Originally Published March 2023
By Lauren Stewart
It’s recess, the cool fall air blasts into your face as you race outside to meet your best friend. She waves you over to join a group of other little girls; the hair bubbles tied to the end of your twists add a familiar weight, swaying your twists from side to side. You jump in the circle, hands crossed against your chest, you face your best friend, and both of you start singing…
Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back. (or “Up and down her back back back”)
She asked her mother, mother, mother
for fifty (or 15) cents, cents, cents
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants (or hippos or cows)
Jump the fence, fence, fence.
The memories of recesses and summer vacations spent playing with my childhood friends came flooding back in as I approached the outside of the Ms Meri Mak boutique on Guelph’s historic Quebec St. The store front was beautifully made up with balloons as they anticipated the Grand Opening of the boutique at its new location.
The doors opened and I was met with an array of fashionable pieces. Denise Mansur, or as the owner is affectionately called, Ms Meri, curated vibrant, and unique pieces from around the world. Frida Kahlo pins, handmade jewelry, hand crocheted sweaters, beautiful african prints mixed with contemporary design and elegant dresses made to include woman of all sizes.
“ I thought there was a need for a place with more inclusivity, for sizes, and for representation of people of color.” - Denise Mansur
Ms Meri has mastered the art of a party, drinks were flowing and it was PACKED! Everyone who could make it made it- from special guests MP Lloyd Longfield, MPP Mike Schreiner, and Mayor Cam Guthrie, all of Guelph was there to support the boutique’s grand opening at their new location.
The support from the Black community was overwhelming; prominent community organizers, and Black entrepreneurs were in attendance, from The Kween Company to Big John Leacock real estate, the community was there to uplift and encourage one another. As the first Black owned boutique in Guelph Ms Meri Mak is a staple in not only the Black community, but Guelph as a whole.
“ …My business strives to support local Black and Indigenous-owned businesses- realizing that she was this new start-up, I said, look, how can we help you, how can we work together? Now for the last few years... year and a half... it's been two years now? We have been working alongside each other doing marketing and social media, and now this secondary Grand Opening, which feels kind of surreal just watching her thrive- seeing Black businesses thrive in this city is so beautiful, because it seems so unreal to see for our community.” - Kween
Fashion was at the forefront of this grand opening; the fashion show took my breath away, the models wore the the same designs to showcase how the pieces fit on different bodies, the pieces were skillfully curated, giving the audience a taste of what the boutique has to offer. The different textures, colors and patterns adorned both models- from pleated skirts, vibrant and exquisite dresses, every piece was shown in its full potential. No matter what your style is, Ms Meri Mak made sure to let us know there is something for everyone.
The performances didn't stop at the fashion show, with spoken word by Natalie A. Brown, and live music by Samuel Soga and band. The party was profound and jumpin’, the message of inclusivity and love was at the core of every performance.
“Beauty is about appreciating the style that we choose, and expressing ourselves. I think Ms Meri Mak has that opportunity to express who you are- if you see some of these patterns and colors it really ties into what you feel on the inside, and that is what's going to come out and help you feel beautiful.” - Natalie A. Brown
From a hand clapping game to a fashion destination; with a message of love, inclusivity and community Ms Meri Mak is well worth the visit.