It's a Family Affair for ArgyleStudio — The Oakland-Based Retail Incubator for Local Small Business Entrepreneurs, Artists, Multi-Media Creatives and Makers of One-of-a-Kind Goods
by Reese Randall
July 14, 2021
When creative strategist and arts organizer Christine McCray Bethea shared a potential business opportunity to work together with her daughter, Brigette M. Bethea, owner and lead strategist of ULEADx, a Pittsburgh-based leadership development firm; it didn’t take any hesitation from Brigette to lean in and learn more.
ULEADx works to acquire different types of clients building leaders and implementing leadership development in their companies. It also facilitates working with community redevelopment. “Argyle Studio falls in that space. We provided entrepreneurs and vendors leadership growth opportunity while helping other creatives develop their craft in the retail industry,” says Brigette.
Funding and support from the Allegheny County Tourism Fund and UPMC (who provides ArgyleStudio with its commercial space along Forbes Avenue) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) helped to energize efforts to increase more retail in the Oakland area. With not many retail storefronts, the idea that a pop-up storefront that benefits local artists and creatives was the brainchild of the Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID) who partnered with InnovatePGH to create the pop-up plan. “We put in a proposal to be the company that saw this vision through to completion,” says Brigette. “My mother and I interviewed to take on the project and we were selected. The whole process started for us in November 2020 and we were excited to bring something fun and brand new to the Oakland area.” Although ArgyleStudio—a name the mother-and-daughter team created together as a representation of layers of color and different mediums at the intersections of makers and entrepreneurs—is a brand-new venture for Brigette and Christine, they are not brand new to the creative and leadership landscape.
Brigette launched ULEADx in 2015 while at Georgetown University earning her master’s degree. “After graduating I had been doing projects here and there, however, because I was working a full-time job, I couldn’t commit to it,” says Brigette. Once she decided to focus on the business full-time in October 2020 everything came together. “It was then when everything began to happen. People became interested in me and what I was doing,” says Brigette, who has worked with her mother over the years. “This project came through her,” says Brigette.
“I learned about the incubator pop-up studio project and shared it with Brigette,” says Christine. The creative strategist comes from an entrepreneurial background as former owner and operator of the vintage store Artica in Garfield having received an award in 2010 for her work combining eco-green awareness and the arts together. "I collected names and began working relationships and connections with artists during gallery events at my store and created a green arts innovative festival," says Christine. “It lasted 10 years and I am proud to be one of the first business owners to showcase recycling and environmental issues.” Christine has built connections with many local artists. “It was a natural progression to bring those artistic connections to ArgyleStudio," says Christine.
Diverse in their approach and style makes for the perfect business partnership. “We pride ourselves for the various inclusion practices we support such as multi-generational representation from younger entrepreneurs to older adults. For an example of a youth vendor, Kin of Duncan is a fur kid accessory brand company creating handmade pet gear by youth entrepreneur Jazmiere Bates.
As the creative design team, the Bethea’s evaluate style, content and substance. “We are creating an atmosphere where artists can be themselves and trial new ideas in our pop-up storefront first,” says Brigette. One of the advantages is artists have access to the ArgyleStudio storefront. “Many vendors don’t have physical space to display their wares. With our foot traffic in this very diverse business community, they are able to see what works and what doesn’t,” says Brigette.
The multi-disciplined artist’s studio, which opened in late May, offers department categories including Art and Prints, Body and Soul, Fashion and Jewelry, Fun and Leisure and Home and Office. Mike Gable, executive director of Construction Junction helped with the studio display adding jewelry cases and tables and the general retail fixtures. “In designing the store displays we found out how much retail waste there is,” says Christine. “It was also great to have Artsmiths in Carnegie offer displays that are now being reused and not wasted.”
Sustainable practices such as these are top-of-mind for the eco-friendly disciplined duo. Artists and makers that create locally made sustainable products include Selvedge Rose, Flux Bene, Otto Fin. While other artists and makers who also use upcycled and reused materials include Creepy Doll Factory, Up and Away, Unearthed, Djoi, Burghwood, Christina Roselle and Stevo Mosaics.
“ArgyleStudio is about a little bit of everybody coming together,” says Christine. “That starts with us first. Brigette can explain things to me, and I can explain things to her.” They leverage each other’s strong suit. “We already know what both of us do,” says Brigette. “I am great at logistics and she is great at creative arts management. Together, we have an opportunity to expand the visibility for each of our amazing creatives.”