DorcasCreates, a brand of art and design honoring the strength and beauty of African women and empowering black women began five years ago without specific plans. The company initially listed products on Etsy, but the positive feedback inspired continued growth. Dorcas initially offered greeting cards, pins, necklaces, canvas bags, and t-shirts featuring black women. She chose to expand her product line by adding earrings and avoiding being intimidated by manufacturing restricted quantities. Her focus was on generating trust from the public and earning repeat business. The first year was challenging, but Dorcas focused on generating recurring business and earning people’s trust. She researched marketing strategies and customized them for her purposes, focusing on generating recurring business and earning people’s trust.
A brand of art and design known as DorcasCreates honors the strength and beauty of African women. We spoke with Dorcas Magdabelo about her journey because her art has recently received well-deserved attention.
When did DorcasCreates first debut, and what do you sell?
I started DorcasCreates around five years ago without any specific plans for the future. I’ve always been creative in my hobbies, such as baking and embroidery, and I’ve always wanted to work in the arts professionally, but I never thought my illustrations would end up being a source of income. I was just watching how things went because I hadn’t made any plans. I started listing products on Etsy, and the positive feedback I got inspired me to keep going.
My items include greeting cards, pins and necklaces, canvas bags, and t-shirts, among others, and all of my images feature black women.
What did you first offer?
Although the art print was listed on Etsy in May, it wasn’t purchased until October. When the purchase was approved, I was overjoyed. Then the cards arrived, and things got worse from there.
How did you choose your expansion plan?
When I initially started, I looked at what other illustrators were selling and wondered if I wanted to follow in their footsteps. For my enamel pendants, I had been selling shrink plastic brooches, but I needed something more sturdy. I then made the decision to add earrings to my product line, and I’m now looking into my options.
It’s critical to avoid being intimidated by manufacturing of restricted quantities. There is a part of us that believes we must produce hundreds of the same thing, yet producing merely 10 is fine. It keeps me from getting comfortable and complacent and compels me to try new things.
Gaining trust from the public and earning repeat business were the two things that meant most to me.
How did it feel to pick up speed?
The first year was challenging, and I had far bigger hopes than what really happened. I didn’t think about marketing; I just thought that people would see my things on Etsy and buy them. I started sharing my illustrations on Instagram that year and started reading articles on exposure, SEO, and Etsy sales. The advice given at the time was really basic, like asking me to leave comments on twenty Instagram accounts. However, since I despise being dishonest, I did not like doing it.
I tried a number of approaches, but I mostly researched about marketing strategies and customized them for my purposes. Instead of experimenting with different marketing techniques to find what sticks, I was more concerned with generating recurring business and earning people’s trust.
Did you consciously work to establish yourself as the brand’s spokesperson?
Not at first, but it was obvious that I should be the face. I’ve gotten more at ease with putting myself out there as I’ve done this more frequently. Although it is challenging for me to express myself, doing it on social media, where anybody may comment, is easier. Because it’s so simple to upload these little videos of my life, I found Instagram Stories to be a particularly effective method to show off various sides of my personality. I’ve noticed a rise in interaction as a consequence; people are commenting more frequently and citing my pieces when they see me at events.
In comparison to the first two years of my firm, when I was less active on social media and in email marketing, I have seen an increase in sales. I did have a lot of sales back then, but they were mostly brought on by occasional press coverage. After that, I focused on social media marketing and events.
What suggestions do you have for promoting your brand?
It’s crucial to push yourself past your comfort zone, but only just enough so that other aspects of your personality emerge to the surface. You are not forced to, of course. It is totally appropriate to build your brand, work with influencers that have outgoing personalities and strong levels of subscriber interaction, and then focus on the behind-the-scenes work. I am quite discreet and only prepared to share a little bit of information, so I wouldn’t advise going over your comfort level. Maybe go in stages.
How would you advise someone starting a side online business?
It’s important to avoid overloading oneself. I initially assumed I required a wide range of products, but now I know it’s fine to start with a small group of crucial items, say five, and then gradually extend your inventory.
Another piece of advise is to avoid taking things personally since people are going to be frank with you. Assuming that people would be aware that I was a one-man operation or had a second job, I used to be lax about going to the post office to ship orders. But in truth, nobody is concerned! They only demand quick service and high-quality goods. Inventory, distribution, and communication must all be organized as efficiently as feasible.
Where can customers find your items throughout the world?
For the first five years, around 80% of my clientele were Americans; they kept me afloat! Maybe it was because I was using Tumblr more frequently than Instagram at the time.
In the UK, it took me some time to build up a clientele, but the more events I went to, the more people heard about me. The US and UK, France, and Belgium are now almost evenly represented, along with a few sporadic sales from Canada and South Korea.
You routinely hold markets not just in London but also in Paris and Brussels. How do you find them, and how have they impacted your company?
It made perfect sense for me to merge my hobbies in travel, discovering new places, and meeting new people into my career. I regularly went to events in London when I first started, where people either loved or didn’t understand my items. This is why I wanted to compare how people shopped in France to how people shopped in cities like Nottingham and Norwich that aren’t in London. Being a part of all of these diverse events has been quite helpful for creating different client profiles and figuring out what sells best in each place.
Additionally, I was still living at home when I started, so going to several events aided in my effort to leave the house and socialize. It was difficult to go from working with others all day at my previous job to working by myself.
What distinguishes international events from British ones?
Individuals browse in a variety of ways. A “spiel” and discussion are sought in London. They want me to give a brief description of my items’ nature. But explaining what I do was less significant in France. They are more direct; if they like something, they buy it and move on.
In no way do I try to sell anything. I’m usually open to talking about my history and motives, but I don’t need a sales pitch.
Due to the festive atmosphere of the day, Black Girl Fest is one of my favorite markets. You genuinely laugh and smile with many people during the entire day. The fact that the Afropolitan Fest in Brussels was hosted in a museum and had a wide variety of attendees made me love it even more. I love people watching, therefore I’m often surprised by the kinds of people that interact with my work outside of the UK.
My mother came with me the second time I played Afropunk, and it was the first time she witnessed what I did for a job. She gained insight into my work’s other facet and how users engage with it.
What criteria do you use to choose which markets to enter?
To start, you must go to plenty of events to figure out where your potential customers could be. As long as the salary was fair, I would take any job. Then, if I am aware of if their audience is comparable to mine, I can decide. If they are not my customers, I reflect a bit more, but every so often I am pleasantly surprised. When I first went to a Christmas market in Paris, I was astounded by the wide range of people present.
Sales are not the only thing to take into account when deciding whether or not an event was worthwhile. Although my participation in events didn’t result in great sales, I did meet people and exchange contact information, which opened up additional prospects. I usually have sales targets, but it’s rewarding if I also have other accomplishments.
I’m a big believer in keeping a part-time or full-time job as long as you can! Build that support since you’ll need it.
Last year, you and Studio Nelle worked together to launch Ile La Wa, a pop-up store in Walthamstow that offers goods made by the black British community. Give us additional details.
We talked about our future intentions at the time while [Studio Nelle founder] Chanelle and I were both regular vendors at the King’s Cross market. We were tired of attending fairs all the time and wanted our own location because there aren’t many Black British gift shops in London. We wanted everything to fall under one roof since we knew a ton of people who were doing incredible stuff.
We spent a year in the Walthamstow property that Chanelle found. It provided a strong base for evaluating different components, such as product lines, displays, and customer profiles. Although the neighborhood is extremely varied, it is undergoing reconstruction, and throughout our visit, the kinds of consumers that came in changed. At first, it was mainly white people, but as we advertised it on social media and spent more time there, a more diverse population started to arrive. We wanted to make sure that our clientele was as diversified as possible to reflect the neighborhood.
What key lesson did you take away from the pop-up?
The pop-up was fantastic, but I didn’t realize how challenging it would be. Finding strategies to boost income while dealing with irregular weekend sales that were robust in the weeks running up to Christmas but weak from January through April was challenging. Although this is always the case in business, we were able to observe how it functions in a retail setting. It was effectively a new business.
The most vital lesson I’ve learnt is how important it is to have a strategy in place for dealing with sales lulls. For instance, it’s possible that customers aren’t buying from you, but this may be fixed with things like seminars.
Additionally, communication is essential. I switched from working alone to need constant communication with a partner. Inform others and make sure nothing gets lost in translation.
How do you cover your own costs?
I used to work full-time, but I quit because I thought I could work as an illustrator full-time. This went on for a whole six months! The next year, I went straight to the studio after working a part-time job from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. I attended more events that year and my Etsy sales rose, so I quit my job and made the decision to go back to working full-time.
I’m a big believer in keeping a part-time or full-time job as long as you can! Build that support since you’ll need it.
How has COVID-19 affected DorcasCreates?
I was scheduled to attend a couple live events in Brooklyn and other cities throughout the US, but I am now unable to do so. Moving everything online is also challenging. I’m interested in internet shopping, however I have a limited number of post office trips.
The suppliers for my T-shirts closed down, and it took two months for my jewelry to come from China, among other things that were also impacted.
The urge to create was absolutely missing for the first several weeks. I had trouble focusing, and I had trouble forcing myself to do activities. But now, I’m going back to work since there are a couple things in the works.
How do you find suppliers?
Google everything. You have to look through twenty pages, not just the first five! For those that produce pins, there are a ton of Facebook groups and knowledge-sharing organizations, such the Black Pinmaker League. About the purchase of materials and providers, there are a million blogs.
How can burnout be avoided?
I’m not certain! I’m not very good at setting these kinds of limits. Although not always a good thing, I don’t really follow a “Monday to Friday” routine since I think it’s important to set such limits with other people first. For instance, set up office hours and avoid checking email on weekends after 6 o’clock. People will assume you are always accessible if you don’t.
Moreover, pay attention to your body and rest when required.
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