by Jasmine J. Mahmoud
Before the pandemic, my two favorite places to shop for holiday gifts were Kinokuniya Seattle and Pike Place Market. At Kinokuniya, the bright, densely-packed Japanese bookstore in Uwajimaya Village, I browsed children’s books, comics, magazines, and stationery for hours. At Pike Place Market, I beelined to the Herban Farm stand, founded by Ras Levi Peynado, a Seattleite with Jamaican Roots who farms and dries his products. There, I would test-smell the fragrant seasonings, rubs, and salves, while staring at ferry boats crossing Elliott Bay, before buying gifts for family members. Among favorites were Pike Place Herbs (an all purpose seasoning), the paprika-rich Seatown Smoke (“BBQ in a jar”), and the floral Lavender Sea Salt.
The holidays are different this year. Returning to seasonal refrains of “joy,” “cheer,” “merry” feels grossly wrong, especially as illness, injustice, grief, and distance animate so many lives. I keep asking: how do we give at this time? How might we avoid commodification and consumerism, and show gratitude to friends and family, healthcare and frontline workers, and masked strangers? How might we support artists and small businesses affected by the trails of this pandemic?
Here is the “Black and Center” Holiday Gift and Giving Guide, with BIPOC artists, artisans, authors, makers, and more. So many products can be purchased online, and if safe, masked, in-person shopping is available to you, #shoplocal in your neighborhood. In fact, I named this column “Black and Center” as a riff on where I live, a block north of White Center. In this guide, there are several White Center gems, including Mac Fashion House. Earlier this year founder and designer Carlisia “Mac” Minnis pivoted from making dynamic prom and wedding gowns to colorful print masks, many of which she donates. I’m following her lead of vibrancy and giving to frame this season.
APPAREL (including MASKS): “I have been sewing almost all my entire life,” Carlisia “Mac” Minnis tells me. The designer, who has owned Mac Fashion House in White Center for almost a decade, spent much of her career designing theatre costumes and making formal gowns and wedding dresses. When the pandemic began, it dried up her spring formal wear clientele. “What am I going to do?,” she recalled asking, “It was really scary.”
This spring, while in a fabric store to finish one last order — a wedding gown for a client — Minnis decided to also buy fabric to sew masks. “I have some family members that have compromised immune systems,” she told me. “Then I saw the fabric store was asking sewers to make masks to donate to healthcare workers.” She began working 16-hour days, sewing fabric masks that she donated to friends, family members, and frontline workers. After one friend posted an image of Mac’s masks to social media, dozens of orders started to come in for more.
Now, in addition to dress designs, Carlisia Minnis sews “hundred percent cotton” masks, for sale on her website. “They also represent my style,” she describes. “I try to make [them] very colorful and a lot of prints.” For holiday shopping, check out the African print, Black Lives Matter, Floral, Holiday-themed, Sports, and Youth masks. And for this holiday time, Minnis’s story is a reminder to stay safe and conscious of community needs. “I still make donated masks,” Minnis shares. “I give them to healthcare workers, homeless, and I’ve been putting them in community boxes.”
ART: Prints, pins, original works on canvas, and sculpture — art makes for unique, long-lasting presents that have a story of their own, especially tied to Seattle. Zahyr Lauren, a current exhibiting Wa Na Wari artist, has an online shop with kaleidoscope-esque woven blankets and prints. Community organizer and artist Meilani Mandery sells photographic prints of Seattle landmarks and California landscapes, benefiting BIPOC organizations and individuals. And many artists I’ve spotlighted in past columns have online stores. Monyee Chau fashioned prints, posters, stickers, and exhibition guides. Aramis Hamer painted the “V” in the Black Lives Matter mural at CHOP; her store features“V” pins, as well as prints and clutches inspired by her works.. Jake Prendez sells prints, t-shirts, and accessories (like air fresheners!) of well-known works, such as “Chicanx for Black Lives,” and “Don’t Be Self Conchas” in his bright pop portraiture aesthetic; Prendez’s Nepantla Cultural Arts Center in White Center is also open for both online and in person sales.
Several of the illustrious 2020 Neddy at Cornish finalists also have online stores. Maya Milton sells originals and prints of celestial portraits of Black femmes. Kimisha Turner’s online shop vends a limited edition “B” poster after painting that letter in the BLM CHOP mural, as well as coloring books and hoodies. Nominee barry johnson’s online shop has prints, jackets, and original works, many with magnanimous portraits of Black figures. Sales from Anthony White’s totes and t-shirts support the Movement for Black Lives.
Gallery Onyx, run by Onyx Fine Arts Collective, is now open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 6pm in Pacific Place in downtown Seattle and carries original art, prints, jewelry and other items for giving. Many among the 300+Northwest Onyx Fine Arts Collective artists of African descent also have websites where they sell their work.
BEAUTY & SKINCARE: “A scent-free Butter Bath Soak, and an Orange Rose Butter Bath Soak; the scent- free has Ethel Waters on it, and the Orange Rose has the actress, Lucia Lynn Moses.” I am talking with Angela Brown, founder of Brown Angel Skin & Hair, an all natural beauty product company. She’s illustrating not only this season’s products, but how she labels them — with images of early 20th century Black film actresses, a nod to her graduate studies in film. “I pick the more obscure actresses,” she continues “There’s a lot of reflection about that time and that art when there was this era of making these films that were full circle produced, performed, distributed, made for Black people and with the talent of all different shades of Black people.” Also on her labels: the company is “owned by a Queer Black Womxn.”
Brown began mixing skincare products in her kitchen in 2016. She grew Brown Angel with support from Ventures, a nonprofit that supports small businesses, and her own tenacity and lifelong learning. As a child, Brown watched her mom selling Avon products and, as an adult, worked in Chicago “at a nonprofit farmer education program, and [on] a local food documentary,” before moving to Seattle in 2013. Currently, Brown is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Pratt Fine Arts Center. For Brown Angel, she copiously researches the all-natural, sensitive skin friendly ingredients that comprise her products, including the lavender sourced from a family farm in Sequim, Washington.
Brown’s products are available online, at Pike Place Market, and at Seattle-area PCCs. Other recommendations include the Balm (which comes in Rose and Lavender) for stressed out skin, and the relaxing, “Butter Bath Soak because you’re getting multiple products, but you get to soak in it. I use coarse sea salt crystals, and it feels more ocean-y to me.”
BOOKS: In 2017, UNESCO declared Seattle a “City of Literature,” in honor of its authors, booklovers, and bookstores. Consider Black/Brown-owned Estelita’s Library to purchase book gifts. One standout title: Black Imagination: Black Voices on Black Futures (McSweeney’s 2020) by conceptual artist and Seattle People of Color co-founder Natasha Marin, who asks, “What is your origin story? How do you heal yourself?.” Other recently published books animate our city, such as My Unforgotten Seattle (University of Washington Press 2020) the memoir by community organizer and oral historian, and Emerald Street: A History of Hip Hop in Seattle (University of Washington Press, 2020) by Daudi Abe, a Seattle Central College professor, with a foreword by Sir Mix-A-Lot. And for cooks: check out I Heart Soul Food: 100 Southern Comfort Food Favorites (Sasquatch Books 2020) by Rosie Mayes, Seattle’s celebrated home chef, Youtuber, and blogger.
COOKING & FOOD: The restaurant industry has been particularly hurt during this pandemic. A recent survey revealed that 20% of Seattle restaurants have shuttered this year. Beyond takeout, another way to support is through purchasing food-themed gifts. From Woodinville’s Métier Brewing — the only Black-owned brewery in Washington State — is the festive Holiday Party in A Box! This gift, they told me, aligns with their “mission to strengthen the community and inspire bigger dreams for all. We included four black-owned businesses into the box! Umami Kushi, Marjorie Seattle, Communion Seattle (That Brown Girl Cooks), and Hot Chocolat are all local black owned restaurants. People should get excited about the damn good selection the box offers and its support of local POC owned businesses.”
Seasonings, salts, and salves from Herban Farm are among other local gifts. In White Center, guava, lychee, ube, and Vietnamenese coffee are standout (and mostly gluten-free) flavors at Macadons, the macaron shop, which delivers and customizes cookies with personalized text, logos, or photos. At Eduardo Jordan’s Junebaby, find jam, spice blends, and bitters, and what I’m most excited about: the Ancient Grain Pancake Mix, with locally sourced einkorn and buckwheat flour, and red flint cornmeal. And there’s merchandise! CID’s Hood Famous Bakeshop has a “Virtual Palengke” (market) with Salamat Tote Bag, Kalabaw Miir Camp Cup (perfect for keeping hot drinks hot while outside), and Filipino Town Sticker Sheet. Melissa Miranda’s Musang in Beacon Hill has blankets, hoodies, tshirts, and totes. In addition to beans, Shoreline’s recently opened Black Coffee Northwest is selling a stylish hoodie repping the coffee shop.
One of the best gifts is self-nourishment, especially at the new year. On January 1, 2021, Tarik Abdullah’s Feed the People and the Central District’s Wa Na Wari will partner to provide free vegan plates to go at Coyote Central from 12 to 2 pm.
CULTURE: Found in the Marketplace at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience are inventive and family-friendly bundled gift sets, with goods from over 100 artisans and small businesses. For foodies, there’s the “Antiracist Foodie Enamel Pin Set”, and for readers and activists of all ages the “Young Activist Gift Set” and “Intersectional Feminist Gift Set.” Proceeds from the “Mary’s Place Gift Set,” with a dumpling ornament and letter from Santa, benefit Mary’s Place, an organization providing services for families who are unsheltered. Another highlight is the #GirlPower Tote Bag from Aggie Cheung’s Little Red House.
HAND SANITIZERS: Fresh Floral, Spiced Peony, and Intent (with sandalwood, bergamot, and lime hints) are three scents of Sculpted by Monique hand sanitizers. Monique Myers, a Social and Health Program Consultant for Washington State, began making hand sanitizers earlier this year for friends and family at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Made for sensitive skin, her hand sanitizers are also “phthalate free and formulated with 70% ethanol alcohol.”
HOME: “We entered into a market wholly dominated by non-native companies selling fake Native art. So, it’s not just about business for us. We’re also trying to reclaim the narrative about Indigenous people. Every fake piece of art has a fake story to go with it.” This is what Louie Gong (Nooksack), founder of Eighth Generation, says amidst our conversation about the Native-owned company, which is now owned by the Snoqualmie Tribe. We’re discussing a loophole that allows “large companies to skirt that [federal advertising] law by adding the qualifier, ‘inspired’,” Gong explains. He continues, “So, when you see ‘Native Inspired’ or ‘Native American Inspired,’ it’s a conscious effort of those companies to suggest that it has something to do with Native people” when they do not.
By contrast, Eighth Generation sells 100% Native-designed products including bags, blankets, clothing, fine art, soaps, sunglasses, towels, and more. On their website — expanded as the Pike Place Market store has been closed since March due to the pandemic — the term “Inspired Natives” counteracts the pernicious loophole, and centers the myriad Indigenous artists behind the company’s vast array of products. For holiday shopping browse the well-designed website, which also includes artist bios and a robust blog (including a recent story about Native performance artists).
Founded by Gong in 2008 in Seattle, Eighth Generation has grown to become “the fastest growing native owned company in the United States.” Last month, the company “launched the Urban Manufacturing Initiative. So now, we’re making wool textiles right in our Seattle warehouses,” Gong details. And earlier this year, Eighth Generation “donated 13,000 pieces of PPE to the Seattle Indian Health Board in the early days of the pandemic before the federal or state or city government gave them even one piece of PPE.”
JEWELRY: For unique rings, necklaces, bags, and other accessories made on the African Continent, check out Seaweed International led by siblings Ebony and Nia Arunga. They say: “We have found a profound healing through African adornments, and are passionate about continuing to feed the African Diaspora with the richness of the continent’s adorning products.”
RELIEF & DONATIONS: So many have been left behind by inequities exacerbated during this pandemic. If available to you, consider giving charitably. Give to BIPOC arts organizations such as CD Forum, Creative Justice, Key to Change, Onyx Fine Arts Collective, Red Eagle Soaring, and Wa Na Wari. Give via GiveBlck, a national, searchable registry of Black organizations co-founded by CD Forum’s founder and former Executive Director Stephanie Ellis-Smith. Give for sustenance to Rainier Valley Food Bank, which provides nourishment to tens of thousands of residents annually, especially this year when food insecurity has increased.
Sending kindness to you and yours this holiday season!
Jasmine Jamillah Mahmoud is an arts writer, curator, and assistant professor in Performing Arts & Arts Leadership at Seattle University. She lives on the border of Westwood, South Delridge, and White Center in (south) West Seattle.