Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Tie-dye evolves to high-fashion, 'stylish loungewear'

Emilee Villafranca and Brynne Gattie
  By Jenna Hecker

            As trends are changing and styles are evolving, a new wave of tie dye has swept through fashion, defying the stereotypes of its hippie-era roots. What started as clothes to be worn at a Woodstock festival are now being worn in high fashion, or what’s known as “stylish loungewear.”

            Two best friends Emilee Villafranca and Brynne Gattie from Buffalo decided to put their love for loungewear and tie dye together and created their own clothing brand called EXB, standing for Emilee and Brynne.

            EXB is a men and women's all tie dye clothing line. The brand started off with just t-shirts and hoodies, but has expanded to sweatsuits, sweat shorts, tank tops, socks, and more to come in the summer launch.

            The brand came to life in 2020, the second year for Covid, a troublesome for businesses. Several businesses either had to shut down or be put on pause, but for EXB, it was just the beginning. 

         “Brynne originally said to me,‘Well it’s 2020 and people are doing crafts at home and tie dyes really big right now, so what if we did a different spin on it.’ And that’s exactly what we did,” Villafranca said.

            Their spin being based on the concept that loungewear can be worn in a more fashionable sense, and that you can feel just as confident in a sweatsuit as you could in a dress or suit and tie. With colors of neutrals and neons, there is a wide variety that goes with just about anything in your closet.

            Abby Pitz is a Buffalo resident who loves supporting local businesses and also has a love for tie dye fashion. Pitz recently discovered EXB through a friend and is now one of their top buyers.

                  “I personally really like how EXB markets themselves as an empowering brand and that you can feel confident in your loungewear, but still be comfortable at the same time. From the quality of the tie dye to the clothing itself, everything is great and so unique,” Pitz said.          

                  Now, it’s one thing to have a new idea, but it’s another to bring a brand to life and start making profit, and this didn’t happen overnight for EXB.

                  It was a 6-month process that started in Gattie’s kitchen. The two women were self-taught all the science behind tie dying.

             “We use the brand Rit dye. Color formula depends on what color we want to achieve and that takes a lot of testing. It will be an exact number of teaspoons of certain colors, some colors are a different amount. Everything is cold washed with natural detergent, then hung dry,” Villafranca said.

            After the process was perfected, the two women became entrepreneurs. They bought a camera to take pictures of their clothing, launched their website, and created an Instagram, Facebook, and Tik Tok.  

                  Since then, EXB has been to several pop ups in Buffalo, collaborated with other Buffalo artists, held three professional photoshoots, hosted tie dye workshops, and their brand is currently being sold in 49 Coffee House in Holland and in Live A Little Boutique in Weedsport.

             “Seeing our friends and family being so proud of us, and our stuff being sold in other stores was when I realized this was pretty sick, and also during our photoshoots seeing how much fun our models were having was when it hit me how cool this was,” Gattie said.

                  As far as who does what for the brand, Villafranca handles the business side of things, whereas Gattie is on the creative side when it comes to the designs and colors for the clothing, but the two do the tie dying process together.

             “I love that balance and the collaboration that we have within each other because two brains is better than one, and there’s just so much we couldn’t do without each other,” Villafranca said.   

            Although it’s exciting to create a business with your best friend, there were some road bumps the two faced.                                                                                                                                                                   “The biggest challenge for me was throwing everything I knew out the window. I only worked at one place for almost a decade so throwing my whole life out the window is essentially what I did when I decided to become a business owner,” Villafranca said.

            Gattie said they lost friends along the way from those who did not support or see their vision. But they kept a positive outlook, continued their dream, and let the critics and non-believers pass them by.

            EXB has had a few sales outside of Buffalo, and they plan to continue that as the business grows. Villafranca and Gattie plan to be a worldwide brand, spreading their spin of tie dye fashion for everyone to see and wear.                                                                          




Baker brings lifelong passion to Grant Street

Ahmari Stevens and Latoya Hailstock standing behind baked goods at Bee Sweet Bakery

By Rylee Shott         

            For Latoya Hailstock getting an Easy Bake Oven was the start of her lifelong passion.

            Once Hailstock started baking with her Easy Bake Oven she could not stop. Her parents had to make her batter just to keep up. This is when Hailstock truly learned the “magic” of baking.

            She learned that from one batter she could make cookies, cakes, and pies.

            “I always thought it was almost magic how you could take these things and a little bit of science to create all of this stuff, that always intrigued me,” Hailstock said.

            After running her business in her home for two years. Hailstock at 43-years-old finally achieved her dream of owning her own store front to sell her sweet treats.

            Bee Sweet bakery opened its doors at 1006 Grant St. Buffalo on Dec. 23, 2023.

            You can stop by the bakery between the hours of noon and 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday to get a that day’s array of cookies, cakes, brownies, brookies, pies, cobbler, and Big Deborah’s. Bee Sweet menu also occasionally makes baked macaroni and cheese. To keep up with the ever changing newest and most popular sweet treats you can follow Bee Sweet on Facebook here.

            Bee Sweet is not just about the treats being sold, there is a hidden message behind the name.

            “Every time you mention the name of my shop, Bee Sweet, you are telling someone to be sweet. So, let’s be sweet to one another. We are acknowledging the bee, the small things in life and reminding each other it’s not just to eat sweet we need to be better to one another,” Hailstock said.

            Hailstock inspires those around her particularly her two daughters: Ahmari Stevens and Ahrie Stevens.

            “My mother had us young, we always see her work extremely hard for everything. If she can do this on her own, it really motivates me. It goes to show it doesn’t matter how old you are, if you have kids, you can achieve any goal you set your heart too,” Ahmari said.

            Hailstock isn’t the only talented baker in the family, she has her mom, sister and her two daughters helping her out.

            Her daughter Ahmari is known as the Macaroon Queen.

            “I have just seen her create beautiful works of art literally with different configurations of sugar and flour. I just found that amazing so just seeing that really made me be like, well I can do it too and I did. She is why I like to do this,” Ahmari said.

            Hailstock’s favorite part about baking is being able to have a creative outlet that puts a smile on people’s faces. Particularly she loves to make cut out cakes where she can mold and create cake to shape things like guitars, pirate ships, the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland, and even recreating famous paintings like Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

            Bee Sweet is not just about getting a sweet treat, but it’s also a welcoming fun place to be, just ask some of their longtime customers and they will tell you.

            “It’s a nice sweet welcoming good vibe, you walk in there and you don’t feel like you are being judged, you walk in there thinking this is about to make my day,” Justice Skillon said.

            The realization set in for Hailstock that she wanted to have a job that made her happy like all the other woman business owners she always looked up to, although that created a challenge within itself.

            When inquiring about purchasing the building for the bakery Hailstock was told this building was not for her with no explanation behind it.

            “Being a Black woman owned business is probably the hardest part opening a business, people don’t take you seriously, they don’t give you the breaks they give everyone else,” Hailstock said.

            Hailstock feels like there are always eyes on her waiting for Bee Sweet to fail since she is a Black woman business owner, but she found a way to lift some of that pressure off her shoulders.

            “I do realize I am a success story but at the same time I am just that little girl and I just grew up and I’m living my dream,” Hailstock said. “I just try to think of it as that because otherwise it’s too much weight.”



Friday, May 17, 2024

Backpackers use rap music to bring social issues to light

 Donald “L Biz” Foreman and Dwight “Grand Phee” Cook 
By Nathan Palmer

   Within the culture of hip hop there is a two-party system that functions like that of our government with Democrats and Republicans.

     You have the street based narrative hip hop that was once the voice of a political movement in hip hop’s early days until the rise of gangster rap in the early 90’s. To bring contrast to the gangster narrative, the early 90’s ushered in the era of backpack rap with conscious content groups like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.

            Backpack rap is a subgenre of hip hop that offers an alternative to the oversexualized, violent mainstream content associated with rap music. Backpack rappers are genuinely artists whose content include extensive vocabulary and subject matter such as social issues. Sonically, backpack music is deeply rooted with the traditional sound of boom bap from the golden era of hip hop but can also vary in sound.

            Producers from the area are finding footing globally gaining credit for a signature hardcore backpack sound with the success of national recording artists like Buffalo's own Benny the Butcher.

            Inspired by a 2019 beat battle in Rochester that they attended, Buffalo natives and hip hop artists Dwight “Grand Phee” Cook and Donald “L-Biz” Foreman decided to create a similar platform that highlights hip hop producers in Buffalo.

            The two co-founded backpack mafia which organizes and hosts a series of beat battles for producers to showcase their unique sound. The name is in reference to the style of backpack rap combined with the family-oriented mentality of Bills Mafia. Cook is credited with coming up with the name.

            “It’s modeled on the format of battle rap leagues but with producers not vocalists,” Foreman said.

            This platform offers a unique alternative for producers and fans to experience something to vibe to without negative content. A sense of unity that helps change the narrative about hip hop. Another advantage from Foreman’s perspective is the networking aspect for fellow artists and producers to expand their networks by building relationships with one another. 

            Andre “Bless 3K” Mathews, a Niagara Falls hip hop producer who won first place in 2022 and participated in three of the beat battles, was jubilant in describing his experience.

            “It was way doper than I expected. Some of the producers actually made the beats right there on the spot,” Mathews said.

            The former 1st place winner was complimentary towards the backpack mafia for a chance to showcase and network with his music.

            “It’s really a culture,” Mathews said.

            This culture is exemplified by the unique experience of having the audience interact as judges. A true sense of unity as listeners can see producers make hip hop beats live on stage and hear the finished product all at the same time for the first time.

            The appeal of this event to aspiring producers and music connoisseurs crosses many demographics. Here, you will find hip hop enthusiasts of various age groups bobbing their heads to the music. It also builds working relationships between local artists and local businesses. That was one of the points emphasized by co-founder Dwight “Grand Phee” Cook.

            “Backpack mafia is bridging the gap between the youth and the elders of the culture because we all love the music,” Cook said.

            With a groundswell of support and national success of Buffalo based producers such as Daringer, Cee Gee productions, L-Biz, and Bless 3k, Buffalo and the surrounding areas including Rochester are receiving attention and recognition that it has never had before. Producers typically are behind the scenes while the vocalist garners the spotlight. This platform is unique and gives the producers the spotlight and a chance to shine.

            The diligence and consistency of L-Biz Foreman has paid off with a 2024 nomination for the 716 music awards this July for engineer of the year.

            “The reason I got into music is wanting to see other people make it. A love for exposing producers and putting on a unique hip hop experience,” Foreman said.

            The two co-founders see the future of the beat battles and backpack mafia traveling and taking the shows on the road. As the event continues to grow in popularity the goal is to take the mafia mentality outside of Buffalo.  

            The next backpack mafia beat battle is scheduled for June 22 in Olean and July 13 at Milkie's on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo.


'Pirates' take food from ground to table and back again

Farmer Pirates Compost team

By Karli Metros

Cooking or finishing a meal often leads to a pile of scraps and a wish for better use than simply discarding them. If that’s the case for you, you might be intrigued to learn about Farmer Pirates Compost.

From its grassroots inception in 2012, Farmer Pirates emerged as a passion project among a group of urban farmers who needed high quality compost to use on their farms. Since then, this initiative has grown into a significant force of sustainability as a worker owned cooperative,

from Buffalo and beyond.

Perhaps you’ve noticed their scrap drop off points or their residential pick up buckets around in your neighborhoods.

Typically, if an item was once living or derived from one it is compostible, with a few exceptions in the case of Farmer Pirates: meat, bones, and oils. While contamination isn’t a major concern for them, such as plastics or those previously mentioned, they are committed to ensuring everyone remains aware of the distinction.

Jeana Franjoine is a worker owner who joined after running her own small scale food scrap collection service in Buffalo. She says in the Farmer Pirates Scrap It! Curbside programs currently serve approximately 1900 residents, with plans to extend to 2000 soon. Additionally, the bucket pick up service, available outside Buffalo, caters to around 185 residents.

Their primary commercial contributor is Tops, with 18 locations in Erie and Niagara County, yielding approximately 4 tons of scrap weekly. The leading individual contributor is the culinary team at the Buffalo State Student Union, providing 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of food waste per week during the semester. In this context “food waste” and “food scraps” are used interchangeably to refer to organic material from food that is used for composting.

The numbers are a testament to Farmer Pirate’s growing influence as well as the amount of compost being produced. The process requires patience but yields benefits. Bill Jackson began working with Farmer Pirates in 2021. Prior to joining he volunteered at Common Roots Urban Farm on Peckham Street, Buffalo where he met Terra Dumas and Josh Poodry, owners of the

farm and founders of the cooperative.

The benefits begin with the scraps reaching the compost site where the Farmer Pirates blend them with several cubic yards of horse bedding, including manure from horses, wood shavings, and straw. The aim is to create a pile with an ideal carbon-to-nitrogen ratio for the decomposing microorganisms. It’s crucial to thoroughly mix the initial pile to maintain

consistent conditions. Generally, food scraps serve as a ‘nitrogen source,’ requiring a balance with ample supply of carbon rich material such as the horse bedding. This initial mix is then

transferred to a larger, elongated cone shaped pile, known as a widrow. Over the next 12 months it will undergo multiple turnings Jackson describes.

A well-blended compost pile generates internal heat, insulating it from the cold. As this process continues in the brisk winters of Buffalo. During the first three to four months, microbial activity peaks, with the pile temperatures potentially exceeding 150 degrees fahrenheit. After this composting process stabilizes, converting the nitrogen into forms beneficial for the soil and plant life.

After the creation of their ‘Black Gold’ compost, distribution spans across Buffalo and its surrounding areas. While urban farms and community gardens benefit, a significant portion is dedicated to residential home gardens. Past recipients of their deliveries are 5 loaves Farm, Wilson Street Urban Farm, Grassroot Gardens WNY, and PUSH Buffalo.

In order for the Farmer Pirates to track the impact and success of their compost they use an app called Stopsuite. They are able to collect data to determine how much food scraps were diverted from landfills and turned into compost. From just this year they are on track to collect 1 million pounds of food scraps in 2024, Franjoine said.

Tim White

Tim White who is the newest employee to Farmer Pirates joined in the summer of 2023 when their house signed up for a scrap pick up service in 2018. White has since used Farmer Pirates compost for raised garden beds where they grow vegetables every year.

White says working for a cooperative has been a vastly different experience than working for a corporation, non profit, or a local business.

“All aspects and decisions about the business are completely transparent among the worker-owners. In my opinion, through cooperation and accountability amongst the

worker-owners, there is no other business I've been a part of that adheres so closely to its core values,” White said.

Hockey mom "juggles" roles for the good of the game

The Clark family: Julie, Jacob, Zachary, Lucas and Jason

By Evan Harrington

       When some hear the term “hockey mom” they think of a mom who yells at the refs, coaches, and opposing parents from the stands, but Julie Clark uses that passion and energy that all moms have in more of a management style for her son's hockey team.

Hockey moms normally are moms with a son/daughter playing for a hockey team and that said mom takes on a manager role. They fundraise for the team, plan social events, and team dinners, order uniforms, and plan hotels and outings at tournaments. The moms also have to deal with the coaches, players, and families constantly keeping them updated and informed on the current schedule and state of the team.

There is a recognized status that comes with being a hockey mom. They are almost like a local celebrity some could say, as they are not only the team manager, but they do hold a special place in not only the players’ eye but also the families’ eyes. As they are always in the spotlight with the team making decisions, running events, and helping the team with anything that needs to be done.

Clark, 45, has always been involved in hockey going back to her childhood as her dad coached hockey, while her

cousin played growing up as well. She is married to Jason Clark and has three kids of   her own Jacob, Zachary, and Lucas Clark, who all at one point in time played hockey where Clark was a hockey mom/manager of the team.

“Go with the flow, roll with the punches, and see what comes. Listen to your kids for what they want, it’s not about what you want, it’s what is best for them and what they want. Whether they continue playing, want more training, go to a different team all sorts of different things. It’s not your dreams it’s their dreams,”  Clark said.

Clark got her oldest son Jacob skating at the young age of two and as he progressed at ice skating she then decided to have him play the game of ice hockey at the age of four. That's when she decided to skate along with her son supporting him through his journey of playing hockey by being a hockey mom.

Jacob said it is to have his mom around to help his team out and have someone to talk to as an outlet of support before and after hockey games.

“It’s important to have that support, that they can look up into the stands, not only the dads, but the moms that are cheering them on,” Jacob said.

One of the biggest things with Clark that stick out about her being a hockey mom for her son’s team is that she can travel the country with her son and watch him grow up, succeed, have fun, and make new friends and memories that will last a lifetime.

“Juggling” is the word that Clark used to describe being a hockey with a full-time job, as an Accounts Payable Specialist at Stark Tech. She mentioned how balancing herday-to-day life, with work, hockey, your family and how it can be hard to see her kids not always succeed, but it is always fulfilling to see them overcome obstacles.

James Schoenhals, president of the West Seneca Youth Hockey Association has a lot on his plate when dealing with each team and Clark makes his life a lot easier with the contributions she brings.

“It takes a lot of pressure off the coach when he knows he can depend on that

mom to interact with the parents because they do fundraisers and just the little intricacy stuff, everything that goes on with a hockey,” Schoenhals said.

Clark was honored by the Buffalo Sabres, as the hockey mom of the game. She was nominated by family and friends and by this occurring she was able to take her family to the game where they were able to meet and interact with the players. The Sabres had her play in a game during the intermission, which allowed her to win some pretty cool prizes.

“It was pretty cool, it was nice to be recognized, it's a thankless job sometimes, but it's nice to have family and friends recognize you and see what you do, and an organization like the Buffalo Sabres is recognizing all the other hockey moms and

recognizing what we do for our kids and families and the organization,” Clark said.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Trophy-maker provides memories for many

By Alex Miley

Trophies, as a kid you dream of receiving them as a reward for your achievements and accomplishments, whether it is from a sporting event or academic achievement these trophies will serve as a memory for the rest of your life that your hard work paid off.

Making trophies is a pretty simple process.

Walt Spencer at his engraving machine

Walt Spencer of Arcade has been making trophies in his basement since 1977. He first started buying trophies from Laux Sporting Goods for a bowling league he was in. He then realized he would make more money if he made the trophies himself. So, he started buying the parts and taught himself how to make the trophies.

“Can’t even count the number of trophies I’ve sold,” Spencer said.

Making a three-piece trophy is a five-step process:

1)    Spencer takes the column, the middle piece that holds everything together, and inserts a stem, a rod, right through the middle of the column

2)    Then he takes the topper, a figurine of what activity the trophy is for, and screws it into the stem on top of the column

3)    To finish off the trophy he takes the base, usually made of marble or plastic, and screws the base onto the bottom of the stem and screws a nut into the bottom of the base to keep the base screwed in tight to the stem

4)    Once the trophy is finished, it is time to make the engravement plate and put a message on it.

a)     Spencer cuts the engravement plate to fit the desired size to fit on the trophy

b)    Next he puts the plate onto the engraver

c)     Spencer then spells out of the desired message on the plate with plastic letter on the engraver

d)    The engraver machine follows the letters like a pentagram, there are gauges to change the size of the letters to fit the message on the plate

5)    Once the engravement is finished Spencer sticks double-sided tape on the back of the plate and sticks it right onto the base of the trophy.

This entire process takes about 20 minutes on average. The bigger the trophy the longer it will take. The largest trophy he has made was four feet tall for the local little league team.

 The price of the trophies is also dependent on size as the average trophy sells for about $15-$20. The bigger the trophy the more it will cost.

Covid took a hit on his business with fewer events happening and people trying to save money fewer people are buying trophies. He was making about $5,000 before covid to about $3,000 last year.

The engraver can be used for other purposes than just trophies as Spencer uses the engraver for plaques, and business labels like for office doors, among other things. One time he engraved a plate for an outhouse.

Throughout the years Spencer has received many repeat customers including Jenny Tackentien who runs a local bowling league and has been buying trophies of Spencer for the last seven years.

“I believe he takes pride in his work,” Tackentien said

Tackentien’s children have received many trophies from different sports that spencer has designed and after seeing the quality of those trophies she decided to also start buying trophies off him. She said all the parts of the trophy are of great quality and well put together.

“His engraving is nicely done, and I have never had to question anything that he’s made, and he has always charged a very fair price,” Tackentien said.

Another customer of Spencer’s is Eric Pump who is an assistant baseball coach of a local youth baseball team, the Chaffee Muckdogs. Pump started buying trophies of Spencer three years ago.

Pump has known Spencer for over 40 years, and he has had the opportunity to watch him build and sell trophies for years.

“The quality of his trophies has always been top notch and above other vendors in his profession, He has always built them to our specific colors and sizes we have asked for.

Spencer’s trophies have been a staple of the community for the past 50 years. He has made trophies for basically every sport out there among other events and awards. The engraver allows him to make signs for businesses. Whatever the person requests, if he has the time and the supplies he will do it.





Sunday, December 10, 2023

Ronald McDonald services celebrates 40 years


Ronald McDonald House Charities in December marked 40 years in service to families with children seeking medical treatment in Buffalo hospitals. Marking the occasion are, from left, Marketing and Communications Director Darlene Wilber, Executive Director Marianne Hoover, Director of Development Krystina Burow and House Operations and Guest Services Manager Yulanda McVay. More than 500 people stay at the Ronald McDonald House, 780 W. Ferry St., every year. The organization also provides respite space and other services  for the comfort of families with children in John R. Oishei Children’s Hospitals. By George McClendon