If you’re familiar with the blog, you know that I started a Black-owned business directory in 2020 to amplify Black voices and entrepreneurship in our community. It’s been so amazing to watch this list grow with so many incredible businesses. To celebrate Black History Month, I want to go a step further and get to know a few of the business owners listed in the directory. Check back weekly to learn about someone new!
I met Aba years ago at a local event and we’ve been connected ever since. I admire Aba for all of the work she does for our community (she does a lot of volunteer work and is on many, many committees!) while running two spas (and raising four children!)! My favourite items from Cher-Mere are the moisturizing hair products and body oil, they are especially appreciated in winter when everything is dry! This past year Aba has been responsible for the Let’s Talk Kingston series that’s done a wonderful job of breaking down barriers and having honest conversation about the things that impact our community. Learn more about Aba below.
Why did you choose Kingston?
I came to Kingston to go to Queen’s for an undergrad from Engineering and then along the way I decided to do a Masters and then along the way I started to do a PhD and then along that way I was in a relationship and got pregnant and had four kids and we became Kingstonians officially (laughs). My husband always says “I wanted to go to a big city” and we kind of just ended up here. But we really like it here.
And then you started your business here…
Then we started the business, it’s a family business that we’ve been doing for 30 years [nine years in Kingston]. We use our own products and then we do the services of the spa using them and it’s been really good. It’s been kind of a testing ground to see what people like and don’t like and then how can we use that feedback and expand them to different areas in Ontario and Canada. It’s been good that way and challenging because trying to balance that between promoting the products and promoting the spa and having kids is a crazy balance. We also do a lot of volunteering so when you throw that into the mix it is just a gong show. But I think it works.
What is it like having a small business in this small community?
I think it’s very interesting because I think it’s very word-of-mouth and maybe that’s what it’s like everywhere else but I think Kingston is such a tight-knit community that it just takes one person to make or break you. It’s important to be out in the community doing stuff and not just saying, ‘Here I am!’ and expect people to come to you. It’s very much about the interactions that you have with people and making sure that those people can understand you. It’s important to be true to what you want. If we just had a spa and said, “come here and use these products” I don’t think it would work well but I think that people get that we make the products and I believe in the products and there’s something behind it and they can see that when they come in. Kingston is good for developing the skills of how to market yourself or how to get through to other people so that they can also help to market you and create a ripple effect to keep the small business going because it is all about community and it’s also about working with people. Especially with the pandemic, we were able to join together collaboratively with other businesses with the YGK Boxes and also to create a space for BIPOC makers and businesses with the Callaloo box. It’s important to work with other businesses and reach different demographics.
Did you have anything you would like to add in terms of living here or owning a business here? I think it’s been interesting because I am Black, my husband is white and we come from different cultural backgrounds. He’s a farmer from Carp and I am from the Caribbean and for me it was interesting initially coming back to Kingston because things are just different. In Trinidad culturally we do the same things, whether you’re Hindu, Muslim or whatever we celebrate everything. And so for me it’s about introducing tolerance because I want my kids to be respectful and tolerant and learn about different people and also aware when things are right or wrong and how people say things. But I don’t want to be overprotective of my kids. I am trying to find that balance of yes you are different. It’s interesting now that they are getting older that they will say, “How come in Trinidad they have so many more Black people and in Kingston there aren’t that many?” I think just trying to say that in different places there are different people but that doesn’t mean we are that different. Because they are mixed, they have hair that people like to touch and it drives them crazy. So just explaining sometimes when people don’t have something it’s not an excuse to just touch your hair but it’s why they do it. Just trying to teach tolerance in that way. Growing up in Trinidad that was never an issue but here when your kid comes home and says “I want to shave my head because I am tired of people touching it.” then you’re like, “okay, let’s talk about this.” Just because of the dynamics of our cultures and race it’s been kind of interesting. Now that my kids are getting older, too, I look at ways to proactively teach them about Black Canadian history, in a celebratory way. I look to history for examples of how other people aspired and achieved better so that my kids can know that they can achieve anything that they want, taking the inspiration from the past to forge forward into the future.
Keep up with Cher-Mere’s downtown location on Instagram and Facebook
Keep up with Cher-Mere’s West end location on Instagram and Facebook
Keep up with all of Cher Mere’s services and products on their website.