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For the 2nd Year, the Swift Campus Hosts the Community First Camp

The season is over. But, over this past Summer, Swift tenants Community First School and Build A Better You, LLC conducted their 2nd Annual Summer Camp collaboration. The Swift Campus came alive with daily roll calls and educational activities on campus. The utilization of neighborhood green assets, playgrounds, and visits to local partners engaged in growing, sustainability and conservation; providing a well-balanced curriculum based on fun, physical activity, and experiential learning.

Helping families discover their path to a healthier lifestyle through food!

The Swift Campus community continues to grow as we welcome Chef GiGi Lawrence and her “RastaRant”! Chef GiGi is looking to start a Food Truck business, but in the meantime, she is using Swift’s Shared Kitchen Space to accommodate the growth her business is experiencing now. “Being able to rent this kitchen in this phase of my business is amazing. The space is amazing! The equipment is great. I’m getting the production I need out of this space,” she said as she loaded out to head to the Trumbull, CT Farmer’s Market.

RastaRant was created to help families discover their path to a healthier lifestyle with the goal of providing “high vibrational”, delicious, colorful, flavor-filled meals for the entire family. The menu is entirely vegan, infused with the tastes of the Caribbean. Her passion for cooking began when she saw the impact her cooking had on her own family. “I started cooking at 8 years old, cooking for my father. We processed all of our concerns around the table. Those meals brought the family together,” the 36-year-old chef reminisced.

Lawrence said her approach to improving family health through food came from those experiences. The meal-time ritual can offset digital toxicity, pointing out that technology is not the best thing for the human body. “You see families at the table with lowered heads and hands curled into screens–disconnected. We all had meal-time roles. Someone would set the table. Another placed the food. It was a ritual that brought us together.”

As a Vegan establishment, the RastaRant offsets another kind of toxicity that–for Lawrence–is promoted through the processed food industrial complex. She was not always a Vegan. For most of her life, she cooked traditional Caribbean dishes using the meat-based staples of goat, chicken, beef, pork, and fish. That was until she and her fiancee saw the Netflix documentary, “What the Health?” back in 2012. The information motivated them to find ways to eat as healthy as possible. They began as Pescatarians (veggies and fish) until that became too expensive and they evolved into full Vegans over time.

When she was working as a Supervisor for a non-profit organization serving special needs children in schools, her Manager suggested she start a business. “I cooked for the students and staff in the classroom all the time. Vegan recipes can be very bland, but my background in Caribbean cooking allowed me to add full flavor to the dishes. My manager suggested I get a food truck. She saw that spark and here I am,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence’s business plans got a boost in 2021 through her participation in reSet’s Food Incubator. reSet is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance the social enterprise sector, providing co-working space, accelerator, and mentoring programs and aims to inspire innovation and community collaboration. The food incubator is offered through a reSet / Hands on Hartford collaboration. 2021 brought together an all-female cohort, graduating in the May 25th live-pitch event–Foodie Showcase 2022: Women Who Rock The Kitchen.

Lawrence took the top prize and was featured on a recent NPR “Where We Live” episode highlighting food businesses launched by BIPOC and immigrant women entrepreneurs and the need to create an ecosystem aimed at supporting and sustaining their businesses. Hartford is well on its way to filling that need through the Hartford Culinary Collaborative, bringing Hands On Hartford, Parkville Market, reSet, Swift Factory, Forge City Works, Knox Inc., and Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner together to provide a sense of community, support, and synergy for food entrepreneurs.

Using the Swift Shared Kitchen space to facilitate her transition beyond the 10-foot by 10-foot tents she operates from at 5 farmer’s markets statewide was a no-brainer. She’s busy as it gets. “Thursdays I’m in Trumbull. Fridays I am in Stafford. Saturday takes me to Cityseed in New Haven and I’m at the Coventry farmer’s market on Sundays. I also do pop-ups at the West End Farmer’s market here in Hartford. This space is perfect for where I am in my business. ” Oh, and we love when our tenants say they are hiring! Chef GiGi needs to hire a dishwasher and field worker for the Farmers Markets. Contact her through the RastaRant website!

You can also order from the RastaRant for curbside pick-up or delivery as well from the website:

To be inspired to start your own business, check this story out! There’s more help coming for community-based, social impact entrepreneurs!

The Consignment Mixer takes thrifting to another level on the Swift Campus!

Clothes shopping is an art for many men and women. It’s like a treasure hunt where you don’t know what is going to pique your interest and passion until you get to a good clothes rack. An array of colors, fabrics, textures, and history all work together, drawing out a value that resonates far beyond expectations. For, that value cannot be measured in dollars and cents. It is measured in commitment to the piece, a commitment that resides deep and results in satisfaction when you see it standing out from all the others.

Swift Tenant, Leah Jones, Owner of The Consignment Mixer knows that all too well. Jones doesn’t just go out to find the biggest deals. Jones curates her racks just like an art dealer. Her passion is for fashion. She has transformed her Swift Private Office into a veritable fashion museum. Only, her displays are designed seasonally.

“Getting those colorful pieces on display is a focus for the Summer season. I want people to see a wide array of color.” But, some things transcend a seasonal response. “Getting those plus sizes on my racks is also important. Really, getting enough plus sizes on the rack is a challenge for everyone in this business. They sell out really fast,” Jones pointed out.

Looking around her shop, one is bedazzled by an array of colors, prints, fabrics, and designs. There’s faux fur, bejeweled bags, belts, and even a line of body products Jones is developing that jumps right out at you. The effect is almost as if the pieces come alive.

“My passion for just the right pieces for my racks and for my customers shines through. When my customers come into my shop, they get a unique experience here,” the 39-year-old entrepreneur said. Holding up an oversized circa 1990’s blazer, Jones slipped into character.

“Look at this! You can’t get this kind of detail anymore. Even something as minute as the detail on this button has been given great attention here. They went to lengths to use the same fabric from the jacket on the buttons,” she said.

Vintage clothing is a main attraction at the Consignment Mixer. But, Jones also seeks to break through conventional thrift store perceptions. “I also want to have a lot of brand new items, thrifted with tags on them to appeal to customers who might be averse to buying thrifted items,” she said. “I want to change the perception of thrifting. I make it a point to get pieces that have never been worn, still with the tags on them, she added. Hence, the name, “Consignment Mixer”—a "concoction" of vintage, new, plus sizes, and standard size clothing.

Covid Beginnings

Engaging Jones in her craft lends one to believe she is a veteran entrepreneur. She has her brick-and-mortar shop open for showings by appointment. She has created a Dope Instagram and website presence where customers can browse her offerings in the comfort of their own personal space. She even runs a web-page building service for fellow start-up entrepreneurs looking to exploit the digital market and has a body products line. But, all of this has happened in a little over a year. Her brick-and-mortar operation at Swift was a consolidation of all her efforts into a dedicated space.

Her beginnings were rooted in the isolated confinement of Covid—as a customer. “I just got tired of not being able to go anywhere and interact with others. Facebook Live became a way for me to engage people within the quarantine. I love to shop. So that’s what I did—online. Then, one day, it hit me. You can do this Leah. You can do this and make money,”.

Jones stepped out on that inner voice and began to use the tools of the Covid Quarantine to make her market presence known. “I began to do my own Facebook Live sessions. Things picked up quickly and I just followed that pace. Next thing you know, I said to myself. ‘I really want to be able to make money in my sleep’. So, I designed a web page and the rest is history,” she quipped. “I am making money in my sleep,” she added.

As a matter of a fact, things picked up so quickly that she found she was making more money selling thrifted items than she was after 15 years on her job with the Hartford Public School system. She ran it by her husband, former Hartford Fire Department Deputy Chief, Patrick Jones. “He just wanted to know that I was sure about this, that I would be able to thrive through my business efforts alone,” Jones said.

But, Jones was definitely sure. Her online business was booming and after confirming that she wasn’t doing anything on a whim and that it would be a sustainable business, the couple agreed it was a viable option.

It helps that thrifting trends are increasing as inflation and disruption in supply chains continue to push buyers toward non-traditional sources for their needs. So, for many, buying name-brand clothes out of major outlets is no longer the only option. And, Jones added, her focus on procuring vintage clothing drives deeper value for her customers.

“You get more quality for your buck with vintage as opposed to your Shein, H&M, and Forever 21 clothes. You pay $40 for something with them, wear, wash, and dry it twice and the seams start coming out. Vintage clothes are timeless. They can be around for 20 to 30 years and still maintain great quality,” she said.

Another great selling point aligns well with a major personal fashion goal for Jones. “I sell clothes that are unique. If you go to the big chain stores, Macy’s, etc. You’re paying much more for clothing there. You feel good about the name brand, but you go out to an event and 3 other people could be wearing the same thing you are. You want to really stand out. And, vintage clothing is the way to achieve that,” Jones said.

If the interplay of fabrics, colors, and textures seem to come alive in Jones’ brick-and-mortar shop on the Swift Campus, then Jones’ Instagram presence takes that to another level. And, the Swift Campus becomes another asset in her marketing efforts. “I love being here. If you notice, many of my posts use the Swift Campus as a backdrop. All of the old finishes interplaying with new finishes, the murals along Garden Street, and the great light, make these spaces a great production site. And, the community gets a highlight as well,” Jones said.

Everyone shops where they believe they are getting the most out of their experience, whether one prefers the big chain stores for the brand names, or one goes deep into thrifting to find their clothes for a bargain. But, Jones says she adds something many shops don’t—personal curation.

The experience at the Consignment Mixer goes far beyond what you find at a big chain store. Yeah, someone comes up to help you locate the brand, items, etc., but you pretty much wander the aisles until something interests you. But according to Jones, people who have a true passion for fashion are not limited to a big chain store experience. They look outside the box.

“When a customer walks into my shop, they will see pieces that have been collected through my personal curation. Filling these racks involves travel, time, and most of all, my eye. I mean, even when I shop with my fellow curators, even we see different things. But, our passion for fashion helps us dig deeper. It’s this passion that fuels all of this—for sellers and buyers,” she said. “When you come here, you have me and I am going to help you put your whole look together. You are not going to get that at Macy's,” Jones said.

Connect to the "Dopeness" at: @thelifewithleahyvette , @theconsignmentmixer ,


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