Woman in Business Ifetayo Abdus-Salam is the Creator and Designer of Hecho en Harlem Jewelry. Here is her story:
Tell us about your business:
Hecho en Harlem is a line of brass and silver handmade jewelry I design and construct in my Harlem studio. HEH jewelry is inspired by the vibrant and unique visual aesthetic of Harlem, with its array of historical and cultural influences. Rooted in a focus on the geometric form, Hecho en Harlem jewelry is bold, elegant and distinct. It’s created with the fashion-forward, professional woman in mind.
Please tell us what being a business owner means to you and why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?
Being a business owner means having the freedom to pursue creativity. I have found no other thing that is as fulfilling and satisfying, as engaging with the world through artistic practice. My entire life, from being a photographer, then teacher, and finally jewelry designer, has been built around creative practice. Jewelry making, specifically, has been a lifelong process for me. I began bead work as a young girl and enrolled in the teen program taking jewelry classes Moore College of Art as a high school student. Later, as an undergrad at New York University with a double major in Photography and Africana Studies, I continued classes in metal work and began selling my jewelry though the Studio Museum in Harlem’s gift shop. After graduating from NYU, I entered a career in art education. For the next 10 years (with a little bit of Grad school thrown in the mix for good measure), I served as an educator and public high school art teacher. Naturally, I found myself consumed with the lives of my students, with very little time or energy to pursue my own art.
I began making jewelry again in 2014 and started selling my jewelry under my company name, Hecho en Harlem, in he summer of 2015. Being able to design my life has quite literally been a transformative experience for me and has been the most empowering thing I have ever done.
What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?
I couldn’t begin to identify one sole greatest influence on my business, because the growth of my business has been informed and influenced by so many amazing people. The biggest collective influencer on the development of Hecho en Harlem Jewelry has been my interactions with other small business owners. The process of reaching out to, connecting with and sharing information with other business owners has been immensely beneficial for me. Utilizing that network has allowed me to gain resources, locate sales opportunities, make strategic partnerships and generally find my way. I cannot overstate the importance of reaching out to and connecting with other business owners, both new and long-established.
What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?
In addition to creating my own line of jewelry, I have made seasonal Pop up Markets, which feature other local small businesses, an integral part of my business practice. Hecho en Harlem Markets not only help me network and connect with other local businesses. They also highlight the artist and small business community of the neighborhood and provide collective sales opportunities. Being a company that celebrates and contributes support for the cultural fabric and artistic community of Harlem is hugely important to me.
What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?
Do not be too afraid to take the chance and invest in yourself. You can pursue your dream, or you can spend your life wishing you had.
What has been the most effective marketing initiatives or programs you have used to promote your business?
My in-person connections have created the most ROI. This includes networking with other business owners and growing my customer base with in-person sales opportunities. Strategic marketing to get the most bang for my buck has been successful in the past, but honestly, being a jewelry brand in a sea of many, putting a personality to my name and maintaining positive relations through excellent customer service has been really key.
What one thing have you learned as a small business owner that has served you well over the years?
I cannot underscore the importance of incorporating multiple strategies for growth. Trying to make myself viable in a large market means that I need to constantly have a plan for “what’s next”. Marketing, networking, customer outreach, financial projections, incorporation of new product (and the time to design and test said products before releasing them)… It is so clear to me how and why so many small businesses fail. You must constantly be thinking about everything. It has been helpful for me, when I start to feel a little hopeless, instead of allowing myself to fall into my doubt, to use that as an opportunity (or impetus) to reach out to someone. Feeling stuck is an indication that I need some help, and I do my best to locate the right source that will help me to continue moving forward.
Are there any resources or tools you’d like to share with other small business owners that have helped you run your business? If yes, please describe.
There are so many amazing free (and very affordable) resources that have helped me along the way! A 16-week “mini MBA” program offered through Workshops for Business Organization (WIBO.org ) was integral to helping me map out and initiate my business plan. SCORE, the Small Business Alliance and the Harlem Business Alliance offer great free business mentorship, workshop and professional (such as legal and accounting) consultation. Know that there is accessible help if you need it!
Do you have any new projects coming up? If so, please tell us about it.
Now that spring is here, I’m deeply into warm weather sales mode! I’m excited to get out and engage with my customers more actively. Because there are so many great events taking place, the degree to which I interact with my customer is highest during the spring and summer. I’m also in the process of planning my Spring Pop Up Market, so if you’re in NYC, head over to the site to get more details (bitly.com/hehspringmarket16 ).
What do you do for fun/relaxation?
I love a day of burrowing in bed with a glass of tea and a good book. A week of visiting NYC museums; traveling to a nearby city to work my way through a list of restaurants, performances and exhibits; or a month of travel, getting lost in new countries, absorbing the sights, languages and cultures, reflecting on the multitude of possibilities this life has to offer. “Time off” for me has always meant time to rejuvenate, get lost in the pleasures ordinary day to day life doesn’t allow for, time to re-ground myself in the world around me and re-connect with the things that make me feel most alive.
What is Number One Business Goal you plan to accomplish over the next year
I plan to triple my revenue over the next calendar year!
You want to write a book on ______________________:
I would love to write a book on “Living the Intuitive Life”. I believe that so many of our answers, our individual ultimate keys to happiness are found inside of ourselves and attained when we quiet the roar of external pressure, conditions and expectations and choose instead to listen to and then strategically answer the call of our true desires.
What’s the best way for the readers of WE Magazine for Women to connect with you?