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Every great idea comes from being able to satisfy a need.

Tameika Fletcher Birmingham is no stranger to the world of entrepreneurship. She comes from a family with a background in clothing and retail having built successful stores such as Bang Bang. However, while her family was focused on clothing, Tameika found a love and fascination for jewellery making.

At the time, Tameika worked at the Airport Authority and the opportunity presented itself for her to have her own kiosk. “I was literally like yeah, sure… I’ll sell beads,” she recalls, laughing at the randomness of it all because no one was doing beads the way she had in mind. She believed that a need existed which she could fill.

So, she started her first venture, while balancing a full-time job and her 3-month-old baby. Bead Café was simply a hobby, but within three months the kiosk became a store, allowing Tameika to have classes and expand her product range.

As Bead Café grew in popularity, an interview with The Guardian became a pivotal point in Tameika’s life. For her it was ground-breaking and made her realise the direction she wanted to take. That same week she resigned from her corporate job. “I walked away from Airport Authority to walk into Bead Café” she says, creating the brand we know today.

Tameika admits that running a retail business wasn’t without its trials. It took time and effort over the years to build and maintain a successful brand. She can now joke about the trauma and uncertainty she experienced when faced with her first major competitor a mere nine months into her entrepreneurial journey. She now views that competition in a different light saying it helped her business grow. As more businesses entered the market, consumers became more aware that this type of product existed. Which ultimately was good for business.

Stirring the Pot and Building Brand Diversity

Since the inception of Bead Café, Tameika has dipped her fingers into many pots. From opening a Bang Bang Home in memory of her mother to documenting her travel experiences in an online magazine and blog, she has allowed her creativity to shine in different ways.

Something she has always wanted to do was develop her own product. Three years ago, Island Girl Beads was launched: a brand focused on DIY jewellery and beading kits for young girls.

While the bead café had its fair share of customers, Tameika noticed children weren’t very interactive with her brand. Parents weren’t bringing them to the store and when they did, they weren’t given the opportunity to choose beads. So, she created a user-friendly product that could be placed in stores. A kit that’s very easy for anyone to pick up and create something of their own.

When it comes to Island Girl Beads, social media gave Tameika a space to tell her story and build the brand. “I can’t get my product in every store,” she says, “but I can do it on social media.”

Her latest brand, Aya Styler takes a different tone from Bead Café, focusing on creating a retail ready jewellery brand.

Tameika is always moving and always creating but there is logic behind everything she does. “I have Island girl beads, I have Aya Styler, I have Bead Café, they are all brands that are related. But I target completely different audiences in each. So, I’m trying to be a mogul in beads.”

Tameika would like to bring all her different brands together on one website creating her own virtual marketplace allowing her to give each product its own story and space.

Image of model in AYA Styler Branding the Caribbean Aesthetic: Aya Styler Jewellery

Aya Styler, Tameika’s latest jewellery brand, focuses on embodying the Caribbean aesthetic while promising to deliver a sense of luxury, quality and beautiful design to its wearers.

“What I love about Aya Styler is that it has grown so authentically without me being the face of it.”

Taking a different tone from Bead Café, Aya Styler has allowed Tameika to truly express herself as a designer and translate her aesthetic into wearable fashion products. With Bead Café, Tameika focused less on developing herself as a designer and more on helping designers develop themselves. “Aya Styler allows me to be me,” she says.

The name Aya Styler in itself is quite significant, stemming from Japanese origin, Aya means beautiful colour and design. These are all the things Tameika tries to give to her brand when designing. She aims to embody the Caribbean aesthetic taking inspiration from the island’s motifs. “A customer really did describe it best,” says Tameika. “She said, I love that ‘Caribbeanness’ about your product.”

Although Aya Styler is made for everyone, she notes that a majority of young professionals tend to be drawn to the brand. These customers are also the ones who really helped influence and shape what the brand is becoming. Aya Styler has seen a steady growth within the last few months pushed by authentic followers who really support the brand’s journey. She feels a sense of pride seeing her locally made product in retail stores and being able to compete against imported brands.

With Aya Styler, the goal is to eventually have a factory and produce at a larger scale investing in a design team. Tameika aims to take the lead in establishing a jewellery design house in Trinidad, where Aya Styler wouldn’t just be a product but an opportunity for employment and innovation for others within the local fashion jewellery industry.

Growing in The Jewellery Industry: Starting the Conversation

In November 2020, Tameika held her first Caribbean Fashion Summit. She was inspired to finally execute this plan while in a meeting with YBTT (Youth Business Trinidad and Tobago) about Global Entrepreneurship Week. The goal was to start the conversation towards growing the Fashion Jewellery Industry within the Caribbean. She saw the need for a summit where persons can come together, not only in Trinidad but within the Caribbean region, where the sole focus was on beading and jewellery making.

She hoped that with this summit people would see themselves as more than just competitors but a community within the same industry. Urging persons to look at competition as a good thing. “My success would have probably died if I didn’t see competition as a positive,” she says. “I thought I wasn’t good enough … I was small, I didn’t have those kinds of resources”. What she realised was that she could support the industry just as much as her competition.

Tameika emphasizes the need for designers to support one another within the industry and continue the conversation of buying not only locally but regionally. “You can be competitors and still support one another within the industry.” Tameika believes that pushing locally made and buying from one another opens the opportunity to create and grow a larger local market.

The summit was a small but successful event. Her team pulled together speakers from around the Caribbean in an effort to highlight this blended effort.

“You can be your own media and that’s what I love about brand building and online marketing. You don’t need traditional media to share your info.” There are many forms of ‘new media’ offering a variety of avenues to get your message out.” For Tameika, a dedicated website for the summit and promotion through social media was most effective.

Let Your Passion Drive Your Purpose, But Be Strategic About It.

We wanted to know what advice she would give to creatives who may have jewellery or other creative/unique products and want to turn their passions into a successful business.

Tameika emphasizes planning for the success you want, keeping your business goals in mind. While passion is important it takes a lot of preparing, researching and internalizing. “Even with my first business I could have been ten times more successful with a little more structure, but I was so passionate and just dove right in. Now I am more strategic about my plans moving into the next phase of business.”

She says be prepared to plan for growth and know when to transition. Don’t stay stuck in something that isn’t working.

Most people see the creative industry as taking something visible and tangible and making something out of it, like jewellery. But everything comes from creativity, including the intangible. Some of us use our hands, some of us use our brains. The more people who are able to truly recognize what creativity is, the more risk takers we are going to have and the more development we are going to see in the country. Don’t be afraid to dabble and experiment with whatever you feel like doing. It will be worth it.

Maria Ransome

Maria Ransome

Maria Ransome is a visual artist and content creator based in Trinidad and Tobago. Her work focuses on visual branding, graphic design and content creation for personal branding and social media.