In this edition, the NBA Foundation recognizes SoHarlem, a not-for-profit organization focused on helping revitalize the Manhattanville Factory District, for their efforts to provide the historic community of color with entrepreneurship and artistic endeavors since 2011.
SoHarlem opened its creative space to local residents from diverse backgrounds in 2011, carrying on the neighborhood’s historic legacy and helping revitalize the Manhattanville Factory District.
For Noah Joseph Ortiz and Tre Buchanan, the collective opened a door to the fashion industry, offering local residents practical experience and guidance as they refine their talents and pursue their dreams in design.
“It’s like my safe haven,” said Ortiz. “It’s probably the most fruitful decision of my life.”
SoHarlem founder and CEO Janet Rodriguez says the collective was born out of a desire to include residents in the transformation of their neighborhood where more than a quarter of people live below the poverty line, and help the arts continue to flourish in historic Harlem.
“Often, redevelopment doesn’t really benefit the people who live there,” said Rodriguez. “I was trying to do something that intersects arts and community development.”
SoHarlem strives to respond to the demand of its constituents. Local designers are in need of working spaces and resources to develop their creative efforts.
Despite people of color inspiring and creating fashion trends that have changed the world, they are largely excluded from the fashion industry and make up less than three percent of the industry, according to Rodriguez.
Rodriguez thanked the NBA Foundation for its support, including sustained backing, which allowed her to focus on serving more young and emerging designers with limited resources.
“Multi-year support is like heaven,” she said. “[It] sends a strong message that a funder stands by your mission.”
The collective now includes a number of entrepreneurs who create and sell a variety of goods from the factory, including custom-made clothing, furniture, art, linen, accessories and more.
Community members can also sign up to learn to sew at the factory, creating a pipeline of opportunity for those looking for work.
SoHarlem takes on design apprentices like Ortiz and Buchanan to help the next generation find their footing in the industry.
Raised in Harlem and the Bronx, Ortiz recalls feeling intrigued after walking into the SoHarlem space.
“I was immediately surprised when I walked into the studio,” said Ortiz. “It was like God’s timing.”
Over the years, Ortiz gained an appreciation for understanding the difference in quality of clothing, and the level of care required to create each item.
“It’s like a science,” Ortiz said.
SoHarlem provides creatives with necessary tools such as sewing machines and tables to improve their craft.
Those lessons helped Ortiz further develop further his creative vision and brand Art In Heaven.
“I want to be able to share that feeling [of quality and care] with the world,” Ortiz said. “[SoHarlem] gave me the foundation I needed to put something together.”
Ortiz hopes to create a similar space in the future, and provide a similar art therapy as SoHarlem.
“They’re paving a road for me,” said Ortiz. “I hope, as we grow, the community sees that things like SoHarlem are possible.”
Buchanan’s interest in a fashion career began in high school when his art teacher gifted him a sketchbook. He designed a shirt and from there, his interest continued to climb.
He learned about SoHarlem through a friend, and was instantly welcomed by the collective, despite not having a ton of money to spend on school.
“I knew how to design, but not how to make them tangible,” said Buchanan.
Buchanan learned about fabrics and measurements at SoHarlem, and currently creates custom garments.
“In fashion, there are so many ways it can be interpreted,” said Buchanan. “It’s like you can let your imagination fly free.”
To learn more about SoHarlem, visit the website here.
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About the NBA Foundation
Created in August 2020, the NBA Foundation is the league’s first-ever charitable foundation dedicated to driving economic opportunity for Black youth. The Foundation invests in local and national organizations that promote school-to-career and workforce development opportunities. For more information visit nbafoundation.com.