The Bronzeville Collective MKE is a Black-owned business located in the Historic Bronzeville Arts and Culture District on the corner of Vel Phillips Ave and North Ave across from America’s Black Holocaust Museum. The storefront was established in October 2018 by Lilo Allen, Tiffany Miller, Tomira White, Jasmine Wyatt. Their mission is to highlight local talent and give them a place to thrive, not only creatively but financially.
“The Bronzeville Collective is a collaborative storefront,” said Allen, owner of Papyrus & Charms. “There’s four of us that founded the space. We have over 30 different Black, brown, queer and allied-owned brands in the space. And we’re unique because we focus on items that are handmade or original designs, what we like to call the ‘Amazon-free model’. All of it is local.”
They started the business because they were vendors at different summer festivals and throughout the year. They would collaborate with each other, sharing vendor space to cut costs.
Their goal was to create a place where folks could have visibility and highlight brands that can’t be found in stores.
“We saw that it was viable and that it was sustainable without taking money out of the maker’s pocket,” said Allen. “In Milwaukee, consignment shops take a minimum of 40% from the makers, when you bring your items to their store. Our model doesn’t work like that. That’s not sustainable when you’re making things yourself. Our commission rates go on a slighter scale based on what the maker can afford or how much space they want.”
The founders of the Bronzeville Collective set a goal to financially empower makers and business owners, and not take from them. They also intentionally created the space to welcome everyone and give them a space to see themselves in the products throughout the store.
“I feel like the most beautiful piece about the Bronzeville Collective is that you know for us, it’s for you, as soon as you walk through the door,” said Allen. “Whatever that you looks like. There’s a sign on our door that says, ‘if you have symptoms of COVID, homophobia, transphobia or racism, you are not welcome in the Bronzeville Collective. And that’s just the sense that we’ve built the business on, it’s an inclusive space.”
When the pandemic began last year, the Bronzeville Collective closed for four months. Allen talks about how they were closed physically but the community helped keep them running. They used funds from community donations and grants to pay rent and vendor fees, so makers and business owners weren’t paying for a space that wasn’t open.
“The community, they really helped us not just survive through the pandemic but thrive through it,” said Allen. “And we’re really grateful for that.”
The four original brands of the Bronzeville Collective include FlyBlooms, Papyrus & Charms, Distinctive Designs by Tomira and BeElegant. Collaborators include Alice’s Garden, Anna Rose, Diana’s Designs, Gbroolo Art, Indigo Thyme, Instant Karma, JazzyRae Jewels, NaturalE Beautiful, Rachel Hughes, and Quiescent Candles. These businesses are all featured on the website and in stores. These businesses make the store one of a kind and inclusive to people from different backgrounds.
“But it’s also that you can tell was created with love by Black women and you can feel that when you walk through the door,” said Allen. “I think for myself, specifically for Papyrus & Charms, one of my goals has always been that people can see themselves in the things that they adorn themselves with. And I think that’s the most amazing part is that when you walk into the Bronzeville Collective, you can see yourself. As opposed to walking into a big store, a big chain store and not being able to see yourself or your culture represented.”
The Bronzeville Collective is located at 339 W North Ave in Milwaukee. For merchandise and other inquires, click here.