They met at their children’s preschool, but Alicea Arnold and Kris Ayoso quickly discovered that they had more in common than just being young mothers.
Both had moved to Utah from larger metropolitan cities.
Both are entrepreneurs selling wellness products.
And both are women of color — Arnold is Black, Ayoso is Latina — in a state where diversity is not always celebrated, and newcomers often feel like outsiders.
After talking and crying and then brainstorming about what they could do to help themselves and others, they launched Strength in Shades.
The monthly pop up market showcases female entrepreneurs and women of color.
It launched in February with 20 women-owned businesses selling food items, jewelry, clothing and home goods. Word spread of the lively atmosphere that celebrates all cultures and by April the number of vendors had more than doubled.
“We are creating this sisterhood where people finally feel welcome,” said Arnold, a New York native. “It’s helping us individually, but also helping other people.”
The markets have been held at different spots from Orem to Salt Lake City. May’s pop-up — with a Cinco de Mayo theme — was held in South Jordan.
The next market is June 19 from 3 to 7 p.m. at Salt Lake City’s Washington Square, 451 S. State. It’s being held as part of Utah’s Juneteeth celebration — which commemorates the emancipation proclamation in 1863 and 1865.
Arnold, the mother of two daughters, said having this “passion project” has finally made her feel at home, five years after moving to the state.
“I’d take my daughter to play groups [here in Utah] but it was never a diverse space,” she said. “In New York City, there are so many different cultures.....and we are all friends no matter what race or religion we are.”
Last May in the midst of the pandemic, she launched Defined Skin, a line of healing skin care products. Her signature offering is a body butter — a family recipe that helps with eczema.
Ayoso has a similar story.
The owner of Kris Heals Wellness, moved from Los Angeles to Lindon four years ago and started making natural and organic products that were difficult to find in Utah County. Here signature product is an organic elderberry elixir, initially created to help fight the dry throat and coughs she developed in Utah’s desert climate.
Despite family and business endeavors, Ayoso said something was missing. “Everything was different than what I was used to,” she said, “from culture and food and to gatherings.”
Launching Strength in Shades has created the community she yearned for. “it has made me feel like I have a purpose in Utah.”