"Welcome to IBBMEC. Move to the right for on-site registration - This line if you have pre-registered. Please have your business credentials and ID ready. Is your business at least 51% Black owned and operated? Great! Here's your badge and program book. Enjoy the Expo and Conference!"
A buzz of activity. Wholesale exhibitors and retail buyers, all Black owned and operated, convening from across the U.S.A. and around the world to conduct commerce and share information. A trade show featuring home decor, greeting cards, stationery items, apparel, fashion accessories, cosmetics, toys, games, art, books, magazines, paraphernalia, and more. A conference with sessions on finance, advertising, merchandising, technology, and international trade. Always studying the past to appreciate the present and build for the future. Building relationships, examining possibilities, growing businesses.
The vision for IBBMEC sprang forth from seeds planted by the Ba Papyrus magazine. The Ba Papyrus, which was established by Aziza Gibson-Hunter, Alex Medley, Jr. and Sala Damali, provided a communication link between Black manufacturers and retailers. It promoted the ideals of cooperative economics, self determination and progressive action within the industry. The folding of the magazine in the spring of 1995 left a huge void.
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In February of 1995 Alex and Sala (Co-owners of Kuumbba Kollectibles, a DC-based Black manufacturer of African-centered greeting cards and stationery items) retained the marketing services of Tonyia M. Rawls (President/Owner of International Concepts Group, a Washington, DC-based marketing and advertising consulting firm) to help the business reposition itself and increase sales.
As the trio began exploring venues where Kuumba Kollectibles' lines of products could be exhibited along with other Black manufacturers, it became frightfully clear that despite the many strides made by Black manufacturers and retailers, there was no place they could go to buy from and sell to others like themselves. In the tradition of Africans in America, what does not exist...we create. Kuumba Kollectibles, with the help of ICG, held a trade show for Black retailers and manufacturers in April of 1995.
The show was held in the basement auditorium of Northeastern Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC and boasted 50 businesses in total. From the very start the three realized that trade alone was not enough; that if these businesses were to gain maximum benefit from this gathering, then education would also need to be tied in. Since space was limited and the show was only for one day, they decided to hold workshops (which covered marketing, finance and display/merchandising) on the stage of the auditorium where seats had been placed for attendees. Business owners would sit in on the sessions they needed and would then return to the expo. That show became the model for IBBMEC.
Word quickly spread about the great success of this Black trade show that was held in the nation's capital. By May of 1995 Sala, Alex and Tonyia responded to the requests from New York, California, Arkansas, Africa and London by becoming business partners in the development of the International Black Buyers and Manufacturers Expo and Conference (IBBMEC).
They first thing they did was to establish an Advisory Board which was compromised of leaders in retail, manufacturing, bookselling, import/export, finance, technology, and fine art/crafts. This core group helped to ensure that the needs of all attendees could be appropriately addressed as this forum evolved. Their other partner was God who continues to inspire and encourage these trailblazers.
The first show as IBBMEC was held October, 1995 on the Campus of Howard University and guests stayed at the now closed Black-owned Howard Hotel. Three hundred and fifty (350) businesses responded to the call which was made exclusively through Black media and networks, to buy, sell, learn and network. The show had grown from one day to three and the theme, "Common Goals...Varying Paths," dealt with issues of separatism and conflict which have long frustrated the efforts of those who have tried to pull the corporate, grass roots, cottage, manufacturing, store front, mall-based, large, small, central city and suburban businesses within this arena together.
With another huge success to their credit, the trio had decided what the next steps would be for this self-funded venture. The next step was a spring show that would help teach Black entrepreneurs in the retail industry how to survive and thrive in the traditionally slow spring and summer months. The theme for this show was "Strategies for Growth" and focused on basic strategies for summer survival and development of products that served bridal, holiday and vacation markets. This was a bit risky since most of the manufacturers focused more on Christmas, Kwanzaa and Black History month.
Well, success again. More than 600 businesses came to Howard to buy, sell, learn and network. Many who had attended earlier sessions had already begun to see great benefit from the things they had learned, the relationships they established and the revenue they generated from sales related to the show. IBBMEC was later held in other venues, including the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and the Washington, DC Convention Center.