Shanika Grimes has an intimate relationship with canvas and linen. Add that to her natural artistic skills, and you get Artist Made, a company that specializes in hand-painted handbags and purses.
Grimes is the proud owner of that business.
Barbados TODAY caught up with the vibrant 24-year-old recently on Miami Beach in Christ Church, where she spoke about her love for entrepreneurship, how she is able to earn money from the use of her skills, and some of her plans as she strives to grow her almost two-year-old company.
It was after her studies at the Barbados Community College (BCC) that Shanika decided to venture into the world of business. She started off by selling mirrors; but later realized she was not fully utilizing her talent.
“I started with handcrafted mirrors. I just wanted to use my skills to make a product. I was creative and different,” she said.
The following year, however, Shanika put the mirrors aside and started to focus on her unique bag creations. She calls it a labour of love.
“I like bags. So I just wanted something that I would enjoy doing . . . . I always had a sewing machine; so I taught myself how to sew from very young, first by taking in my own clothes. So I wanted to do something with materials, and because there is a relationship between the linen and canvas as well,” added Shanika.
It was immediately after college in 2012 that Grimes registered her company –– in November of that year. She had majored in fine arts and performance, and had become adept in hand-painting and handprinting techniques.
Her tools include canvas, upholstery linen and artist quality acrylic paint.
Explaining how she had come to put the mirrors aside and focus on the bags, Shanika said the latter was a technique she had to quickly employ if she wanted her business to survive, given the current economic climate.
“I still have [the mirrors] in development. It is that the turnover rate for something like that is slow, because they are very expensive and time-consuming in terms of production. [The bags] have a lower production rate. They are a lot faster to turn over because they are smaller and the cost of producing them is a lot cheaper; and people respond to and buy them a lot faster. So that was kind of like . . . [what happened],” she said, adding that her business was supposed to have both products.
“I am just focusing on the most cost-effective product to develop first, which are the bags because they are light, easy to travel with,” said Shanika.
The inspiration for her designs comes from nature, including plants and animals. She also does some of her designs based on “what is trending”.
“I know aztec prints were [trending] for a while; so I did do a series of those and they sold out. So I try to respond to both what girls are wearing now and what says Barbados. I like that about the brand. I want it to be mainstream, but still say I am from Barbados,” said Shanika.
She currently operates from her Parish Land, Christ Church home. She also drives around the country to various locations in search of sales. But she hopes to move her business to a Cane Garden, St Thomas location before September.
Since she made her first bag more than a year ago, Shanika has got much positive feedback with a number of organizations even providing assistance through grants and training opportunities. She says her client base consists of “a lot of middle class locals and tourists”.
“I do get a very tremendous response for the bags,” said Shanika.
And this year’s Barbados Manufacturers’ Exhibition (BMEX), where she entered as a new product showcase participant, had helped to pique interest
in Grimes’ products. Artist Made captured the BMEX prize for new product showcase this year.
Shanika has one “volunteer” worker. While she designs the unique buttons for her bags herself, someone else makes them from mahogany pods “because it is too labour intensive”, she said.
The mother of a three-year-old son said her major challenge was ensuring her business could survive the start-up phase, given the various costs she has had to encounter. She said she was expecting to see returns after two years of investment in the products. Shanika said she found that although the economic climate was challenging for a lot of people, as a budding entrepreneur, she was not feeling the effects.
“I find that people are responding anyway because of the innovative look,” she said. “International people have been telling me the bag has its own appeal. So I am still getting a good response despite the shortcomings of people’s money,” she said through laughter. Most people, she added, bought her products as gifts.
Shanika said she would be mixing up her techniques a bit over the coming months to stay fresh and drive down operation costs.
Shanika’s dream initially was to become a freelance artist. But she quickly changed her mind after college, not only because of her son, but on realizing it could take years before her work was appreciated.
“That is the trouble most freelance artists face economically: the gap between commissions. So I wanted to fill that space with a consistent product. So this is me packaging my dream in a way that is realistic,” explained Shanika, adding that she was “really happy” with her work and satisfied with the level of reception.
Shanika said the hardest part for her was the beginning phase. And she has some advice for other young aspiring entrepreneurs.
“You just need to stick by your dream and follow through with what you believe you can do. A lot of people gauge what you can do, based on your shortcomings, and what they weren’t able to do. Just focus on yourself and what you believe in,” she suggested.