The smell of incense and the voice of Erykah Badu fill the peaceful front room of Sweet Sistah Splash
(S3) on Sycamore near 13th Street in Over-the-Rhine. Natural light streams through open blinds on to the collective space imagined and then created by partner entrepreneurs Nzingha Byrd and Daphney Thomas.
Since July, regulars stop into the multi-cultural boutique to peruse vintage books, handcrafted jewelry, head wraps, homemade natural body care products, art and jewelry. But its founders say the intimate, bohemian-chic space truly comes to life during its holistic programs aimed at empowering women.
Instead of talking about the kinds of programs they wanted to see more of in Cincinnati, Byrd, 31, and Thomas, 28, decided to join forces, design their own space and feature them. Byrd founded Sheba Mama, which under the S3 umbrella offers social health workshops, yoga and belly dancing fitness classes and community projects. Thomas’ CoaCoa Goddess offers S3’s networking workshops and marketing, as well as personal and corporate event consultation.
The CoaCoa Goddess’ mantra is “I define therefore I divine myself;” Sheba Mama’s target audience is “urban, ancient, innovative, provoking, cool, sexy and uplifting” women.
“I think we decided to do a boutique/program space because it was something that we were already doing,” Byrd says. “We are jewelry makers, we both make natural body care products, and we both do programming throughout the city. So a cultural boutique/program space was pretty much who we already are.”
They both seek to empower women, and considering that women are caregivers and life-bearers, they see their goal as community empowerment. Their partnership had humble, but powerful, beginnings.
Byrd and Thomas started out hosting a film and dialogue series called Frinight Femme Flicks, which highlights films that have strong female leads, directors and writers, in their living rooms. When attendance grew, they moved to The Greenwich
in Walnut Hills.
One night, the ladies inadvertently proclaimed—and named— their future business. “Kind of jokingly, we thanked everyone for coming out to the event and said that it was a ‘sweet sistah splash’ of two different companies and women putting it together,” Byrd says.
Both women have two children and credit family support for helping get their joint business venture launched. Their children’s fathers painted S3’s interior and exterior a signature palette of yellow, lavender, blue and red.
“We didn’t really have a décor in mind, we just had colors,” Byrd says. The teal walls represent the aquatic part of Sweet Sistah Splash; lavender was chosen because it is a hue of their favorite color, purple. Red exemplifies power. A yellow accent wall and bright hardwood floors add a feeling of expansiveness.
Furnishings are sparse—a few accent chairs, a love seat and wall units for merchandise—to conserve space. A loft area behind the stairwell doubles as the “Kids Corner” with space for smaller children to play games or nap.
A few homespun touches like a silver cashier stand, a toaster oven, statues, plants, a brass candle stand shaped like an “S,” were given to Byrd by an aunt, who she says is like her “silent partner.”
Byrd uncaps a large jar of her homemade Sheba Mama herbal teas, Sweet Peace. The bouquet is intoxicating. She sells the relaxing blend of chamomile, lavender, rose petals and peppermint by the scoop.
Other merchandise includes hematite necklaces, dangly, one-of-a-kind earrings by CoaCoa Goddess, Sheba Mama’s handmade shea butter “whips,” business card holders made from a soft synthetic fabric from Thailand and bangle bracelets from India.
Several artists consignors collaborate with S3, like Cincinnati native Janice Frierson of NAJ Arts, who now lives in Phoenix. A painting of a little girl with full ruby lips and spirally curls is one Byrd’s daughter likes and says is her. Another is of a crowned woman sitting in a lotus position with an ankh (the Egyptian symbol for life) in her belly. “I like to think that is me,” says Byrd.
Upcoming events include more Frinight Femme Flicks; Sweet Sistah Sunday, a yoga and meditation circle hosted by Karehma Simon; and a dream board workshop hosted by CoaCoa Goddess. Thomas relates the potential of the workshop—Hey! It Could Happen!—during which guests decorate poster boards that express their aspirations, hopes and dreams.
“My wish is that people who come to this workshop will leave with a better understanding of the power of symbols, colors and words and have a laser point focus on what they want more of, instead of focusing on what they don't want,” Thomas says.
Byrd says her dream board helped her focus on her life and career goals. At one point, she envisioned owning a café or a community center. Over the course of seven years, she shaped and reshaped her business plan.
But, she says, her eventual results came from envisioning specific details. “I took my time to be still, to imagine my kids getting off the bus in front of this place,” Byrd says, “not necessarily this building, but I knew I wanted exposed brick and hardwood floors, and doing a dream board puts it out there in the universe.”
Outside of S3, Thomas and Byrd still juggle boatloads of responsibilities. Byrd’s youngest child is just two months old. Thomas, who recently juggled a full-time fellowship as an event coordinator for the Taft Museum
, also attends The College of Mount St. Joseph
When it comes to balancing professional and personal development, she knows she’s not alone. “I was granted access to this experience, so I am constantly challenging myself to step up, stretch, grow and increase my personal and business capacity,” Thomas says. “I also know that my ancestors and children are watching me and wishing me well. I wish to show the ancestors that their sacrifices and dreams are not in vain and also show my children that what they have come do is great and immeasurable.”
For more information on programs, classes and workshops, follow Sweet Sistah Splash on Facebook or email them at email@example.com.
Mildred Fallen is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati. She regularly writes about music and the arts.