Aphena Arshisha was one of the best table servers in Clark County. But now she is living her destiny — selling jewelry and crystals to help women in the community.
A new crop of Vancouver’s entrepreneurs, including locals such as Arshisha, Dakima Maria and Andrea Ulshafer, have taken hold of a new program that allows Clark County’s small-business owners to sell their products at the Vancouver Farmers Market for free.
The Vancouver Farmers Market and Mercy Corps Northwest teamed up this year to offer the Market Assistance Program. The city of Vancouver and Clark County are also supporting it.
Visitors at the weekend markets will see a rotating series of locally made products offered to the public, such as jewelry and clothing. The sellers’ goals are much bigger than making money.
Arshisha created her business, All the Wishes, a year ago with the help of her father’s wife, who’d been selling jewelry and crystals for decades. For Arshisha, she saw it as her birthright. This summer, she took All the Wishes to the Vancouver Farmers Market with the help of the Market Assistance Program.
While jewelry and crystals may be the product, Arshisha sees herself as granting wishes for underprivileged women in the community. She uses a portion of profits and collects donations to help women who might need help paying an electric bill, buying Christmas presents or helping women in domestic violence situations.
“Right now, we’re granting small wishes,” Arshisha said. “But as we grow, I want our wishes to be able to grow as well.”
To be eligible for the program, the small-business owners must make less than 80 percent of the local median income. The business also must be physically located in the county and have either homegrown or handmade products.
Mercy Corps has had tent space each weekend of the market season, offering space for up to two businesses each weekend. The tent, table and chairs for the booth are all provided by Mercy Corps.
“Our goal was to support small businesses who are new to farmers markets by eliminating the risk and helping them navigate the backend,” said Hannah Cotter, southern Washington program manager at Mercy Corps Northwest.
It’s not always known if markets will work well for businesses. The Market Assistance Program gives owners a way to test out markets for their business without having to commit to an entire season, Cotter added.
Markets seem to be working for applicants so far, with businesses generally bringing in more than $1,000 in revenue each weekend they’re there.
Dakima Maria runs her own business already, Dakima Maria Makeover Studio. But in 2019, she reignited her love for fashion design and participated in Portland Fashion Week. She had started designing clothes in 2004, and by 2006, her clothes were being sold in multiple shops. But with five children in tow, she needed to take a break.
Maria designed affordable but also quality clothes to sell through the Market Assistance Program. She loved seeing the clothes she designed on dress forms fit people shopping at the market.
“And it fits well on them,” Maria said.
There aren’t many fashion designers at the market.
“It was completely different but received very well,” Maria said, adding how much she enjoys seeing people come into her booth and have their spirits lifted by her clothes.
Businesses in the program are given at least two weekends at the market. Some businesses, like those selling prepared foods, will take longer to navigate permitting and insurance. Not all the businesses have gone to market yet, and those are scheduled for later in the summer.
“We recognized that many small-business owners experience barriers to entry in the market,” said Stephanie Clark, partnerships and programs manager at Vancouver Farmers Market.
When a business wants to sell their products at the market, they have startup costs: a tent, a table, chair, the season booth fee and any equipment they need for the market. That doesn’t even include the costs involved in manufacturing the product: studio space for those making goods, commercial space for those making prepared food, land for those growing produce or livestock. And then there’s the transportation needed to get goods to the market.
“Historically, marginalized communities lack access to resources like these,” Clark said.
Arshisha, a Vancouver native and mom of seven, sees her time at the market as a chance to encourage and teach her children to be entrepreneurs and run their own businesses some day in the future.
Arshisha has had a booth at the East Vancouver Market before, but this is her first market season at the downtown market.
“It’s magical,” she said. “We’ve gotten to meet so many amazing community people.”
The assistance program has given her the opportunity to try a new audience and achieve more sales at the downtown market.
Andrea Ulshafer launched Sew La Tea Do in May of this year. She started sewing at the age of 7 but really leaned into the craft during the pandemic. With a baby and eventually toddler, she cherished the time to herself and was able to make clothes for herself, her son and her husband. But soon enough, she found that her family just didn’t need any more clothes. So she began making clothes to sell and Sew La Tea Do was born.
She sells children’s and adults’ clothes but primarily sells children’s clothes at the market, taking custom orders for adults.
Ulshafer has a job as a piano teacher, so her business was not meant to provide an income for her family. Instead, she wanted to pay for her hobby. Then came her involvement in the Market Assistance Program.
“It’s been great,” Ulshafer said. “It was invigorating and so exciting to see people liked my items and were excited to wear them.”
In the two weekends she’s worked at the market, she’s served more than 30 customers. She has sold more than enough to pay for her hobby. Ulshafer hopes to grow the business by potentially having a booth at the market next year and working more on her website to sell her clothes there.
Applications for the program are still welcome. Visit https://nw.mercycorps.org/MAP to learn more.