High school teacher, Asheka Headley, was invited to a function and wanted to find the perfect purse to complement the shoes she planned to wear.
Frustrated with going from store to store and finding nothing, she decided to use the clothing and textile skills she learned in school to make the accessory herself.
Pleased with her handiwork, Ms. Headley attended the function where she was showered with compliments.
A few weeks later, after receiving numerous requests to “make one like that for me”, she was encouraged to start making purses as a business.
That was in 2016.
Ms. Headley tells JIS News that at the time, becoming an entrepreneur was far from her mind, as she had her eyes fixed on advancing in the teaching profession.
“I never intended on being a businessperson. My dream was to [continue in teaching], which I had done for a [few] years. I had started at the basic school level and then I went up to teaching high school students,” she tells JIS News.
However, she decided to take a chance and launch her small business, ‘Ayondae’s Collection’, offering a variety of beautifully made bags, totes, and purses in a range of colours and fabrics for various purposes.
With no experience in business, Ms. Headley knew she needed help and in 2017, she turned to the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) for guidance.
“JBDC has played an integral role in the continuation of my business because there is so much that a regular person would not have been exposed to had it not been for the JBDC. They are one of the reasons why the business is alive today,” she tells JIS News.
Ms. Headley also benefited from numerous training courses which the entity offers, such as ‘Introduction to Entrepreneurship’ and ‘Personal Initiatives in Business and Design Fusion’.
Using her creativity, training, and research to construct each item from scratch, Ms. Headley, who calls herself “a needle and thread dictator”, soon expanded her business beyond bags and purses to offer a variety of hand-made items for the home, office, and gift-giving.
These include home accessories such as cushions, curtains, and sheet sets. She also provides embroidery services and T-shirt printing, among other offerings.
Ms. Headly, who operates out of her home and has a client base of about 200 persons, advertises through social media.
A typical day for the entrepreneur and mother of one entails waking up at 4:00 am, making breakfast for her son, going to the gym, scheduling her social media posts, and sitting at the sewing machine from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Ms. Headley tells JIS News that she will often find herself back in the sewing room at 9:00 pm, after getting some rest.
“Working at nights brings out my creativity much more as there is less distraction,” she notes.
Six years on as an entrepreneur, Ms. Headley tells JIS News that she has no regrets about the path she has chosen.
She notes, however, that there have been challenges, particularly in the early stages of the business.
“I have been doing this since 2016 and it has not been easy. There were so many times that I wanted to just sell the machines and go and do a [regular] 9 to 5 [job],” she says.
She pointed out, however, that the support from her family, friends, customers and the JBDC has enabled her to stay the course.
Also, as a creator, Ms. Headley says she often needs time to come up with an original design to satisfy an order.
“For example, I have an order for a new bag, one that I have never made before, and I told the customer that I would need some time to work out the design idea. I have had a design block for about three weeks and then yesterday, I got up and made something,” she shares.
“Persons who do not understand the creative DNA and the creative process, will believe that it is something that I do not want to do; but everything comes with time.
Something that will take me three weeks to design is going to take me about 30 to 40 minutes to construct,” she points out.
There is also the issue of marketing and getting access to capital.
“I never started out with an entrepreneurial mindset, so I did not know everything, I am always researching. I research products that are in demand that I can offer to my customers. Marketing is a really big thing; so, I am always researching and finding ways to make my work easier,” Ms. Headley tells JIS News.
She is excited about the future and is looking to expand her business to reach persons across the island.
While she does not believe there is one winning formula for having a successful business, Ms. Headley maintains that there are certain attributes that an entrepreneur must possess.
These, she says, include humility because while “you can go as high as you want, the higher you go, the harder you will fall; but humility will help you to stay on top.”
Additionally, she says entrepreneurs must be open to feedback, exercise discipline, and never wake up without a plan for the day.
Ms. Headley encourages young entrepreneurs to remember that “entrepreneurship is not a get rich quick scheme, it requires a lot of stick-to-itiveness; you have to be able to say ‘although today was hard and I felt like giving up, I didn’t’.”
“You will wake up tomorrow and realise that it is hard too, but it is not as hard as yesterday because you will be able to use yesterday’s hardship to maneuver today’s; it will get easier as the days go by,” she notes.
Ms. Headley encourages entrepreneurs “to ensure that you become a part of the JBDC, because there is so much that they have helped me with that I never knew existed; and I believe that it made my launch into entrepreneurship a little easier”.