Zara Salmon chatting up her small business CRAVEInfused with a customer. Jadan Anderson Photos.
Zara Salmon watched plant-based remedies help her grandfather recover from prostate cancer. Two decades later, she’s using that naturopathic knowledge to start a small business with CBD-infused massage candles and body butters. The public library is giving her a leg up.
Saturday, Salmon was one of seven vendors at the New Haven Free Public Library’s (NHFPL) inaugural Holiday Bazaar, dedicated to showcasing the small business owners and entrepreneurs who comprise its first-ever “Make To Sell” cohort. The Make to Sell program is a pilot program by NHFPL’s Ives Squared team, in partnership with CTNext and the New Haven Innovation Collaborative.
Public Services Administrator Gina Bingham helped plan the Make to Sell program over a year ago. She said that when the staff of Ives Squared considered other entrepreneurial spaces, they realized that the people those spaces served had lots of seed money, industry knowledge, and ideas ready to be pitched to venture capital firms. Those were just “not the people we were seeing walking through the doors at Ives Squared,” she said.
“We took a number of individuals—all members of under-served populations in some way—who had an idea for a business, and have been walking them through the steps of creating an e-commerce business,” said Jennifer Gargiulo, the manager of Ives Squared.
They include entrepreneurs like Salmon, a West Havener who runs CRAVEInfused, a “plant-based lifestyle brand.” Raised in Connecticut, Salmon graduated from Wheaton College in Massachusetts with a degree in English and another in Political Science. After graduating, she worked in various, service-oriented roles in Rhode Island, including one job as a Coordinator for AmeriCorps. She moved back to West Haven in late 2019, just before the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown. While it was a “hard time,” she used the pandemic to work on growing CRAVEInfused into a sustainable small business.
The inspiration for her new business, Salmon said, was her grandfather.
“My grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998, just two years after I was born.” Instead of opting to undergo chemotherapy, her grandfather chose first to try a plant-based, naturopathic route for recovery—and it worked for him. “He never underwent chemotherapy, and he survived.”
“My goal is to raise awareness of the power of plants,” Salmon said. She had just come back inside from leaving a few candles outside to set on the Ives Café patio. The café space, previously used by ConnCORP, was cleared for vendor tables. The left side of Salmon’s table was adorned with creamy candles encased in a sleek, black tin, topped with boldly colored, decorative flowers.
The other side displayed the gold-capped glass jars of her homemade body butters. “I’m vegan, and I show people how to make use of plants in my Youtube channel,” she said. “I never want to pressure someone into this lifestyle, though. I just want to encourage people to use plants more in their lives.”
Salmon said her company launch was possible with help of local resources for entrepreneurs, like the New Haven Creative Sector Relief Fund, of which she was a 2021 recipient, and the brand-new Make to Sell program at Ives Squared.
Top: Two cakes at Cake Confessions vending table (yum!). Bottom: Dimitri Cotman in front of his vending table.
Another one of these individuals was Dimitri Cotman, who owns a small business called Z.Nith Point that boasts a line of candles, bath soaks, body scrubs, body butters, and linen sprays. Cotman’s hope is to make at-home spa care affordable and safe, without forfeiting the feeling of indulgent relaxation.
His Z.Nith Point’s Etsy store is a “star seller,” averaging a 5-star rating from its customers. He expects to sell on Amazon Prime soon.
Over the last few months, Ives Squared and other business owners and mentors in the New Haven community helped the cohort learn about small business taxes and insurance, business incorporation, branding and marketing, how to use different e-commerce platforms, and even more technical skills like search engine optimization (SEO) and website development.
Dolores Bryd of Breathless Boutique in front of her vending table.
Cohort members also had something called “cheerleaders”—touchpoints for one-on-one meetings to help with any questions the entrepreneurs have. “The cheerleaders were some members of the Ives Squared staff as well as our entrepreneur-in-residence, Giulia Gambale, and our creative-in-residence, Ceresa Newsome,” said Gargiulo.
Not all of the entrepreneurs in this first Make to Sell cohort see their business as an end in itself. One of the cohort members, artist Jordan Taylor, ultimately hopes to “further democracy by fighting the gender gap and creating a safe political community for women and allies.” Taylor is a Dartmouth alumnus and Yale Divinity School graduate student who claimed some fame after running for Congress in 2016.
“Women in the public sphere, politics or business, cannot afford to mess up,” she said. “We need a safe community for women to generate, refine, and test their ideas without worrying about messing up.”
Jordan Taylor helping a fellow cohort member Shelara Pullen of Glam-TShields take a picture of her product.
She chatted over a table full of patriotic blue t-shirts that read “Politigals.” Taylor was selling these t-shirts to raise funds towards creating this political community for women, which she kicked off with her podcast, “Legally Black.”
This cohort embodied a spirit tangibly different from cut-throat capitalism. Throughout the bazaar, cohort members helped each other set up their vending tables and took time to look at the other vendors’ creations. A favorite of the day was April Snell’s Cake Confessions table.
All cohort members had two things in common. Each member identified themselves as a “creative”—whether it was with cakes or candles or jewelry or face masks. And being a creative, for many of the vendors, meant empowerment.
The entrance to event had an option to take a wooden, laser-cut owl ornaments from the tree and replace it with origami paper ornaments. All directions were made by the Ives Squared staff.
“I’ve always had this desire to be a creative individual,” Cotman said. “I also was tired of going to Yankee Candle. I wanted a candle I knew was safe—a candle that didn’t have any paraffin or other potentially harmful stuff. And so I thought: if I want it, I’ll just make it!”
“I just love making things, and I feel so happy that I get to make things people love,” said Dolores Byrd, owner of Breathless Boutique.
For Salmon, being a creative means empowering people who have been historically marginalized.
“While I was studying political science, I witnessed the legalization of recreational marijuana. I also realized that the people making money off of now-legal recreational marijuana were never the same people who were being arrested for its illegal use," she said. "By making and selling my own products, I am claiming that power, and I hope others do, too.”
Dimitri Cotman said he works to bring his customers through at-home spa caring using his products.
Entrepreneurs’ businesses were also rooted in support from communities, from space makers like Ives Squared and the mentors at the Make to Sell program to their own families and friends.
“At first, my customers were my family and friends. They always, always were wanting to buy their next candle from me,” said Cotman. “And right now, my partner is doing a vending show for me in a different town.”
Dolores Bryd’s company was a family business from the start, originally called M&D Designs for “mother” and “daughter” when Byrd ran the business with her mother. “We re-branded to Breathless Boutique after my mother passed, but now my daughter helps me run communications for the shop.”
“Before this, my family held pitch parties for me,” Salmon said, adjusting one of the decorative flowers on top of a candle. “And now my business is here, and I’m finally doing a vending event!”
Applications for the spring Make to Sell cohort go live on January 3, 2022. Find out more at the NHFPL’s website.