We all stan for the big names in business – Jobs, Dangote, Branson. Personally I find myself most enthralled with small business owners that are artrepreneurs like product designer Anitra Terrell. She studied International Marketing in my homeland of Ghana as a Fulbright Scholar and her exposure to our amazing artisans and our traditional textile weaving techniques left an inedible mark that she could not shake off years later. In 2013, she leveraged her love of fabrics and launched Reflektion Design, a home decor brand for the culturally inspired. It offers bespoke soft furnishings featuring African print and mudcloth.
For our fifth Designed to Succeed interview, Anitra gives us her lessons on how to combine being creative with making money. I learned about Anitra serendipitously through an Instagram hashtag search and quickly reached out to her about a future project collaboration. Our first Skype chat was full of laughs, shared frustrations and ambitions and I knew instantly that others needed to benefit from her story. Below she shares some of the lessons that have guided her path to success. Prepare to take notes.
Lesson 1: Address your own needs.
AT: “Growing up in Philadelphia exposed me to various cultures at an early age. There are so many cultural festivals, boutiques, museums and such a strong art scene that I was drawn to Africa right away. In my search for home decor though I found it tough to find items that were reflective of who I am – my experiences, travels, and appreciation for African culture. I decided to create a brand that would resonate with me and others people who are ‘culturally-inspired’. The response to my work has been great! Being featured in Design Sponge was a milestone that I still get goose bumps just thinking about! This was confirmation that the design community was taking notice of my work.
Lesson 2: Source raw materials with longevity in mind.
AT: “My customers gravitate towards African prints with a modern aesthetic. Patterns that are clean with two or three colors at the most. The tricky part is many African prints are only available for a limited time so once they’re gone, they’re gone. That can be a great selling point but I’d love to carry a staple of the more popular prints on a regular basis.”
Lesson 3: Specialize, damn it.
AT: “Focus! You may want to design many different things (I still have to remind myself of this), but it’s better (and less stressful) to focus on one thing that you really love to create, become great at it, known for it, then expand. Second, do not waste time comparing yourself to other companies in your industry. The grass is not always greener on the other side and the thing that makes you special is more fun to discover and build on.”
Lesson 4: Travel to unlock inspiration and see opportunity.
AT: “My original trip to Ghana in 2006 inspired me to embark on my design journey but the purpose was two-fold. I was there as a Fulbright Scholar working with professors at the University of Cape Coast on non-profit and international marketing (I was an Associate Professor of Marketing at the time). I was also in Ghana as a textile buyer for the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery. I was a part of the team organizing the Smithsonian traveling exhibit, Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente Cloth & African American Identity. So, my mornings were spent at the University and the afternoons were spent in marketplaces and artisan communities. My Fulbright Scholarship got me to Africa and my work as a textile buyer immersed me in the process of creating traditional African textiles and the African marketplace. It was during my 5-week trip that I developed a deeper appreciation and love of African prints.
Lesson 5: Listen to Bey and get in formation.
AT: “I would like to see more business thought leaders from the African diaspora. Successful, creative entrepreneurs teaching others how to be successful or creating mechanisms for education and action to occur. I would also like to see more collaboration across the diaspora and less fear, jealousy, and information hoarding. I am a Los Angeles, California based creative entrepreneur and California has a creative energy that is so inspiring. From writers to fashion designers to fine artists, the opportunity to meet and collaborate with other creatives is strong. Social media has played a big role in my creative collaborations in Los Angeles. It allows me to connect with people locally whom you may not have ever met otherwise. I would like to see the ideal of collaboration become a global reality.”
Lesson 6: Face the numbers head on.
AT: “Regarding financial stability, as a creative my first tip is run the numbers – then run them again. Get a clear understanding of your finances. Know how much money you will need to start and successfully run your business down to the per-unit or per-client level. Know how much it costs to make your product. What value do you want associated with your product – factor that into your pricing etc. Know your margins, which products are bringing in the most revenue and things like that. A lot of creatives don’t want to go near the numbers but it’s essential for business success and it does not have to be this big scary thing.”
Lesson 7: Expand learning to outside the classroom.
AT: “There are many examples of successful entrepreneurs who either dropped out of college or only had an 8th grade education so I think it’s more important to learn what character traits, spiritual practice, and lifestyle behaviors are necessary for success, then go from there. I am not saying education is not important. I am just saying there is a lot you can learn from outside of the classroom.”