There’s a power and responsibility in retail to present and prop up narratives that have previously gone untold, and creating space for marginalized stories and experiences is essential. This is why founder Shanti Mayers started The Sable Collective, a shop curated for Black women and women of color to explore their narratives and find products that reflect their lives surrounding joy, beauty, and wellness.
The Sable Collective was born in 2016 out of a need for a retail space in the Philadelphia area that centers on Black brands, women-led labels, and Indigenous products. Mayers uses marketplaces like Faire to source from Black and marginalized artisans and entrepreneurs to create a community connected by culture and creativity.
We recently spoke with Mayers about her journey as a business owner, her inspirations, and her thoughts for the future.
Filling a need with a dream
For the longest time, Mayers was drawn to the excitement of a thrift store and the experience of a boutique. Stumbling upon a unique item from the past or stepping into a well-curated, beautiful space with all its smells and music always brought Mayers joy. As she got older, she felt an inkling that she wanted to do something creative but wasn’t exactly sure what that looked like.
She was working in the fine dining and service industry when a concept came to her in 2016, around the same time when entrepreneurs discovered that Instagram could help them share their journey and build a following of buyers. “I had this idea, along with two business partners at the time, to open up a boutique and source from all of these makers we loved who we followed online,” says Mayers. Her idea was to create a space where people could walk in and recognize the online artists and makers but actually hold the products in person, “which I think is a completely different experience than just hitting a like button,” she says.
It was also clear to Mayers that there was a perspective missing from retail in the Philadelphia area. There were few spaces that focused on Black women as the lead and made them a priority rather than merely an afterthought. Since she couldn’t find a place with unique products that reflect the cultural references and experiences of Black and marginalized communities, she jumped in to start her own.
Journey through learning
Mayers began The Sable Collective without any prior business experience but with determination and passion. Running a successful retail business, from establishing systems of inventory and cash flow to maintaining operations, with no previous experience or mentorship and with little capital is not for the faint of heart.
“On one hand, it’s really, really hard because I’m learning as I go,” says Mayers. But once she better grasped the operations and learned the systems, she realized that the struggles “tell a beautiful story that feeds you,” she says. “Don’t be discouraged by mistakes because you’re inevitably going to make them, but you can learn from them and keep going.”
For Mayers, it’s the creativity and storytelling that helps get her through all the challenges. “Following your gut, being led by creativity, and being affirmed by customer support is the fuel to keep going,” she says.
With all the positive responses and support—two music festivals in Philadelphia recently asked her to curate their marketplaces—Mayers still finds herself surprised at how many people respect her efforts and work. Like many entrepreneurs, Mayers says that she experiences imposter syndrome. “I’m continuously surprised that people really value my curation and come to me for my help or consultation,” she says.
When women inspire
Of all the people who motivate and influence her work, it’s the women in her life who inspire Mayers the most. “My mother, my sister, and my daughter are all women who inspire me today,” she says. Each of these relationships shapes who she is, what she strives to offer, and how she embraces her own joy, beauty, and wellness.
With her mother, “even in our conflict, there’s a practice of forgiveness, of showing up and trying to see the other person,” says Mayers. “Learning how to love that person and speak their language—it’s this practice we do with each other, even though it’s hard. We continue bettering ourselves in our relationship.”
Mayers’s sister is one of the artists featured in The Sable Collective. “I’ve watched her practice her art for my entire life, and she’s just a master at what she does,” says Mayers. “She’s a beautiful example of an artist. She couldn’t do anything else but her artwork. And that’s amazing.”
Then there’s her 12-year-old daughter, “this burgeoning woman that reminds me of my childhood.” A reflection of her own girlhood, Mayers says she’s “trying to correct things that were hard for me growing up through her,” while also letting her daughter write her own story. This is exactly what The Sable Collective strives to do: create a space where familiarity and history work in harmony with discovery and self-expression. “I’m excited to see what this next iteration of our legacy will be,” Mayers says.
Transforming the future
Mayers’s work is actively transforming how the retail industry approaches Black women and women of color. “As I grow my business, I’m hoping to be more confident in what I am doing, to get over the imposter syndrome, to not let that be what guides my decisions anymore,” she says.
Looking ahead, Mayers wants The Sable Collective to help more people connect to and embrace their own joy, beauty, and wellness. She’s holding space for artists and makers to share their stories and by doing so, inspiring and encouraging those whose perspectives have been left out of the narrative to step into their own voice.