I am often fascinated by multi-pronged talents, men and women with career branches sprouting out in varied directions but born from the common root of the arts. Vanessa Agyemang is a perfect example of this as a visual merchandiser, fashion model and now a self-taught product designer and interior stylist. Her brand Copper Dust specializes in lighting, a happenstance focus she explains: “I chose lighting because my friend wanted something mid-range, luxurious and dramatic but could not find anything appropriate”. After hours of research and dozens of prototypes, Vanessa officially launched the brand in 2014. Today however, she is turning more and more to offering a full-range service, styling the homes of clients – her full circle moment.
Vanessa sees her homeland of Ghana as an emerging market and once toyed with the idea of joining the ranks of other repats. She laments the number of architecturally beautiful houses that exist in Ghana where, once you cross the threshold, reveal themselves very homely. Vanessa considers the home an extension of one’s self. “I would love to start an interior styling and decoration business in Ghana. I have spoken it into the universe so it means it will happen!” As she considers the geographic direction in which to extend her budding design empire from its base in London, for this edition of Designed to Succeed, Vanessa rather tells us how she dusted off her business fears and found her Midas touch in the early days.
Lesson 1: Participate in brand activations
VA: “Creating brand awareness has been the difficult part for me starting off. My features in World of Interiors, House & Garden and other platforms introduced my brand to the luxury interior design world. In the early stages of my business, it was very important to be associated with such prestigious brands which are known for their luxury and quality. Online I started with Google Plus but that was a dud. I do not use LinkedIn much. My best performing platforms are Twitter – which was best for press, followed by Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. However, growth was stagnant. Things really only spiked after my first trade show. I was able to build on my PR momentum, since prior to that the product had not yet been available to see physically. The timing was perfect as I was still coming out as an emerging brand and at trade shows people want to see new things. Further development of my brand came about through word of mouth.
Also, I think generally, designers must be proactive, interactive and share information relevant to their field not just their own work. People will begin to notice you. In 2019, I made curated events my top priority and can see it beginning to pay off with more leads. It’s very important to carefully select the events you take part in. In my case, we did a private workshop in colloboration with Kiyana Wraps. This was followed by Africa Utopia in the Southbank Centre, and then we were supposed to have the big show London Design Fair for London Design Festival but that was before COVID. Luckily today, Instagram is also an amazing marketing tool to leverage until physical events can return. I recently took part in a social media course, and consider it the best investment of the year so far and am currently participating in an online giveaway promotion!
Lesson 2: Create a Store Front
VA: “As an assistant visual merchandiser in my past life, I am quite good at knowing what things look good together and the logistics of putting together a shop front. No matter if your brand is online, in a concession or in a pop up shop at the end of the day you always need to have the ‘opening window’ for your product. Treat your website homepage in the same way. It is the first thing a customer sees. Make your first initial appearances the wow factor. That was one of my greatest lessons from working at my former employer Habitat. This is also the case when curating for an event. I’m a visual person and I meticulously pour over every detail when I do my pop ups or exhibition stands! You want people to stop and engage with the products as well as the brands story.
Lesson 3: Consider Mass Production Wisely
VA: “Mine is a small e-commerce and styling business. Because we focus on limited edition and handmade products, I knew I had to start off small with the light fixtures. As a tactile person, going straight into mass production held no interest to me whatsoever. People have approached me to manufacture in China but I realize people are attracted to Copper Dust because products are made to order, limited edition and made in Britain. If I buy a fabric and it finishes, well that is simply the end of that collection. To me, scaling up is rather having Copper Dust in boutique stores, about expanding to new client offerings as we have done now with the styling service. That said, while we are well stocked on various platforms online, being available in a physical store is something I am working towards.”
Lesson 4: Remain a People Person
VA: “I left a job before because of how I and various contractors were treated. I learned early on that people buy into other people and a certain lifestyle,not so much the products themselves. Because my product is available mainly online, maintaining relationships with bloggers and journalists is very important because they are the ones who will tell everyone about my brand. It cost nothing to be pleasant and nice. If you concentrate on developing great relationships and go that extra mile, people will invest in your brand. This has been pivotal to launching the interior styling side of the business which requires an intimate partnership with the person who hired you.”
VA: “This might sound strange but I am not a big fan of the straightforward route of doing a degree in a particular field of interest. As a creative mind, I found university quite difficult. Although I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Architecture & Design and did quite well, in this day and age I would not say that is it imperative to have that background education. In hindsight, I probably should have studied industrial design or product design but who knows where life is going to take you after you select a degree at the age of 18? In any case, the best part of my formal training was learning the physical skills, the software I used. What I do believe is that experience is key. I learned much more during my internships, about how to develop a design process than in school. My advice is do not stress yourself out too much in school but rather try to gain as much experience under an apprenticeship.”
Lesson 6: Build a Niche but Don’t Pigeon Hole
VA: “I love African fabric and it will likely run through Copper Dust but it is not the beginning and the end of my creative process. If I see something that is visually beautiful and it happens to be African, I will go for it but if I see some other fabric that I like I might go for it as well. I believe that it is great to be a part of two cultures – Ghanaian and British – because it means I can bounce seamlessly between the two worlds. Although I was inspired to a Rainforest and Aztec Collection when I first started out – both with no link to my African heritage – at the beginning of the year I discontinued those collections because the sales were no where as close to the collections where I featured African print. Give the people want they want – that is the hallmark of successful business. Now, I have many people asking if Copper Dust will always be African inspired. My response is I design with my clients in mind, and I am happy to be the go to brand for luxury African inspired interior if that is what they desire. Right now, the Tribe Collection is my favorite to date, because it embodies the core of the brand. Deep navy blue coupled with a bronze embossed inner lining – when you see it you think Copper Dust. I took it a step further and introduced matching canvas art, to give it that home set feel. Each fabric is named after 3 tribes in Ghana, but don’t just take my words for it, have a look for yourself!