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What Black-Owned Brooklyn Creators Cynthia Gordy Giwa and Tayo Giwa Can’t Live Without

Photo: Curt Saunders

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair, but the hairspray and the electric toothbrush. We asked Cynthia Gordy Giwa and Tayo Giwa — the creators of the digital publication Black-Owned Brooklyn, which spotlights Black-owned and -operated businesses in that borough — about the décor, body butter, and T-shirt they can’t live without.


I don’t have a whole lot of patience for the ten-step skin-care routines that a lot of people my age use. I actually just use a cleanser and a moisturizer, and then I seal it in with this moringa oil. When I started using the oil I noticed a difference really quickly — it just feels incredibly nourishing and leaves my skin so much more glowing and soft. Papa Rozier Farms’ brother-and-sister team of Rubens Amedee and Freddie Amedee-Benjamin source moringa and castor plants for their beautifully packaged, natural products from their farm in Haiti. The proceeds from their products go to the BATI School in Haiti, which they founded, so behind the products is this radical mission to build up Haiti through jobs and transformative education.

Nicole Mebane is primarily a jewelry designer, but last month she pivoted to making masks because there was a need for that. They’re really fresh and cute. She uses African textiles and tie-dyes and has 33 different patterns inspired by nature, gemstones, and the cosmos. I like how face masks have become a vehicle for self-expression; we have to wear them to keep ourselves and our communities safe, but you might as well do it with a little style. We have a ton of face masks in our house. Most are just plain, but then I have a few Ultraviolet ones to add a little razzle-dazzle to our walks.

In the summertime, I pretty much live in clothes from Martine’s Dream. The line, designed by Debbie Hardy, is full of flowy, fluid, easy-to-wear dresses, skirts, and jumpsuits in colorful fabrics from her world travels. Debbie calls them “sun clothes.” One of my favorite pieces is the Renee Jumpsuit, a denim, wide-leg, one-piece that is a complete look unto itself. It makes me feel a little bit mighty, like Rosie the Riveter.

I get compliments on this Ashaka Givens brooch all the time, because it’s beautiful but also a little subversive. It’s a spin on the Edwardian cameo brooch — it has the same antique setting, but instead of the white alabaster woman, there’s a Black woman with natural hair and hoop earrings. It looks like a typical cameo until you get up close. I like to surprise people in that way. My brooch has a gold setting, purple background, and black cameo. I pop it on when I’m wearing something plain and simple, because it makes everything more interesting.

This is my go-to bag for running errands, because it’s very roomy and utilitarian but it’s also beautiful. Tayo uses it, too, when he goes on grocery runs, because it can fit a lot and is incredibly sturdy. When I have a lot to do and a lot of things to carry around I always feel really good about using a tote that looks stylish. It’s also reversible: It has this lush, vivid orange-and-blue pattern on one side and a more neutral black-and-white Nigerian textile on the other side. The minimalist pattern is more my style, but I like the option to reverse it for more of a pop. Cee Cee’s Closet NYC co-founders and sisters, Chioma and Uchenna Ngwudo, source directly from artisan partners in Nigeria.

Textile artist Rochelle Negron has a ton of pennants with affirmations. I chose this one to hang in our living room. I think it’s an affirming and welcoming message for our family to be surrounded by every day, especially now. We’ve been working from home the past three months, and we also have a 1-year-old, so every day is like complete chaos — not to mention everything that’s going on in society with anti-Blackness and police violence. But the pennant has a double meaning: It’s also meant to acknowledge struggle and persevering through tough circumstances. You can celebrate that you’re still here and you can show up even when it’s hard. It’s been a very grounding and centering meditation for me to sit with at this time.


I’m pretty serious about my coffee. Cantave De Saint Marc makes some of the best I’ve ever had: Kafe Miel has a delicate, smooth flavor with a medium body and tiny notes of chocolate and caramel. Sometimes coffee can have a bitter aftertaste, but Kafe Miel is just extremely smooth and delicious. I typically grind the beans myself then use a French press to brew it. Some of the stores in our neighborhood were selling Cantave De Saint Marc whole beans, and we discovered that their organic beans are sourced from Haiti and roasted in Brooklyn. They’re a wholesaler, so they sell to restaurants and stores, and you can order their beans online.

The bean pie originated from Black American Muslim members of the Nation of Islam, so it has been a staple in Black communities for a long time. It’s something that is traditionally sold on the street, but at Abu’s Bakery, which is owned by Idris Braithwaite, they’ve perfected it. Abu’s version has a really custardy texture and perfectly toasted crust. They also make a peach cobbler that is fantastic, and a lot of other pies, including sweet potato, that are really delicious. But our favorite is the bean pie, because it’s their classic.

Moshood is the name of the designer, but also the name of his store and streetwear brand. He’s a beloved, iconic figure in the community and ubiquitous through Black Brooklyn: You see the logo and you know that’s Moshood. He recently moved to a store in Bed-Stuy, but his original store in Fort Greene rose to prominence in the ’90s, when Fort Greene was a mecca for Black creatives. At some point Erykah Badu was living in the apartment above his store, and you can find pictures of Stevie Wonder wearing his clothes. Whenever I wear this shirt, I’ll always see other people wearing it. I have the white face on black, but they come in all different colors — red, yellow, green, and some with the Pan-African flag. He doesn’t necessarily make all the styles continuously or annually, so when he has a unique style you have to run and grab it because you might never see that style again.

I’ve loved Jamaican patties since I was a little kid. They were the kind of delicious snack my parents would buy in bulk and put in the freezer, because they’re easy to heat up. Branch Patty is run by a husband-and-wife team, Samuel Branch and Lisa Lloyd-Branch. They usually sell the patties out of Artists and Fleas in Williamsburg, but they also deliver throughout Brooklyn. I love how they’ve elevated the Jamaican patty from something that is sold as a street food in Jamaica and the Caribbean at large to a delicious, buttery morsels made with fresh ingredients and no mystery meat or fillers. They come in a range of flavors, but my favorites are the curry-chickpea and the seasonal-greens patties. We order them by the dozen. I would not order fewer than that because you’ll be disappointed when you eat them really quickly. I could easily eat three in a sitting, but if I’m being responsible, I’ll eat two.

A couple of years ago we made the decision to only buy all-natural body products from Black-owned brands. Beauty and skin care is a huge industry making a lot of money, but there are all these small vendors in our community who are making the same high-quality products. And we think buying from those small local vendors is a really easy way to support and circulate money within our community. We’re constantly looking for small-batch skin-care products, and IE Spa Indulgences makes a really great body butter. It literally feels like it’s melting on your skin. Every day after I shower, I use the unscented body butter, which is a blend of shea and cocoa butter and has just the faintest hint of a cocoa scent. My skin looks healthy and young and glistening when I put it on.

Brooklyn Tea is a teahouse in Bed-Stuy that’s run by a young couple named Jamila McGill and Alfonso Wright. They also have an online store where you can buy their original teas. The vanilla rooibos is a South African bush tea that’s their own blend — they add slivers of almond and vanilla bean. It’s really smooth and has a slightly sweet, elegant flavor. I typically add a splash of cream to it, and you can also chill it to make delicious iced tea. With coronavirus restrictions, you can order online, but I highly recommend going to the store once people are able to because they’ve created such an awesome environment. It’s really a community space where folks go to hang out; you feel like you know the people who go there, and they really make it feel like home.

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What the Creators of Black-Owned Brooklyn Can’t Live Without