Article:African Heritage Showcase Restyles Home Decor Business Model

African Heritage Showcase Restyles Home Decor Business Model

  By Barbara Garnes

While the economy makes it difficult for small businesses to meet buyers in the traditional venues, this entrepreneur has designed her own way to showcase her African heritage lifestyle collection to  the home and gift markets.

For the first weeks of summer manufacturers in the gift and home markets will be stressed out as they scramble to get ready to either move into the New York International Gift Fair at the famous Javits Convention Center or set up company showrooms. While the cost of exhibiting would stress most entrepreneurs, Barbara Garnes of Southern Hemisphere Design Group, Inc. however will not be one of them as she prepares to exhibit her line of home décor outside- of the box that is.  Barbara is boldly opting out of the traditional venue to showcase instead on Seventh Ave at 11 Penn Plaza.


This August her company will feature the African heritage and global inspired line in the SoHe Designs Home Décor Showcase at 11 Penn Plaza on Seventh Ave between 31st and 32nd Streets. Barbara has chosen a professional co-working office space to exhibit the home décor collection rather than a booth at the convention center to reduce a major cost and offer buyers a unique shopping experience.


“The Javits Convention Center without a doubt is the goal of most designers and manufacturers especially if you are a New Yorker without a travel budget,” says Barbara who is the CEO and the lifestyle creator for the company. “Unfortunately, the cost of a booth has gotten too high for many small businesses and independent entrepreneurs like me. I was hoping to share space this year with an acquaintance and long time vendor of the gift fair, but he said he is not getting new customers and the price was not worth it anymore. He had made plans to show out of town.”


Making major decisions like these is what entrepreneurs do on a regular basis to keep their businesses going. The expression “Small businesses push the economy” begs the question “How?” when small businesses seem to be pushed out of the very venues in which they need a presence. “As a business person I had to think outside the box on how I was going to be available to customers,” says Barbara. “I’ve taken a page out of the ‘FUBU hand book’. These young black men could not afford a booth at the Magic Show in Las Vegas. Instead they rented a hotel room and invited buyers to see their line. The rest is history… As people of color, we invent what we need or use what’s available to our advantage.”  


The SoHe Designs collection is a lifestyle concept getting inspiration from the southern part of the globe. While the basis of the line is influenced from the African Diaspora, she has incorporated themes from South America, the Caribbean and Australia. Her original niche was the African heritage community. Today her global friendly approach is appreciated by a broader audience. Her customers have lived in or traveled to the locations of inspiration. Barbara took her marketing skills as a graduate of Fashion Institute of Technology to create graphic designs because she didn’t like what her suppliers were offering in terms of fabrics. The line includes bedding, bath, porcelain table top, pillows, table linens and kitchen textiles. The products have been featured in trade papers and website. The company website,, is e-commerce ready for online shopping. A separate wholesale area is being developing for retailers.


While technology will continue to play an important part in the strategy of SoHe Designs, market presence is still important to the company. Along with the company website, SoHe Designs will also use Twitter/sohehomedecor to post developments leading up to the showcase. Barbara encourages black businesses to use embrace technology especially small companies. “Virtual showrooms are a great idea especially for those buyers who can not travel to the various shows. We are developing our own, yet the personal touch, that face to face is not over. Some customers still want to speak to a human being, see the product, touch and feel the quality. It’s still about relationship building.”


With that said, Barbara chose 11 Penn Plaza as the place to meet and greet her clientele.  It is directly across the street from Madison Square Garden, Penn Station’s Amtrak and the free shuttle buses to the convention center. “We literally put ourselves into the shoes of our potential buyers. It’s about their comfort, their convenience.” Barbara spent a full day looking at spaces and walking the actual routes a buyer would tread. She knew buyers would not want to go too far off the beaten path to visit a new location.


Buyers must call or email for an appointment. Upon arrival to 11 Penn lobby, they will sign in and show identification. Buyers are encouraged to use Gift Fair or industry badges. On the upper floor, guests will be greeted by a receptionist and can sit in a waiting room.  They are welcome to complimentary beverage service and can purchase refreshments from the concession stand.  


SoHe Designs will have use of one phone line, wireless internet, and access to conference room with a projector as well as the 11 Penn mailing address to receive mail and packages.  For about one quarter of a booth fee ($4200 for 10 ft. x 12 ft.), SoHe Designs has the office space and these services for one month all arranged through Regus Business Centers which has locations located across America and around the world. Barbara can therefore see buyers at their convenience before or after the actual gift and home markets. “If buyers come to town early or stay in New York later, we can see them. We want them shop the line before they get on the shuttle bus in the morning or after they get off the bus in the afternoon.”


She is depending on a heavy marketing campaign rather than just the curiosity of a new location to draw her customers. Besides the email-snail mail campaign, she will be sending out press releases to all industry publications and websites. Last year while she set up in a suite at the Penn Hotel, she was disappointed because of miscommunication which resulted in part of the marketing campaign virtually ineffective. This year she will oversee more closely to ensure better results. She intends to work with sponsored interns to help her in this area. A press conference and reception are in the works for SoHe Designs. Information will be posted on the website.


While co-working space is very popular with the tech industry, during her tour of spaces Barbara learned from the sales agents that a variety of industries use offices for trade purposes. One had a number of toy makers booked for a couple of months while another had a hat manufacturer set up for a day. Some spaces are more flexible in booking time than others but she found many agents willing to negotiate. She predicts this will be the new trend for independent creative companies.


“I intend to stay in the game and plan to play it differently,” Barbara concludes. “The timing for African themes in products is now. Unfortunately the people getting recognized for creating merchandise are not the veterans of the black community.”


Though it is hassle to set up and take down displays, Barbara is hopeful that her actions and positive attitude will pay off. One of her goals is to make her bedding line available to HBUC (Historical Black Universities and Colleges) and the black hospitality industry. She wants to work with domestic manufacturers that need her product development skills. She looks forward to when she can find a location that will house her permanent showroom, manufacturing and distribution center. Brooklyn looks good to her.



Barbara Garnes is the Lifestyle Creator of Southern Hemisphere Design Group, Inc which was founded in 2006. Her background includes retail, apparel design, manufacturing, merchandising, product development and television production. She is an activist for the “Made in U.S.A.” label and assists efforts to rebuild the manufacturing sector in home textiles. Contact Ms. Garnes at or 347.399.3003. Visit the website and  follow on Twitter/sohehomedecor.


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