“Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commissions or revenue on certain articles via the links below.”
Shop Small is a bi-weekly series highlighting small business owners from diverse backgrounds. This series aims to go beyond your typical product summary, by diving into the inspiring stories behind some of our favorite brands. By taking a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of their stores and showcasing the products they (and their shoppers!) love, we hope to put them in the spotlight. marginalized entrepreneurs.
Observant, resilient and hungry. These are the three words Dorcas Magbadelo uses to describe her character. The UK-based artist considers herself an introverted and vigilant person who felt “in her mind” to pursue her dreams despite all the obstacles along the way.
So it’s no surprise when she made the decision to leave a school administration job in 2017 to start the illustration brand, DorcasCreate.
“The transition was difficult at first because when you’re in a work situation, there are fixed times for things,” says Magbadelo. “I don’t know how I woke up at 5 a.m. to go to work because now before 10 a.m. it’s difficult.”
She easily identified her brand’s mission: the beauty and joy of being a black woman. At Magbadelo’s Etsy shop (which has more than 5,000 sales to its credit) and personal site, DorcasCreates.comsells jewelry, greeting cards, and colorful artwork featuring black women of varying skin colors, sizes, and expressions.
“When you’re in a society that doesn’t necessarily celebrate you or takes a long time to celebrate you, you don’t always feel it, but you’re kind of left behind,” Magbadelo says. “Those in my life who have built me have been black women, so I wanted to give back what I was given.”
The beginning of entrepreneurship
Magbadelo’s creativity was sparked in high school, where she studied textiles and art, although it became more of a hobby here and there after moving on to major in finance at the University of London. In 2014, she took her first trip to New York with friends, where they visited an array of art galleries and museums, giving her the inspiration she needed to start drawing again.
Before making DorcasCreates her full-time business, Magbadelo transitioned into a part-time position, renting a studio to experiment with bold patterns and striking colors, all influenced by her Nigerian heritage.
She then added greeting cards and jewelry to her boutique’s assortment and documented her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Tumblr, which she used to post fashion editorials and facial features she loved, also helped build a following for the company at the time. His following grew after continued posting, leading to increased traffic on his platforms and increased sales (as well as partnerships with brands, such as Adobe and Most Wanted Wines). To her surprise, her first set of online customers were from the US, while she caught the attention of UK customers through craft fairs and in-person art markets. “There was no set plan,” laughs Magbadelo. “It was just to see where it leads.”
Most of the events she attends, like black girls party and CurlFest, showcase black culture in some way. But she remembers a time in 2016 when she was a shop assistant at Crafty Fox Market in Brixton. She was one of the few people of color selling products, and most of her buyers were black attendees or white families with mixed-race children. There were minimal sales from those who did not identify with those categories, she says.
“I knew going into it that it wouldn’t be what everyone gravitates toward,” Magbadelo said. “Once you know who your customer is, just go to the places they’re likely to be.”
Lessons learned as a business owner
Be open to competition.
Magbadelo learned all about the struggle that comes with competition when she became a business owner. “There’s so much noise and stuff vying for your attention,” she says. “You have to find a way to be authentically yourself.” The 34-year-old once felt like she needed to be everywhere at once, but after finding her niche and her audience, she wasn’t afraid to use it to make a statement. “I design specifically for all black women,” she says proudly. “Anyone who loves my work and wants to support me is great, but all I care about is that black women love my work and want to support it.”
Value work-life balance.
Magbadelo saw how Black-owned businesses exploded during the pandemic. While she was grateful for the increase in sales, it was also overwhelming. Why? Because that was when communities were coming together to protest police brutality, racism, and the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“It was a very strange space,” she said solemnly. “You want your business to continue, but you’re also dealing with the trauma that’s going on in the world.”
To cope, she ignored orders for a week and took time to decompress. She had engaging conversations with friends, family members and other black creatives who struggled with a similar influx of sales. It is this practice that has kept her and continues to keep her centered and that she suggests others adopt as well.
“If you’re the only one managing everything and you’re not good at yourself, you won’t be able to stay on top of all the work you have to do,” she says. “If you don’t give yourself that space to do it, your body will do it for you.”
Communicate with your customer.
“Customers don’t care,” says Magbadelo. She points out that whether you’re sick, working in your kitchen (or garage) or in a one-woman army, “they don’t care.” That’s why she thinks that communication is essential to satisfy customers. “You can’t expect people to understand your situation at home or at work,” she says. “It’s so important to communicate your process.”
Find your tribe.
When it comes to issues with her business or those she works with, Magbadelo has found a community where she can fume and get the support she needs as a black woman and entrepreneur. This includes discussing late payments and the hassles that come with rude customers. “Otherwise, you’re constantly venting on your friends and family, and seeming ungrateful,” Magbadelo says. “But it’s not that you’re ungrateful, it’s just that you don’t want to get an email at 3 a.m. from someone asking for an order they placed half an hour ago. “
Be patient with the process.
“Some people have their ups and downs, and it’s good to go at your own pace and figure out what works for you,” Magbadelo says. While some people achieve tremendous success overnight, that’s not the case for everyone, including her. “For some people, it takes a little steady, slow trip.”
And for those who become popular in a short time, not having their foundation and system in place can spell their downfall. She suggests knowing how long it will take to submit an order, create something new, and connect with customers.
What’s next for DorcasCreates
There is warmth and joy that comes with brainstorming and experimenting with his illustrations. Magbadelo wants to spend more time focusing on his craft, diving into new materials and finding different ways to create that are separate from the administrative part of his business. Other goals revolve around expanding bulk orders beyond the UK market and designing more book covers to show his love of reading.
“If you’ve made up your mind to do something and you’re really passionate about it, go for it and don’t let other people make you feel like it’s the wrong way to do things,” Magbadelo says. “There are no rules. We are literally floating in space.”
You might also like