“J. Riley” in Milwaukee’s Underground Makers Market is Home of Handcrafted Goods

It Runs in the Family

As a craftswoman coming from a family of crafty individuals, and with the help and expertise from her mother, Jamila Riley turned her skills into her thriving business, “J.Riley”, which is located in Milwaukee’s epicenter for Black business at the Sherman Phoenix.

“One of the developers asked if I was interested in running a makers market, where people would be able to come in and not only purchase products but also see people working. It was a shoo-in for me because it’s something that I was already doing,” said Riley.

J.Riley has everything from hand-woven hats, scarves, and clothing to handmade earrings, necklaces, and other jewelry, as well as paintings and portraits.

J.Riley is available at the Underground Makers Market.
J. Riley is available at the Underground Makers Market. (Picture by Justin Gordon/Carvd N Stone)

Riley invites the community to come out and support the Underground Makers Market – which is located on the ground level of the Sherman Phoenix – as well as the other businesses in the Sherman Phoenix. The makers market is composed of four Black women-owned businesses: The Classic Shoppe, At Peace Designs, Butterscotch Baby, and J. Riley.

The Purpose

The purpose of the Makers Market is to give the community the opportunity to shop with some of their favorite Milwaukee brands while also being an observer of the creative process.

“Come on out and experience it for yourself. When you see all of the many things we have to offer, I guarantee you’ll come back,” she said.

Occupying the space for a little over a year, the Makers Market has already faced and overcame obstacles. At the peak of the pandemic when the store was newly opened, the switch from in-person to online provoked Riley and her team to create new and innovative ways of interacting with customers. 

“It forced me to have an online presence,” said Riley. “I had to learn Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, as well as create a website so that I could draw attention to what we do. A big part of what we do is create an experience in the underground. It’s not the same when you’re online so that was the biggest challenge for us.

Rent Free for Six Months

At the beginning of this month, the Green Bay Packers and American Family Insurance awarded the Makers Market, and other Sherman Phoenix tenants, six months of paid rent as a result of a $40,000 donation to the Sherman Phoenix. This donation will allow Riley to put more attention on other aspects of her business besides rent until July.

The Underground Makers Market is composed of four Black woman-owned businesses.
The Underground Makers Market is composed of four Black woman-owned businesses. (Picture by Justin Gordon/Carvd N Stone)

“It provides us a way to allocate those funds to pay for more supplies, to do more marketing, and pay for someone to come in and work the store with us. It was such a surprise,” said Riley.

The donation is part of AmFam’s “Free to Dream” initiative, which is the company’s pledge to give $105 million to close racial equity gaps and support minority-owned businesses.


To shop J. Riley, click here.

Pamelina Williams

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