Celebrity and international peddlers still selling their wares (wears) in down economy

By Tomi Morris Johnson

Digital images by Tomi Morris Johnson and Kurk D. Johnson


©2002 WingcomLtd. All Rights Reserved.


July - October 2002, Atlanta, GA…If you are a retailer looking for unique inventory ranging from the most drop dead gorgeous items to hip-hop urban wear, your one stop shop is AmericasMart.  From Atlanta’s hip-hop community to Zimbabwean villagers, people of color and female entrepreneurs come to the international marketplace to sell their wares (wears). The Mart features over 35,000 vendors from around the world.


WingcomLtd traveled to the Mart to peep two-time Grammy winner Outkast’s new collection, fashions from Montreal, Canada, and to seek sales advice from vendors. Keys to sales success ranged from flexible thinking, faith, excellent employee relations at the factory, and products with cultural stories.


Outkast Clothing Company Collection

Andre Benjamin (Dre 3000) from Outkast and WingcomLtd Model Ilea Johnson

Professional model for Outkast Clothing Company


Big Boi, Dre, and professional models were in the Penthouse Fashion Theatre, Floor 15 of the AmericasMart for the October 20th fashion show and Buyer Party.  According to Rolling Stone Magazine, Outkast is a “Southern-fried rap duo… who burst onto the scene in 1994 with their first single, Player's Ball (which) helped draw attention to the raw talent going unnoticed in the heart of the nation.”


The show was a treat with runway attitude and rock hard models wearing affordable, comfortable garb. The male models, pleasingly pleasant eyefuls, really had something going on and showed out with flavor.


▲Fashion show guests

▲Antwan Patton (Big Boi) holds fashion show award presented to Outkast for clothing line at AmericasMart in Atlanta.

▲Celebrity model


Buyers and their friends were dressed for the occasion and sported new century fashions. Celebrity models carrying cell phones also graced the runway. Much of the collection featured jeans.  According to Marshal Cohen, co-president of NPD Fashionworld, 18-34 years olds are driving the $1.1 billion jean market that has increased 12.8% from 2001 to 2002.



Outkast’s guests were treated to live and scratched music and were served complimentary hors d’oeuvres on several food kiosks amidst ice sculptures.  OutKast’s Nicky Rose was caught with a piece of his birthday cake.


Top Story










Montréal Collections ►


◄Pictured with Model Ilea Johnson ( c ) are Gisèle Clark, assistant marketing manager, Quebec Trade Office, Atlanta, and Jean-Pierre Leclerc, conseiller en affaires internationals, États-Unis.


The Montréal Collections Fashion Show, co-sponsored by Designer Frank Lyman and Atlanta’s Quebéc Trade Office, was also held earlier in the week and featured Canadian clothing designers that included D’Orax, Jex, Florentine, Soft Works Cartise International, Ell Jay Collections, Body Guard, Jolibel, C’est La Vie Collection, Mondor, Petit Lem, Grenier, Donna Fashions, Tribal, Romeo & Juliette, G. G. Sport, La Mere Michele, Lucien Daunois, Leslie Belle, Dino Gasperi, Irma Paytler, Featherweight Furs, and Designs by Q.


At the International Show in July, WingcomLtd’s Tomi Johnson visited and interviewed vendors showcasing products from around the world.



▲Becky and Terry Holcomb, Holcomb Trading Company, Nashville, TN, recipients of the Best of Category Award, International Gift and Home Show

“I’ve loved the show this year and have had a great time enjoying everything. We’ve been in business two years. We won this award because we’ve worked really hard and designed everything together as a team. The people who have manufactured these items have taken great care in quality and made them in limited quantity. To be successful selling in an international marketplace, you must have a lot of faith in your products before you start selling them.”


◄Maureen Edwards, Cobridge Stoneware, Cobridge, Stoke On Trent, England

“Our factory is located in an impoverished area and we employee a lot of people, mostly women.  We have, which is very unusual, a daycare for our women employees where they can leave their children from 8-5 when the factory closes.  The children are fed all day and looked after. The mothers can go in to look at them whenever they want. We make high quality, handmade stoneware.  The pictures on our pottery are most unusual, and we use an oxidized firing process for an identifiable image. In order to be successful in making and marketing high quality pottery, you must be very focused, have a desire to produce a good pot, and you must also have a good, happy workforce.”

Cobridge Stoneware


Ebony Art

◄Shenaz Dedhar, African Mystiques based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with a warehouse in Phoenix, AZ

“I was born in Africa and have lived my whole life there. I specialize in craftworks in a black wood called Ebony. I have about 200 carvers who specialize in this work. About 50 polishers do the high quality polishing. My material is on the culture side based on a group called the Maasai, the most popular people in Tanzania. I would like to highlight this one piece, which is 28” and is made from a half log. It took about 3 weeks for the carver to do his work, and another 2 weeks to polish and finish the piece. It depicts a Maasai family with wives and babies who wander from one place to another.  My advice to African American men and women living in the United States wanting to be successful in business is to know or learn more about their culture, where they came from, believe in that culture, which is a very unique, African culture.”

Zak Tadlaoui, spokesperson for Ameerah Imports, Atlanta, GA ►

“The market has been decent this year. We always hope that there will be more traffic and that people will like our products. Hopefully, the economy will be better so we will do better. Moroccan arts and crafts, which we sell, are uniquely made by Berber tribe people from the Atlas Mountains. Moroccan art is very colorful and can adapt to any kind of room because of its fiery, multi-colors, which are wonderful. Being successful minority businesspeople, it’s always nice to stay together as a stronger group, accomplish more and deliver better goods.”


▲Aaron Lemaster (l) and Sam Kidd, Cherokee Heritage Pottery and Arts, Tahlequah, OK

“Our business is actually two entities run out of Cherokee Museum and Heritage Center.  The pottery is more of a cottage industry in which artists took the mound-style designs from throughout the South East.  The Cherokees originated in the SE and mass-produced the pottery images. The arts portion of the business is more of a rural, economic development co-op program comprised of mostly elderly Cherokees who make traditional arts and crafts. Our job is to assist them in marketing and sales. You are not going to find any of these products anywhere else at the Atlanta Market or any other market unless you come to where we are. They are only marketed national through trade shows. They are all one of a kind and very distinctive. Native American art is important because it not only helps native people economically, but it is also very educational, tells you about what Indian people are doing and about their cultural past. In order to be successful in business, look where you come from, wherever your geographical heritage is from, whether it be African American, Native American…You’re not only selling works, you’re selling a place and a story.”

Sam Kidd ( r ): “I work at the Cherokee Heritage Center with exhibits, archives, and collections. The continuation of the arts is important because it is our culture, our traditions, and keeps the youth and the elders together. It also helps the tribe maintain itself as one nation and helps it continue to thrive. I do not really have a favorite type of Native American art, whether it is the basketry, pottery, clay work, textiles, graphics, color, - all aspects of Cherokee history are unique. All of them are useful – the baskets, the blowguns, even our ball sticks and marbles were part of our sports. The games continue. We were designated the end of the Trail of Tears in conjunction with the National Park Service. We have a bead wall there. Each bead represents a person. The white represents those who survived the Trail of Tears; the black is for those who died, and the red are those who were missing and we do not know what happened to them. This is according to the government’s statistics. Some of the jewelry we are selling here today is made from commemorative pieces for the bead wall.”



Divyesh Mehta, President, India’s Heritage, 5th Avenue, New York, NY►

“I’m originally from Bombay, India. Business in Atlanta is pretty good because we have a lot of repeat customers coming by and ordering.  We have a new line, which has done very well. We specialize mainly in handmade, antique and embroidered fabrics.  People love our line here. We have our own manufacturing unit back in India, our prices are very good, we have competitive fabric colors that no one else is offering, and we have unique designs that make us popular. Our best sellers are our decorative pillows, bed coverings and window panels, and my business is split equally between these items. This market has been a little slower than the last two seasons, but the good thing is our repeat business, which is very good for us. The keys to our business success are innovation, new ideas and products, and consistency in quality.”

Pillows made from antique Indian fabrics.


▲Mr. & Mrs. Geoff Bushby, Dejavu Africa, Harare, Zimbabwe

“This market has been good for us because it was our first show. Any business we did is good because we started from a zero base. Not a great deal of sales, but I’ve made a great deal of contacts. This has given us an insight into what direction we need to take to succeed in this market.


We sell three particular products that are unique to Zimbabwe. Our soapstone sculptures are recognizably from the Shona people in Zimbabwe. Our Benga baskets recognized worldwide and made only by the women in a cooperative.  All of them are unique and handmade. Our batiks, or African prints, are Bushman tie and dye with the guinea foul which are very popular.


With the current economic situation in Zimbabwe, our tourism has been struck by 60 percent. The artists who are producing these products used to have an inflow of tourists which was their lifeline.  Now, with the reduction in tourism, those artists have no way of generating an income. There is an abundance of products, they just can’t sell it. Our business offers rural artists a linkage and a lifeline. I’ve tied up an arrangement with 42 artists, and they know what we’re doing. I’ve shown them my disc with products on CD-Rom. I’m purchasing their product, putting it out there, and keeping them going. Otherwise, they would have nothing to do. It’s a very sad situation.


In the American marketplace, you have to be very flexible in your thinking.  You cannot adopt the same way of thinking that we do in the African marketplace. If you’re an African, don’t come here with high expectations and expect to make millions overnight. You’ve got to meet a lot of people and develop relationships. The biggest side for me was the learning curve. The direction I was headed when I came here has changed 90 degrees to how we intend to do it now.”



Liz Coursen, Publisher, American PostCardArt, Sarasota, FL.►

“I have been selling a lot of my art to African American professionals and see it becoming a trend because it is part of their heritage. It’s important to remember how things were, how things are now, and how things have changed. What I sell is part of American history. People enjoy seeing the images. In order to make it in business, you have to be prepared to sacrifice a lot of your time. Most of my energy goes to my business. You also have to strike a balance between your professional and personal life, particularly with your family. It’s a very fine line and is sometimes very difficult to do. One often suffers. Then you have to get back to that middle ground as fast as you can.”





◄Vera Vardeman, VR International, Memphis, TN

“This show is pretty good for me and my merchandise. I always do pretty well. I sell wholesale antiques and reproduction wall decorations, panels, and carvings from China. I don’t have many competitors because most of the other vendors sell materials made by machine. To be successful in business you should research the market, find unique products, and get the right price from the right source.”





Laurence Vilain, PR representative, Beaumé Collection, Paris, France►

“One of our featured artists is La Roche Laffitte who specializes in watercolor painting on paper, silk, and polychromed lacquer panels. Inspiration for his paintings comes from different ethnic tribes.”




SIDEBAR: Most of the items featured by these vendors can be bought through WingcomLtd’s executive gift service, a certified M/FBE and a member of AmericasMart Atlanta. Please email tomij@wingcomltd.com for more details.


This information is the opinion of the author and, therefore, should not be construed as libelous.

©2002 WingcomLtd. All Rights Reserved.