Rana Good is the founder of Naïra NYC. A writer for publications such as Forbes, Travel + Leisure, Coveteur, Mens Journal and others, she created her own platform celebrating women of color.
Brooklynites Lauren Riley and Merlyn Oliver’s Instagram account is a love letter dedicated to their borough. From restaurants to boutiques to picturesque street corners, these two creatives show us where to go with their platform, Brooklyn Mavens. Friends for over ten years (they went to high school and college together) the pair are always discovering new places and neighborhoods, and their followers get to tag along for the fun-filled ride. I met up with the two of them to find out what inspires to document their city and hear the stories behind some of their most memorable moments.
How did Brooklyn Mavens come about?
Lauren Riley: We started out as Brooklyn Fashion Mavens because we were into clothes and style. At the same time, we also had a food blog and were just trying to see what would pick up first in terms of audience. Little did we know that food blogging takes a lot of work — and costs a lot of money. When food bloggers go to restaurants, for example, they need to bring special lights to take pictures. When it came to clothes we could just wear what we had in our closets which made life a lot easier. So we launched Brooklyn Fashion Mavens at the end 2016 and just talked about fashion initially. Eventually, we started talking about other things in Brooklyn so we rebranded to Brooklyn Mavens.
What’s the aesthetic of your site?
Merlyn Oliver: We have a high energy, eye-catching aesthetic. We try to post authentic photos and we don’t use the same filter on every single photo.
How do you figure out where you want to shoot? And what’s a shoot you recently did you were excited about?
Riley: We love scouting locations, walking around finding some nice spots. Sometimes we’ll also use Google to discover new places, nice restaurants and streets in particular.
We loved a shoot we recently did with Kingdom of Brooklyn. It’s a thrift shop and we worked with the stylist there, Krystal, modeling new images for the site. The photographer on set was really creative and directed us in new poses. We ended up shooting some more abstract photos which was awesome.
Oliver: Not too long ago we also did a video for a matcha brand, Matchaful, which is a Brooklyn-based brand. In the video we were making matcha teas and talking to people that work there — the content turned out great. We love buildings relationships with local businesses.
What do your followers like seeing most?
Riley: Pictures of us! Also pictures of new places in Brooklyn. We really try to highlight places that people don’t know about yet. We recently went to Red Hook for example and explored the pier and neighborhood, which feels quite different than the rest of Brooklyn. We also love Vinegar Hill and Cobble hill which both feel very old-school and have a lot of history. A lot of people don’t know this but Brooklyn also has a Chinatown located in Sunset Park.
Oliver: I live in Flatbush which is a more Caribbean neighborhood. One street, in particular, Nostrand, is called Haitian Town and there’s a lot of Haitian restaurants there. They even have a Haitian parade in the summer.
Where do you guys like to shop?
Oliver: We love Peace and Riot, it’s a store which houses two other smaller stores, Mary’s Hands Jewelry and Indigo Style Vintage. The owner used to be an interior designer for celebrities and hotels, she decorated the Akwaaba Mansion in Bed-Stuy for example which is now a Bed and Breakfast.
Another favorite of ours is Known to Man, the owner is Colombian and the store carries lots of clothes from Colombia.
I grew up right around Kings Plaza and was really excited when Primark opened there. I had shopped there when I was a teen in London. I love how affordable they are.
Riley: I think Beacons Closet in Park Slope is really great. I found some leather pants there for $20, as well as designer jeans. I’ve also sold some clothes there.
Oliver: I also love Cat Sisters, it’s owned by a woman who previously did merchandising at Macy’s.
Riley: Yes, I love that place, I bought a pair of jeans there and she put her own spin on them by cutting and distressing them.
How has Brooklyn changed as a borough?
Riley: I grew in Prospect Heights and it’s changed so much since elementary and high school. We have a Soul Cycle and organic markets now, we definitely did not have places like that in the past. It’s still nice to live there but if we ever moved we probably couldn’t come back. It sucks because some people are being pushed out of the neighborhood.
Oliver: For me, it’s quite weird how much Brooklyn has changed. When I was in high school we would expect people to get off at a certain stop but now they actually pass me on the train. I’ve seen my neighborhood change — there are also lots of organic stores opening now [laughs]. I wonder why this couldn’t be here when we were growing up?
You recently went to Morocco, can you tell me about that?
Riley: I love to travel! We recently traveled to Morocco and fully immersed ourselves in the culture. We stayed in the Medina in Marrakech to be in the midst of things. We did have some culture shock though, someone called us the N word, I think they thought we can talk to each other like that. Definitely did not agree! Some men made strange remarks at us though and at one point we felt like we were being followed.
The highlight of our trip was the Sahara Desert. We went on a road trip and once we got there everything was super quiet and serene, you can’t even hear your own footsteps there. I loved seeing how people live there. We collaborated with Tastemakers Africa to create content at this hotel Jnane Tamsna which is the first black-owned hotel in Morocco. We met with the owner, Meryanne Loum-Martin and got to know her story of being the first black female hotel owner in the area. She was very inspirational and I loved hearing her story. It’s great seeing women of color kill the game all over the world. We can do anything we put our mind to, just do the work!