The Heights

Women Working It: The plants and passion of Terra Cotta

Keneisha Malone and Meghan Paige were only a few months into operating gather + memphis when COVID-19 shut down the city. The two full-time therapists launched the event planning business in October 2019 to provide local makers with opportunities to sell their wares at pop-up experiences held at various venues.

“COVID happened and all of our markets got canceled [for 2020],” Malone said.

Malone curates selling events for Memphis artisans and creates her own products. Before the pandemic, she had been looking for a space for her skincare business, Ziya Soul.

With no pop-up shops happening, the gather + memphis co-founders started planning in summer 2020 to put their businesses and ideas under one roof.

They opened Terra Cotta on October 3 at 3032 Summer Avenue. It's a plant shop and a space for local makers to sell their products.

People can apply to sell their products by filling out a short form via Instagram. Malone and Paige want to elevate and prioritize Black makers, though shelf space is open to anyone.

“[Potential vendors] can tell us about their business, what type of product they offer, and what their stance is on believing Black lives matter,” Malone said.

The Terra Cotta co-owners talked to High Ground about opening a business in a pandemic and how people can incorporate plants into their self-care routines.
Terra Cotta is part plant shop and part artisan market. The curated products include bath and body, cleaning sprays, apparel, and more. Terra Cotta is located at 3032 Summer Avenue and open Wednesday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. (Submitted)

The Q & A
How did you meet and decide to start a business together?

Malone: We met a few years ago when we used to work together at an autism clinic as behavior therapists. We started hanging out and talked about different ideas, and about a year and a half ago we started gather + memphis. We used to host pop-ups for makers around Memphis. And then COVID happened. That got us looking into how to find our own space.

You have a lot going on right now. Are you both still full-time therapists?
Malone: We both are still working full-time. We don’t open [Terra Cotta daily] until our regular jobs are over. I graduated with a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis in December 2017, and I’m teaching. I’m getting ready to sit for my board [exam] to be a behavior analyst.

Paige: I graduated May 2018 with a masters in clinical health. Now, I’m a clinical therapist and a mental health therapist full-time.

Your grand opening for Terra Cotta was in October. Why did you decide to move forward with opening the shop in a pandemic?
Paige: There was no fear involved from either of us about opening in a pandemic. This is something we wanted to do. In the summer, we were looking for spaces and once the space became available we just got started.

Malone: We really didn't even have this idea before the pandemic started. We just got the idea a few months ago. COVID made plants very therapeutic for people. People use plants as an outlet for self-care. Plants have really taken off because of the pandemic. And I have a small business, a skincare company called Ziya Soul and I was looking for shelf space. I was having a hard time finding that. So we merged those ideas. And we love plants.

What is the significance of the name Terra Cotta?
Malone: Terracotta is the brown substance of the Earth, and it can be molded into what it needs to be. It's strong, and we feel like the definition of terracotta is kind of like a parallel to how we define Black people. We want to highlight Black makers and give them shelf space, but we also have non-Black makers. We have everything, from jewelry, candles, sweatshirts, t-shirts to accessories. It's pretty much just like a gift shop.

What advice would you give to a person who wants to be a plant parent but has no idea where to start?
Paige: People ask us that every day in the store. The first questions we ask are, “How often do you want to water it? How much sunlight do you have in your home?” Usually, people want a plant they can just sit somewhere and forget about it. We tell them to get a Moonshine Snake plant. If they have bright light and they want to see new leaves, we tell them to get a Monstera.
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Read more articles by Brandi Hunter.

Brandi is a freelance journalist, brand writer and tech strategist based in Memphis, TN.