Tatiana Saleh twisted metal into the shapes of snakes and strung together multicolored rocks on hooks at her home as “The Great British Bake Off” flashed on a TV screen in the background.
Soon enough, Saleh had 300 pairs of earrings on her hands. She said she took on the hobby to make flair for her job as a personal assistant but never imagined she would sell any of her creations.
“I’m not a selling person,” she said. “I’m not good at pricing things. I want to give them away for free, just because I’m so happy people like them.”
But Saleh now sells her products with the help of The How Bazar. Founded in August 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the worker-owned co-op includes a clothing store, venue and night market. Her first time selling her earrings was at the company’s Jan. 14 grand opening.
The How Bazar’s owners aim to empower local artisans and creatives like Saleh while promoting diversity, sustainability and ethical sourcing. They do this by featuring swaths of local businesses at their monthly night markets and using only local tailors and artists to work on their clothing and art. At the grand opening, vendors selling products from healing stones and handmade jewelry to foreign candy and vinyl records greeted swarms of people visiting their tents. Musicians performed live on Southwest Second Street as artists crafted embroidered rugs on the spot. The designs and clothes of 15 local stylists were also spotlighted during a fashion show.
The How Bazar co-owner and founder Laila Fakhoury said she and her fellow co-owners wanted to create a space where the community could find comfort and safety during the pandemic. That was the monthly outdoor market.
“It was a struggle figuring out ways at first that we could operate while being safe and respectful to our community, while protecting people, protecting ourselves,” Fakhoury said.
Fakhoury estimates that The How Bazar works with 30 to 50 new vendors at each monthly market and has partnered with more than 300 local businesses since its inception. The venue has even tackled larger projects, selling a line of face masks designed and created by Palestinian refugees in Jordan.
The co-op came to be through Gainesville’s nightlife and music scenes. Fakhoury and fellow co-owner Khary Khalfani run Dion Dia, a local record label that represents local hip hop and RnB artists. The duo met future co-owner Jose Peruyero when he invested in Dion Dia and bought them their first 100 pairs of silent disco headphones.
Peruyero later introduced future co-owners Holly McCoy and Ryan Akridge to Khalfani and Fakhoury. The group quickly gelled, trusting each other to separately spearhead projects during the struggle to make the monthly markets safe during the pandemic. The co-owners have their own responsibilities according to their skill sets but often collaborate for the company’s success.
“When things got stressful, we came together,” Peruyero said. “We didn’t fall apart.”
The How Bazar opened in the Seagle Building, located at 408 W. University Ave., but relocated in October 2021 after the location’s owner changed. After a hard-fought battle with outside developers to secure 60 SW 2nd St., The How Bazar held a soft opening at the location on Nov. 13, 2021. Peruyero credits the co-op’s success in securing the locale to getting city commissioners to understand their vision: to create a communal space for people of color and the LGBT+ community. He compared it to Andy Warhol’s Factory, a hub where artists gather and collaborate.
“Gentrification only pushed us,” McCoy said. “[It] showed us that what we were doing was a necessity.”
Athena Gaglioti, owner of Sunshine Soul Co., sold spiritual and healing rocks at the night market. Her business was spurred by a childhood obsession with the rocks in felt bags at SeaWorld. She said she believes The How Bazar is a great way to support local businesses.
“I love it here,” Gaglioti said. “Honestly, what Laila and everyone else has done is so amazing…”
An eclectic fusion of hobbyists like David Wells are part of The How Bazar’s mission. Wells, one of the live artists at the grand opening, screen prints clothes, which he started doing in high school because he couldn’t afford skateboarding brands. He has been a vendor for around a year and enjoys the How Bazar’s markets because they don’t charge vendors for booth spots.
“Laila comes through and she gives everyone snacks and water,” Wells said. “[She] treats us like huge homies. They’re for sure the best people to vend at.”
For Peruyero, it was amazing how many business owners and friends offered support before being asked.
“There’s nothing more beautiful than thinking what you’re doing really matters, and then seeing people actually get it,” Peruyero said.