“They never, ever, ever, ever had an opportunity to build and create something on their own, and I think that’s why what’s so marvelous in what I’m building,” said Brierre. “It’s something that’s life-changing and that’s going to change the whole industry.”
Johanne Brierre, 44, is the creator of NYBeauty Suite and helps run BKLYN Commons, a large coworking space for aspiring entrepreneurs and small businesses in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Brierre, who is of Haitian background, grew up in the Flatbush area just down the street from the coworking space’s historic location on Flatbush Avenue and Empire Boulevard and across from the entrance to Prospect Park. From 1925 to 1960 the massive building was the Bond Bread Factory. In the ’90s it was then re-outfitted to be a discount clothing store called Phat Alberts Warehouse.
In 2016, BKLYN Commons was founded on the site of the empty warehouse with accessibility, affordability, and community in mind. The space is home to more than 300 small businesses, entrepreneurs, and creators in a vibrant collective community. Brierre joined the mission as a chief brand officer before leveling up to partner in the business space. Before the commons, Brierre worked in the hotel and hospitality industry in Manhattan.
“People used to come to me all the time to host events and networking, but at the same time I didn’t want to be in the city anymore and wanted to find a space in Brooklyn,” said Brierre about her journey. “One day I was getting off at the train station and I saw a sign.”
Prior to COVID, Brierre’s niece was a member of the beauty community and had a successful business in Florida. She shared with her aunt that during COVID the beauty community was hit extremely hard. Many of the hairdressers and braiders, for instance, were having a hard time making enough money to survive because they were not considered essential workers and relied on rented chairs in commercial rental spaces that were shutdown.
In response, Brierre created NYBeauty Suite, which is a cooperative working environment for “beauti-preneurs,” or working professionals in the beauty and wellness industry, such as hair braiders, lash technicians, estheticians, nurses, body sculpting, and holistic healers. The beauti-preneurs are fueled by e-commerce, social media, referrals and online advertising as opposed to heavily focusing on a brick and mortar salon with a chair, said Brierre.
“I went to the landlord at BKLYN Commons and I said, ‘Listen I have this idea. I want to test and make a pilot six suites, beauty suites,’” said Brierre. “A month later the whole thing was at 100% capacity with a waitlist of 40 people. That was huge.”
Since opening at the height of the pandemic in March 2020, the beauty suite brand and coworking has grown tremendously. Brierre said the beauty business owners, who are primarily young Black women, faced hardship and discrimination in trying to rent spaces for work in other places during last year’s lockdown. While other spaces were shutting down, Brierre said that BKLYN Commons maintained their businesses because of the connection to the community and help from city agencies and other local nonprofits.
“I looked at them as me and they looked at me as them,” said Brierre. “So I’m very proud of that. To be the only Black woman in the industry that was able to keep a space with over 300 businesses operational around that time. It was nonstop.”
Brierre hopes to launch a second location in downtown Brooklyn at 81 Willoughby Street with 20 suites, including a photography studio, amenities, and kitchen.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w