Elysia Guillén, Maritza Flores, Leah Ortega, Daniela Aguirre standing in front of the Campesinos Mural at Ortega Park. | Credit: Jean Ziesenhenne

Behind Santa Barbara’s newest artisan pop-up are five Latina creatives driven to build community.

With this shared desire, Santa Barbara locals Lili Muñoz, Leah Ortega, Maritza Flores, Daniela Aguirre, and Elysia Guillen collectively dreamed of creating a marketplace reminiscent of the ones they knew growing up: vendors selling their goods in English and Spanish. A live grupo performing over radio chatter in the stalls. Lines for raspados, fruit cups, and esquites that snake through the aisles. 

These gatherings are at the convergence of culture and commerce, intertwined with vibrant colors, smells, and sounds. As Latinas, the women took this inspiration and reimagined it to create their ideal event: something that evoked a similar sensory experience but also encouraged cross-cultural exchange and empathy, especially among women. 

Daniela Aguirre | Credit: Jean Ziesenhenne

What they got was the Mujeres Makers Market, a pop-up market that showcases the work of local women of color, who range in cultural and racial backgrounds.

Once the team posted the call for participants in March, they received hundreds of applications, along with an “overwhelming sentiment of gratitude,” said Aguirre, event co-creator and owner of AURA, a handmade candle business.

“The other main sentiment was how Santa Barbara lacks representation of people of color,” she said, “and this is an event that is really working toward highlighting these vendors and giving them a safe space to share what they make, share what they do, and share their passions with the community.”

The market is slated for Sunday, May 2, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. in the parking lot of Big Brand Tire & Service on Milpas Street. It will feature 28 vendors from the Santa Barbara area selling a variety of items, including handmade jewelry, vintage wares, baked goods, bath products, ceramics, and more. There also will be music, snacks for sale, a photo booth, and a raffle.

“In today’s context, representation is so important,” said Jan Hunter, one of the vendors and owner of handmade jewelry brand UA Atelier. “As a Filipina-owned business, UA Atelier was born in memory of both my grandmothers. … I think they both would have wanted this business to thrive while also having the maker behind it all being recognized as a woman of color, the daughter of immigrants, and a proud Filipina-American.”

Maritza Flores | Credit: Jean Ziesenhenne

There are about twice the amount of white, male-owned businesses than non-white, women-owned businesses in Santa Barbara, according to 2019 census data.

The Mujeres Makers Market organizers want to help address this disparity, said Muñoz, event co-creator and owner of Latin-American artisan shop Colibri. Having personally experienced barriers, such as expensive entry fees or long waitlists, to participate in pop-ups and similar events, Muñoz and her colleagues intentionally set a low vendor fee and encouraged first-time vendors to apply. 

“It’s hard going into markets sometimes if you’ve never participated in one,” she said. “We want to give the underdogs the opportunity to participate.”

Elysia Guillén | Credit: Jean Ziesenhenne

Their mission to foster and celebrate community has guided their process from the start. All five organizers ― born and raised here ― have witnessed their city change. Amid shifting demographics and growing costs of living, they’ve watched neighbors leave for more affordable areas and local businesses and cultural institutions struggle to keep their doors open. 

Some of the women are from the city’s Eastside, an ethnically diverse neighborhood that includes people of Black, Indigenous, and Asian backgrounds. Hosting the market there is no coincidence, Muñoz said. Milpas Street is iconic for facilitating business and culture, especially among communities of color. Even Big Brand Tire & Service, where the event will be, serves as a gathering space for everything from vintage car shows to the beloved Tacos Pipeye food truck.

Flores and Guillen, fellow event co-creators and owners of Sol Vintage y Mas and La Segunda Goods, respectively, want to pay homage to the area. “It feels like going back to your roots,” Flores said. “Milpas has changed so much,” Guillen said, “but I think the location we have is a perfect spot.”

Leah Ortega | Credit: Jean Ziesenhenne

Community markets have been around for centuries, but many have disappeared as cities, neighborhoods, and economies evolve. The Mujeres Makers Market team hopes their endeavor can stand the test of time and expand to include more vendors and offerings not limited by the size restrictions they’re facing in their first iteration.

“With how many people that applied, it shows that people really wanted this, and needed it,” said Ortega, event co-creator and owner of Ortega Vintage Goods.

For Chelsie Hood, a Black business owner from Santa Barbara, this opportunity to share her bakery business, Baked by the Hoods, is much appreciated ― and long overdue.

“Centering events around safe places for women of color is a beautiful thing,” Hood said. “We need places to heal, speak, and learn from each other, with nothing but support surrounding us.”

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