Correction/Clarification: A previous version of this article, which also appeared in the March print issue, misstated Amber Karnish’s name and used inappropriate language to refer to the deaf community. It has been updated to correct these errors and clarify the Hark & Herald Co./Brick and Mortar name. The Arkansas Traveler strives to be precise and clear in all matters.
Visitors to the Heroncrest Event Center purchased crafts, jewelry and other merchandise from Arkansas small businesses last month at a pop-up market hosted by and supporting the efforts of the local nonprofit NWA Girl Gang .
The organization, which provides networking opportunities and programs for Arkansas women and non-binary people of all abilities, regularly hosts community events like the February 12 Market. The NWA Girl Gang team aims to celebrate intersectionality and empower underrepresented voices in the community, according to the nonprofit website.
Founder Rachel Fox was inspired to create NWA Girl Gang by her relationship with her daughter Eva, who was born with Down syndrome, she said.
“I wanted to see something that she could be a part of when she was older,” Fox said. “(Something) that could provide her with networking opportunities, entrepreneurial opportunities, and programming opportunities, so that she really felt seen, valued, and included in the community.”
Fox and her family moved from North Carolina to northwest Arkansas in September 2018, in an effort to enroll Eva in a more inclusive education program. At first, Fox struggled to connect with other locals, so she started hosting meetups to foster a sense of community, she said.
The first meeting took place in December 2018 and included snacks and a chat with 55 women from Hark & Herald Co., now known as Brick & Mortar, in Rogers. Since then, NWA Girl Gang meetings have grown in size and scope. More recent ones have included networking opportunities with optional activities, such as pickleball and tennis at the Matrix Racquet Club and bracelet and scrapbook making at a Galentine’s Day event at the Black Apple Cider.
The NWA Girl Gang Market takes place every three to four months, typically with around 50 vendors, including women, non-binary people and people with disabilities, said Amber Karnish, social media and digital communications coordinator for the market.
“The mission is to create those opportunities for people (who) are female and non-binary as well as people with disabilities, so that sellers reflect that experience for them,” Karnish said. “And that just creates an environment where they can feel valued and connected to the community they also live in.”
In keeping with the nonprofit’s mission to foster accessibility and inclusivity, NWA Girl Gang volunteers wore transparent masks at the February market to support members of the deaf and hard of hearing community who read on the lips. All event spaces used for markets are ADA compliant.
“We want to make sure all of our opportunities are inclusive, but more importantly we want to make sure they’re accessible,” Fox said. “So the foundation of Girl Gang is really about accessibility and intersectionality.”
The market has become a venue to showcase diverse talent in northwest Arkansas, Fox said. One of the businesses featured at the February market was Howdy Bonita, which sells polymer clay jewelry and other accessories.
The February market was the third Liza De Jesus, owner of Howdy Bonita, attended. She likes how participating in the market makes herself and others feel included and uplifted, she said.
“It’s really cool because it just gives us a chance…to meet other women-owned or non-binary businesses (business owners) as well.” she says. “It’s important to be a part of it, especially to be Latinx owned as well, because of course (there’s) not a lot of representation.”
On the NWA Girl Gang Market’s application form, organizers ask if registrants have experienced economic hardship and ask for a $75 donation fee from vendors who can afford it, Fox said.
NWA Girl Gang also has online resources at nwagirlgang.orgincluding a digital marketplace and a blog.
“I believe virtual options and always having virtual opportunities is super important,” Fox said. “Especially because we have closed captioning through Google Meet, and that really comes down to accessibility in our spaces.”
The upcoming NWA Girl Gang Market will be a March 10-12 collaboration with Interform and NWA Fashion Week at Momentary in Bentonville. The market will showcase artwork and products from 30 women-owned and non-binary small businesses.