Photo: Christal K Oliver
This month, OECS YES In Action caught up with Christal K Oliver, a 29 year old Creative from St. Vincent and the Grenadines embracing the improvements to e-commerce and digital connectivity propelled by the COVID-19 pandemic and encouraging other creatives to find their silver lining despite current challenges.
Tell us a little about yourself.
As a fashion designer and radio personality, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue my main passions: designing handbags and other fashion items, sewing, and sharing my views on matters that affect the youth and other vulnerable sectors in the hope of change.
I am also passionate about youth entrepreneurship, it means a lot to me as I see it as an effective means of self expression, sustainability, independence, adventure, personal development and breaking down barriers and stigmas that (we are now closer to saying) once existed.
In addition to these interests, I am a lover of steel pan music. I am integrally involved, from the performing level all the way to the organizing and structural level.
I enjoy everything Caribbean; food, culture, music, arts, history, and my dream is to visit every Caribbean island before I begin exploring the rest of the world. I especially enjoy exploring my island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Spending time on our beaches is where I feel calmest and most at peace.
When did you first notice your inclination towards Design and Entrepreneurship?
To be honest, through my primary and secondary education, I didn’t pay much attention – I was always selling something and creating something. It wasn’t until later that I took my studies more seriously. In 2009 I really opened my eyes to Fashion and Entrepreneurship and realized that these were my passions and what I was meant to do.
My family is quite the creative bunch. We are carpenters, we do crochet, we sew, we’re musically inclined, we love gardening and most of us have some sort of small business. I believe that it was in my DNA to follow this path as well. Although I embraced sewing and fashion in 2009, it wasn’t until 2017 that I finally decided to dive head first into entrepreneurship. It was a scary move but I do not regret it one bit.
What inspired you to start?
I was a Customer Service Representative at a local bank and I wasn’t happy doing the same routine tasks over and over everyday. I wanted a bit more excitement, and I wanted to do something that I actually enjoyed so much that it didn’t feel like work. For me, running my own business, planning and problem solving, doesn’t feel like work – neither does designing or sewing. It’s as natural as breathing to me.
What obstacles, if any, did you face and how did you overcome them?
Initially, I didn’t know enough about business so I joined a local Business Services Organization that offered workshops – this assisted in learning the basics. Many of the other obstacles were overcome through research, and taking a few additional classes here and there.
Tell us about the journey from the first spark of interest to where you are currently.
It hasn’t been easy but it’s been a lot of fun. Emotionally, your business is your baby and you never want to see anything go wrong. This journey has afforded me many opportunities to meet new people, to network across the globe, to travel, to spread my creativity and of course to get the name of St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Olive Art Designs out there.
There have been a lot of lessons on this journey, some I’ve learnt, some I’m still learning and some yet to be learnt. I’m grateful for the support that I’ve gathered thus far and for my customers.
What has been your biggest challenge along the way?
E-Commerce has been my biggest challenge thus far. This would include the full works: receiving payments, and shipping. The Caribbean is a small market compared to the rest of the world, so many of the platforms that are available outside of the region aren’t available here. It hasn’t been an easy segment to get into, but recently (because of the COVID-19 pandemic) some solutions have begun to come on stream. I am grateful, not for the reason but for the fact that the Caribbean on a whole is isolating this problem and dealing with it in 2020.
How have you used the current COVID-19 global pandemic to your advantage?
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced me to sit down and do a lot of back end work that I would otherwise put off. During this downtime, I really didn’t have a choice but to focus on the business end of things. This period highlighted to me the importance of diversification and going digital. This is a market that has been neglected for quite some time and, now that we’re all spending more time online, it’s the best time to advertise and market your products in the online space.
Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
Winning the inaugural “Pitch it Vincy Angel Investing Competition” last year is the achievement that I am most proud of. There are others, but this one stands out the most.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
My customers motivate me the most – their reaction to my work, more specifically. What excites me most is the fact that I would conceptualize and design one thing, cut that same product and sew something completely different and still be pleased and excited with the outcome. This paired with the excitement from customers is a very fulfilling experience.
What are the goals you most want to accomplish in the near future?
Creating employment opportunities for others in my community. I would like to get to a point where I can integrate a social initiative into the business on a permanent basis. Getting Olive Art Designs products in major stores and major airports is also a goal of mine.
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced your journey?
I am a very sociable individual, so my support team is quite large. There are persons, family and friends, who would have continuously motivated me to go forward even when times were difficult. For that I am truly grateful.
What advice do you have for other Caribbean youth aspiring to get involved in the creative sector?
I would encourage Caribbean youth to be brave and bold. Be persistent and patient. Work hard and learn to master time management. It’s going to get really difficult at times, so when these times come around remember why you chose this path and continue. You will make it!
It’s not about the destination, but the journey. Stay focused and don’t miss the little things in life.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to officially launching my website and seeing where that takes the business. I’m also looking forward to starting a YouTube Channel, both personally and for the business. I am also looking forward to being able to travel and take part in regional and international events.