Hello everyone! I am delighted that you are taking the time to read about my company history. I wanted to write extensively about my start, journey, and lessons learned in hopes of you finding inspiration and truth in what it is really like being an entrepreneur and starting a business. Hopefully you can apply some of these lessons to your own creative endeavors.
Starting my own business was very natural for me as I grew up in an education-cultivated and entrepreneurial home. Everything I needed as a child was right there at my fingertips, including volumes of encyclopedias, dictionaries, English literature anthologies, children's books, art and crafts supplies, as well as musical instruments and of course music resounding throughout the house day in and day out.
I was always creative and when my father, who was a single father, saw that I was entrepreneurial, he gave his full support. But, one important factor I should mention is because women knew my father was raising his children alone they donated trash bags full of their old clothing to him for me to have. Of course most of the pieces were too big for me, so in order for me to fit them I would go through the pile, select what I liked and then from my grandmother's sewing influence I would figure out ways to alter the clothing to my size. Unbeknownst to myself, this was truly my entering in to the world of fashion. By the time I was ten I already knew how to do hems, sew on buttons, and use a seam ripper.
Like many makers I started off selling at local events, farmer's markets, church meets, colleges, and private home parties. I participated in fashion shows and anything that would help expose my brand.
In December of 2007 I opened my doors to the online community by starting an Etsy shop. Within seconds of setting up my Paypal account a sell came through and in my first year on Etsy I was featured on 30 blogs.
That first year I sat at the computer day in and day out, teaching myself everything about running an e-commerce business; shipping, captions, product descriptions, blogging, giveaways, you name it. I learned photography very well, hired volunteer models, and did the makeup, the editing, and the marketing and promotions. With all of this hands-on experience I was gaining, I was also learning something else too. I was becoming overly aware that I was a 'black' business owner, a 'black' crafter, or a 'black' artisan. What I mean by this is, when I first started on selling on Etsy the majority of sellers were about 83% white. And then, there was everyone else. I was raised to be colorblind and was completely green about racial constructs people held in their mind as my own family had a history of racial blending for one hundred years.
I started keeping a business journal of the struggles I began to face on Etsy. For one, as a knitwear and crochet designer who went to school for fashion, other crocheters and knitters criticized some of my work because generally they were making more traditional items like scarves, shawls, hats, or baby items. I would receive messages asking "Who makes all this?" People would say my dresses were too sexy and that my designs were for strippers. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. After evaluating my thoughts and people's reactions, I realized that there are expectations aligned with stereotypical thinking of one's perception of a person based on what they look like, their cultural group, or skin color. Obviously because of my skin color I was expected to make things with leather, Kente cloth, and wooden beads, yet when I made friends on Etsy I discovered that they created the same way I did and most of them were in European countries and other places like Australia, New Zealand, and Finland.
One very pivotal moment for me was when I had a friend who invited me to sell at her college festival the same weekend another college down the street was having a Pan African Festival. One was mostly white and the other was mostly black. At the white festival I was received well and made lots of sales. On the second day after the festival was over I went over to the Pan African Festival and nothing. Everyone looked down on my products, mentioned how my products were too expensive and associated with grandmothers. I returned home deeply emotional and contemplative and since that time one of the greatest lessons I learned was that there are black makers who create with a black aesthetic that is supported by the black community because their style of design aligns with their ideas of black culture. Then there are makers like me who are black, but create with a more European aesthetic and who receive more support from a white audience. I was a changed person, but I was also a little more enlightened on how to market my company even better to those I felt were a more true and supportive audience.
Another challenge I faced was that I realized here in America skin color seemed to matters a lot, and even more so with the models I used to sell my products. I found that the same item would sell better on a model that looked ethnically androgynous, basically mixed or non-black. In Europe, fashion companies used dark models all the time. It's perception based on region, sure, and generally as a black person, my closest reach within my circle would be another black person just like anyone from any group who uses a friend to model for them. I started out using myself and my brother without knowing that the model I used will also determine the strength of the reach to the market he or she captures. Without a doubt everyone in the world loved my male models, especially black male models. Some of my buyers wanted me to ship the model with the product! With women, it was a whole different story. For months I battled over other issues like whether I would show my face or a product as an avatar. My analytics showed that if I did not expose my face in an avatar and drew people in with the product instead that there was more activity, foot traffic, and sales. I know, it's sad, but true. However, many things have changed since that time and for the better. Overall, I was never satisfied with anything I was doing and if things were not selling or going well, I blamed everything from the photos, to my lack of knowledge and understanding, just everything. All I was trying to do was get every aspect of my business right thinking that nothing I did was good enough and up to par with what an online shop should be, but I was wrong in what I was doing because everything I did was determined upon what I assumed everyone else wanted to see.
While viewing video footage, photos, editing work, and fashion campaigns I became fully proud of everything I have ever done. I saw that what truly set me apart was the way I designed and also the fact that I designed outside of a stereotypical expectation.
I also accepted that there is jealously throughout all industries of life and that is okay. People will not support you because of jealously and many will not be happy when you make sale after sale and get noticed by the platform you sell on.
I would say to anyone who is starting a creative business to operate your business the way you want. Don't worry about what you think a norm or standard is. Create your own unique brand through your own vision and stick with it. However you market your product on social media, keep your message at the foundation of the point you are trying to make through your art and do not let strangers dictate how you should run your business. Most of it is negative energy anyway. Never worry about those who criticize you and your art form. More often then not they are jealous because they are not doing what you are doing or are not as talented at you.
Over the years I have experienced many opportunities that culminate my life, and personal and professional growth. My first television appearance came when I was on Knitty Gritty hosted by Vickie Howell. I was a model dresser, hairstylist, and makeup artist for LA Fashion Week for two years. I was apart of Saints + Sirens showroom for one year on a barter systems where I was their photographer and editor and they were my representative. Through them I landed my crochet head band collection in four Nordstrom locations across the country. Later, I was represented by PRB International of Beverly Hills, a major blessing through a mutual friend. They added me to The Collection at Icis, a group of designers located in a pop - up shop at a luxury condo facility in Glendale and we produced a fashion show that also raised money to stop child trafficking. My time in Downtown Los Angeles participating in the music and art scene at The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles Art Walk, clubs and craft venues were some of the best years of my life. Now, in 2021 with my college career being over I am back to running my business full time. I am rebranding my online appearance and creating in the confidence I have built and putting my inspiring story at the forefront of it all.
To see more photos visit the Golden Archives Gallery.
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