ML Dreams: Janet Rodriguez, Founder + CEO of SoHarlem, Manhattanville Factory District, NYC
madeLOKAL: You were in corporate banking in your previous life, how did you end up down this path?
Janet: Well, I was not a banker, I was Vice President of the JPMorgan Chase Global Philanthropy Group and was a leader in supporting the arts. I started as an exit strategy to corporate life. I signed a retail lease and initially ran a straight retail business, "Straight Out of Harlem" on the side thanks in large part to my niece's help. What resulted next was a promotion at the bank that I could not turn down, which led to another five years before I could reacquaint myself with the project and what is now SoHarlem. I wanted the focus to be on people who could make things and then launch their own atelier.
I grew up in East Harlem, San Juan Hill, Williamsburg and Harlem. I had seen plenty of change and gentrification and I decided that I was not going to complain about the economic redevelopment of the Manhattanville Factory District, but do something so that the creative people of Manhattanville could benefit from the economic redevelopment this time.
madeLOKAL: What did you dream to be when you were young?
Janet: I wanted to do something with law. My parents are from the Dominican Republic and did not speak English. My mom made wedding and cocktail dresses for a living. I was always around people using their hands...so that is where I felt most comfortable. I ended up getting an Arts Education degree from NYU and teaching Art in NYC at a boys High School. After a while I felt like I needed to do something that combined my arts degree with that law interest I had. Columbia University had an Arts Administration degree, which combined business, law arts and journalism. I always sort of had a fantasy to be a journalist so this program seemed like a perfect fit and would prepare me to run a business of the arts.
madeLOKAL: What exactly is SoHarlem?
Janet: SoHarlem is a community-based social enterprise with a non-profit legal status:
- that acts as an incubator space to assist creative entrepreneurs with launching micro-enterprises in the Manhattanville Factory District
- works to make Manhattanville's public commons into a more welcoming and inspiring space as part of the Public Space Partnership Initiative
- offering an online shop and showroom boutique for handmade, made-in-Harlem accessories and clothing
- supporting underemployed artisans and unemployed apprentices who are preparing to re-enter the workforce
- providing exposure to public programs through a schedule of public events
madeLOKAL: What are the current businesses that you are incubating?
- Jacqueline Puello-Raboy, creates one-of-a-kind bags made from recycled textiles
- Sew It Is, a design consultation service, which teaches, exposes and develops opportunities for emerging designers to succeed by learning the practical and detailed steps of bringing a fashion line to fruition
- Smash + Scott, designers of the Essential Basic Top
- Suyo who is an exciting addition, who will be creating outerwear
madeLOKAL: What if someone is interested in joining your incubator, but they only have an idea.
Janet: Everyone that wants to be an entreprenuer cannot be one....it's very demanding. You must have at least a business card and a preliminary plan. If not, there are so many support systems in this city for you to get a start like SCORE + NY City Solutions. We want to talk with you once you've flushed out your idea. 90% of the folks that see the pain involved in being an entrepreneur will say, "no thanks, I'll get a job" so we'll talk to that 10% who has gone through the pain and is still passionate about it!
madeLOKAL: How can people contact you if they are interested in you, your incubator or one of your designers?
Janet: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Please be aware that we do give preference to Harlem based residents and businesses.
Top left: Julian Asion at work. Top Right: Photography Show through October 2, 2016
Bottom left: finished works. Bottom Right: Photography by Sasha Phyars-Burgess