to know that it doesn’t stop there. We’re so grateful for the attention that’s been received recently and want to make sure it continues.”