Meet Symerna Blake, the self-taught artist behind the Antillean Charm Collection. She has created a proudly Jamaican collection of handmade and hand-painted Ceramic Flora and Fauna mounted tastefully in shadow boxes (also made by her).
Her pieces are stunningly life-like and make unique and classy wall decor and gifts.
The current collections are: Wild Orchids of the World, Hummingbirds of the Americas and Flowers of Jamaica.
Symerna's story is particularly inspiring to me for a few reasons:
1.People mistake her for me ALL the time. She often jokes that she is kindly asking me to be on my best behaviour so that the cases of mistaken identity will never result in her harm
2. She attended my Alma Mater (The Excellent St. Jago High School)
3. I am so proud of the fact that she is SELF-TAUGHT! Just like her I veered far from my professional training and experiences when I started my first business.
4. Symerna recently "Jumped off into Amazing" and said goodbye to the 9 to 5 world. Just like moi.
She eloquently sums up how she 'ended' up an artist: “First I painted with words. For ten years, I worked in broadcasting, education, marketing and public relations. But there was something else I wanted to do. I wanted to create; to exercise my design instinct; to work with my hands. Antillean Charm is the result of years of sketching on the backs of project folders, using my vacation days to hang out in workshops and hoarding art supplies.
"As for artistic inspiration, I am completely enchanted by our magnificent planet. Nature is God’s masterpiece. It is art. With the shadow boxes, I pay tribute to our natural heritage in the style of traditional nature illustrations. With the multi-dimension of ceramic sculpture, my art offers the experience of the actual flora and fauna thriving in your living and workspace. I want collectors to stop and marvel at all the beauty we have been blessed with.”
Right before our eyes, her art has quickly become collector's items, gracing homes from Jamaica to Japan.
Her Secret Life as a Wood Whisperer
It is one thing to read Symerna's story and quite another to watch her at work in her studio. I ended up having the privilege of visiting her space on a couple of occasions. The backstory itself is a testament to her responsiveness as an artisan and a businesswoman and to her amazing and rounded talent!
In one of my lives I make hats and fascinators. My cousin (and business partner) and I needed a wooden hat block made. Hat blocks are pretty pricey and their weight make them even pricier to import. So i made a post on Facebook asking for reommendations for a great carpenter. Lo and behold, Symerna responded to my post asking what seemed like very 'carpentery' questions...which I could not answer. She then took to teaching me. At which point she mentioned that she could assist, much to my surprise. I knew of Symerna's 9 to 5 at the time and it was in marketing! Long story short, Symerna excellently made our hat block, giving us stellar service along the way. She is one of our preferred provider of wooden products and will remain so.
It does my heart exceptionally proud to see a real GIRL BOSS excelling in her craft (a traditionally male-dominated craft, I might add). She truly inspires me with her testimonies of God's provision especially in this tumultuous self-employed phase of her life. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey; a treacherous journey. To see Symerna thriving and glowing in purpose, all while bearing a physical resemblance to me; reminds me on my journey that I will be OK.
Glow on Sister Girl! Glow on.
Check out her collection antilleancharm.com/
I started teaching myself how to make hair accessories and the like about 8 years ago. It started as a hobby that exercised my creativity. Friends and strangers grew more and more interested in purchasing the pieces and the addiction began.
Over the course of the new few years I developed my craft. I was working in Montego Bay then. My main supplier was a little fabric store down the road from my workplace. I went there so often that I became besties with the chief sales rep; 8 years later, she has migrated overseas and we still keep in touch.
I would travel between Montego Bay & Spanish Town with a large, plastic “sheet spread bag:” the kind with the zipper around it. All my junk was in it. All kinds of random, useful junk that I would use (or plan to use) in the making of a fascinator or something else.
I started to access training at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship. One day at Branson, I was significantly frustrated by the fact that I wanted a store front for the growing brand. I was furiously praying inside during the sessions. I happened to change seats and ended up sitting beside an entrepreneur in the fashion industry. While I am distracted by my own supplications, she turns to me in the most abrupt fashion, as if she just remembered something and says to me “You don’t want a store space in Kingston for $35,000 a month?!” Shortly thereafter White Lotus Designs had a home.
Most of my clients were brides and so I ordered 10 dresses using my credit card and within the year the White Lotus Bridal Boutique & Design House was born.
The Branson Centre provided my first taste of business training. At that point I realized that in fact I still had a hobby and not a business. I started to work on the business. We eventually moved into a space about 4 times our first location. It cost only a fraction more, which was quite a convincing element.
One day I was reflecting on the fact that we needed more inventory, fast. I sat in my coworker’s office and said to myself “ Lord…yuh cyah mek mi get some more dresses on a deal…?” I got up, went into my office and checked a messenger notification I received on facebook. There, on the screen, was the owner of a good deal of dresses, enquiring whether I wanted to purchase from her at discounted prices. I mean, no more than 5 minutes elapsed from prayer to providence!
Enter the season of landlord wars and so many lessons learned! (This epic is for my first book).
Enter Breast Cancer.
Enter the searching for purpose.
There came a time when I thought the best thing to do was to close it all down. Everything. Beneath the glitz of magazine features and fashion shows, the entrepreneurial toll was real. In some seasons, I didn’t feel the promised freedom of entrepreneurship. I wasn’t experiencing financial abundance. In fact, my ‘business’ felt like a big bill. I knew I wasn’t doing it all correctly but I wasn’t motivated to try again. One year I boldly presented myself at the Credit Bureau for a credit report. It was a small office and there were several other bold persons being served. Let’s just say that the Office administrator did not have to be so loud during our mini consultation.
I remember seeking God for answers. I had an epiphany one day. If, IF I were to continue I would need a better location. I boldly sent out a proposal to a property I knew would be excellent as a location for us.
I was praying with a friend one day and the matter came up. The Lord declared “Today a door is open that you couldn’t open previously…”
We ended prayer and I was in the kitchen when my phone rang. The hour was of such that the caller had to apologize for calling so late. The caller was of course the contact person from the property to whom I had submitted the proposal. What do you think he said? “Your proposal has been accepted…lets work out the details this week.”
I didn’t plan to testify in this blog post (my first!). But apparently when you are God’s idea, a testimony is not something you make, it’s what you live.
I still berate myself for not getting it right. There are still painful realities. I have had times as recently as 2 months ago when I again revisited the idea of ‘simplifying’ my life. Writing this post is offering clarity on several important truths. Chief of which is that He who has begun a good work will see it through to the end.
To my fellow entrepreneurs, the struggle is real but the triumph is sweet. I know the weight of the pressure to get it right. I know how heavy the expectations are. I know what it’s like to develop a phobia for reconciling your accounts because the realities are scarier that Freddie Kruger. I know the acerbic taste of the social comparison: “Well, clearly she is doing a lot better than I am” and “Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this; who am I fooling?”
Hear me: DO NOT GIVE UP! Re-calibrate, re-invent, re-think, re-brand, retreat for a while if needs be but do not forget your WHY. And remember If you need a sounding board, Lotus is here. It’s a lonely road and it can be fraught with emotional and other dangers. Let’s be there for each other. A world of thanks to my support system and sisters!
Kamala P. McWhinney is God's Idea. I am academic, I am creative,I am dreamer. My name is Hindu for Lotus. Given the beautiful symbolism of the Lotus Flower I have embraced it as a metaphor for my evolving, my surviving and my thriving.