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Connection and craft allow Berkeley girls entrepreneurs to flourish in the course of the pandemic

Items on the market at Uchi Home. Picture: Pete Rosos

This Found in Berkeley story is delivered to you by Berkeley’s Workplace of Financial Growth.  

The tip of November usually marks the start of vacation season, when cheerful, wintery tunes play on repeat and consumers pack Berkeley’s shops in the hunt for items for household and pals. This 12 months, the vacations will look a bit totally different, however the Metropolis of Berkeley Workplace of Financial Growth (OED), Berkeley Chamber, and entrepreneurs citywide are ensuring that Berkeley residents can nonetheless rejoice with native finds. 

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit small companies onerous: greater than half of Berkeley’s enterprise homeowners anticipated to shut completely in the event that they needed to keep closed for a number of extra months, in accordance with a survey performed in April by OED and the East Bay Financial Growth Alliance. And ladies within the workforce have been hit even more durable than males. Despite these challenges, Berkeley’s feminine entrepreneurs have been adaptive and resilient.

Whether or not they have been in enterprise for a very long time, like Diana Gordon of Keter Salon, or in the event that they opened their doorways in Berkeley shortly earlier than the pandemic, like Stephanie Regni from FillGood, the ladies operating small native companies are leaning into the Berkeley group and discovering methods to thrive throughout COVID-19. 

Discovering inspiration from earlier generations

Yo Akino
Yo Akino, proprietor of Uchi Home, a furnishings enterprise specializing in teak furnishings. Picture: Pete Rosos

Following in her mom’s footsteps as a feminine entrepreneur, Yo Akino opened her personal enterprise — Uchi Home, which sells teak furnishings — in 2018. Akino watched her mom’s enterprise, Moon Basket, develop out of a room in her childhood house to turn into a profitable Berkeley staple. Akino’s father additionally ran a development enterprise, Dolphin Woodworks.

“Having my mother and father as examples confirmed me there are a lot of methods you can begin a enterprise. It didn’t really feel so daunting,” Akino mentioned. 

Her mom was the primary of many feminine entrepreneur position fashions for Akino, who’s impressed by the ladies she has labored with. “The ladies enterprise homeowners I knew have been self-confident, so I by no means questioned with the ability to do enterprise as a girl. And I haven’t had any experiences in Berkeley which have made me really feel every other approach.”

Uchi Home had solely been open for 2 years when the pandemic hit and Akino needed to shut store for 3 months. And although it hasn’t been simple, Akino’s principal product — backyard furnishings — has been flying off the cabinets since she was in a position to reopen her retailer in accordance with the Metropolis’s well being orders. The tables, chairs, and different gadgets are in-built Indonesia and imported straight to Akino’s retailer on San Pablo Avenue, in Berkeley’s Gilman District. Akino additionally curates a set of house items and items by working with native and worldwide artists. 

Assist from the Berkeley group

Diana Gordon
Diana Gordon, proprietor of Keter Salon. Picture: Pete Rosos

The Berkeley group has been essential to the success of those girls. From the supportive local weather towards girls in enterprise to the networking alternatives with different enterprise homeowners, these entrepreneurs wouldn’t need to be working wherever else. “I get one of the best of each worlds. I respect that small-town feeling of the group and that Berkeley is accessible from in every single place,” Akino mentioned.

Gordon, who began Keter Salon 20 years in the past, praises the Berkeley Chamber — the place she is now the board chair — and its subgroup, the Ladies Entrepreneurs of Berkeley, as each have lengthy been sources of connection for her. For the reason that pandemic, Gordon has additionally solid ties with salon homeowners, a lot of them girls, domestically and across the Bay Space. “All of us attain out to one another to share what we all know and that feels actually good,” Gordon mentioned. 

Gordon is not any stranger to overcoming adversity: she opened her salon on Fourth Road in West Berkeley the day earlier than Sept. 11, 2001. To get via a tough time and kickstart her enterprise, Gordon launched herself to her neighbors and provided free haircuts. These free haircuts become repeat, paying prospects, a few of whom proceed to get their hair reduce at her salon. 

That tough interval ready Gordon to get inventive in the course of the six months that hair salons have been closed in Alameda County. Earlier than curbside pick-up was allowed, she drove all around the Bay Space delivering coloration kits, hair merchandise and reward playing cards, which offered her the earnings required to cowl workers medical advantages.

“It’s been the 12 months of pivots,” Gordon mentioned. She went from delivering hair merchandise to establishing out of doors hair-cutting stations, solely to lastly open her salon indoors with new well being and security protocols. 

Now, the salon is now open, however transferring at a a lot slower tempo: there are partitions separating every stylist, purchasers sit greater than six ft aside, and stylists solely wash purchasers’ hair once they obtain coloration companies (to attenuate the variety of purchasers on the shampoo bowls). “What felt like a very, actually busy salon feels so calm.” And whereas income has taken a success, the lowered stress has been optimistic for Gordon and her workers.  

Forging a approach on sustainability

Stephanie Regni
Stephanie Regni, proprietor of FillGood. Picture: Pete Rosos

Among the many quaint shops on Solano Avenue is Stephanie Regni’s FillGood, which additionally feels a bit bit totally different, with solely three prospects allowed at a time. The shop’s partitions are lined with house and physique merchandise, all with zero-waste packaging. There’s floss manufactured from silk, make-up in replaceable containers, bamboo toothbrushes, compostable sponges, and 200 different eco-friendly merchandise. On the heart of the shop are bulk lotions, shampoos, and conditioners, the place prospects can deliver their very own bottles for refills.

After listening to a projection that there would be extra plastics within the ocean than fish by 2050, Regni felt compelled to cut back her personal carbon footprint and reduce plastics from her life. She began making modifications in her house and opened her first zero-waste enterprise 4 years in the past.

“It takes altering habits,” Regni mentioned, “nevertheless it’s completely doable.” 

Regni takes delight in her work in sustainability, a discipline the place feminine entrepreneurs like Regni are in good firm. Not solely does Regni work with girls, she additionally serves primarily feminine prospects at her retailer. “Most of our prospects are girls who’ve the identical wants that I did 4 years in the past,” Regni displays.

Throughout shelter in place, Regni additionally shifted to creating deliveries, however her doorways are fortunately open now. She will get many repeat prospects, who’ve switched to zero-waste house and physique merchandise and don’t need to return. “Clients didn’t overlook about us,” she mentioned.

Actually, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed single-use plastic manufacturing up as a result of elevated use of private protecting tools and take-out meals containers. On this context, Regni’s effort to cut back plastic waste via her enterprise is all of the extra essential, as is Berkeley’s 2019 ordinance to cut back single-use plastics. 

These enterprise homeowners all love their Berkeley group. Gordon and Akino agree: Folks in Berkeley are supportive of creativity. For her half, Regni praises the group for its assist of mission-driven work. 

This vacation season, the group can present their assist for these companies—and dozens of others—by buying items from the digital #BerkeleyHolidays Reward Information. Even when maximizing security means ordering on-line from house, the vacations can nonetheless be a group affair. 

This story was paid for by the Metropolis of Berkeley’s Workplace of Financial Growth which helps new and established Berkeley companies construct sturdy connections to the group, navigate native insurance policies, discover reasonably priced financing and actual property, and turn into extra sustainable. OED helps entrepreneurs, artists and group organizations really feel welcome in Berkeley and thrive.


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