TWO of a set of triplets, Kimi and Lisa See Tai, have been built-in best friends from day one – literally. In spite of the arguments in between the moments of laughter, the sisters, known by their friends for their smiles and chic style, opened The Studio Shop at 12 Mucurapo Road, St James on June 13.
This is their first venture on this scale, and they said it is just the beginning of their creative business adventure. They intend to provide premium quality locally-made products that can compete internationally, in a friendly and aesthetically calming space.
Lisa is the creative mind and hands behind Lisa See Tai Design, specialising in custom-made clothing, as well as off the rack. Kimi produces accessories for the home and garden. Both are also jewellery-makers and painters. Their brother Troy, one-third of the triplets, is a freelance CAD (computer aided drafting) technician, who designs and builds building fixtures such as stainless steel staircases. The creativity which runs deep in the family is evident in his creative ventures such as dabbling in art, do-it-yourself projects and playing the guitar, which he is self-taught.
Troy produced the three-dimensional digital drawing file used to create the shop’s signage which was done utilising a manufacturing process in which a computer software guides the movement of factory tools to produce the final product.
The sisters’ painting skills were needed in preparing their shop for opening, which they considered a labour of love.
“I want to scream with excitement and cry at the same time. It is scary – these are definitely uncharted waters. We have never done this before, though we always dreamt of opening a shop together. We are very grateful and proud,” said Lisa.
Kimi added, “It was so hard to keep it a secret. Lisa made me keep it a secret for so long before we announced it. Now that the opening part is over, we look back and think, ‘That was easy.’ But it was not, and it is super hard and scary.”
With the help of their father, president of the TT Canoe/Kayak Federation Merryl See Tai, and brothers Kevin and Troy, the sisters did not seek outside labour. From painting, to working on the flooring and installing bathroom fixtures, it was a family effort.
“Putting the shop together made me so much more in love with my family. We really just came together and worked so hard, from Sunday to Saturday. That was the most touching part of the journey so far,” Lisa said.
Kimi’s’s mantra of “focusing on the things that matter most” kept her pushing forward, and is an approach which governs her life. Lisa said she lives by the principle of hard work, which she said always pays off.
“Not just hard work, but quality work that stands out. I try to ensure everything I do is done as closely as possible to my idea of its unique perfection.”
The sisters, who grew up in Port of Spain, between Maraval and Cascade, believe they may have inherited their creative talent from their parents. Their father, they said, was always creating and fixing things, like kayaks at his business place, the Kayak Centre in Chaguaramas. They said while their mother, Erica Anderson, works in accounting, she was always drawing and sewing.
“So everyone was always making things or fixing things. We’d never see someone being called in to fix something,” Lisa said. In unison, they said, “We would just do it ourselves.”
Both former students of Bishop Anstey, they studied visual arts and design, Kimi at the University of the West Indies, and Lisa at the University of TT. They then did a two-month metalsmith course in 2015, which led to a two-year course in jewellery-making at the MIC Institute of Technology.
Lisa said being in the creative industry is an exciting venture because of the endless possibilities and outcomes from the moment an idea comes.
“We can use any medium, and that’s what makes it so exciting: how Kimi does her mirrors, and how I do my clothes, incorporating our talent of painting. Then there’s our jewellery-making skills. We are able to create a range of things.”
They always knew they wanted to be creative professionals, not seeing any other way of being.
“It was just always going to happen; it was not even a question,” said Kimi. Their parents were always supportive of their choices to pursue a creative path that inspired them, and always made themselves available to help get what they needed to hone their crafts.
Lisa said, “We always had their support, even when it meant we would have to pay them back.” She giggled. “I don’t think they were overly worried about how much money we would make – as long as we were happy. Though at points we could tell when they would become a bit concerned.”
The work ethic and principles their parents, who though divorced, worked together to teach them these values. This was explained in a story of their having to pay rent when they started earning, before they moved out on their own.
Asked what inspires their work, Lisa said nature – which can be seen in Kimi’s woodwork or the natural colours and fibres that identify her own.
“We both do our fair share of research. It is something we learned the importance of doing while in school. We always research, and through that process, we get so much knowledge and inspiration.”
The sisters highlighted the importance of noting the work of others while exploring as much as possible – not living in a bubble. This, they said allows a creative person to absorb things on a wide scale, manifesting their own interpretation of what they may have seen.
Kimi said the least exciting part of being an entrepreneur in the creative industry is being tired all the time.
“Not only are you creating, but you’re also ensuring the business side of things flows, allowing yourself to make a profit from what you create. The least fun part is trying to make a business out of it.”
“While it can also be the most exciting part, it can be a hassle when it is not something that comes naturally,” Lisa added.
Waiting in long lines at the bank and early mornings and late nights were also listed as the least fun and not-so-glamorous parts of being business owners.
“Sometimes you’re leaving to go home after a long day being really irritable. This resulted in us having arguments. Sometimes you’re tired, you can’t deal with anybody,” Kimi said. “You also worry about things like if you’re going to make enough money for rent, then afford to manage your personal expenses.”
However, they remain encouraged by the feedback they have received since opening: they said it continues to pour in and has been overwhelming and somewhat surreal. Hearing positive comments on the products and decor, and how the store matches their personalities, has been heart-warming for the siblings.
Though both found it hard to decide, among their favourite items in the store at the moment is a pair of paintings they did together, which Lisa said inspires her every day. A favourite of Kimilyn’s is a mirror: “It is painted in my favourite colour, teal, while not hiding the beauty and character in the knots and lines of the wood.”
They hope to expand their products to include their handmade jewellery and accessories such as earcuffs and earrings, to accompany the jewellery in stock by other designers such as Micha Gomes.
The 32-year-old See Tai sisters want to tell young people who want to become entrepreneurs in the creative industry that determination and relentless work are required. It’s important to pay attention to detail while limiting the possibilities for error, especially before there is a supportive team present, and they emphasised the importance of being trained both technically and in business management.
Lisa said, “It really comes down to passion and having the drive. You have to also save for years and years, which is what we did. There were so many unforeseen expenses – but saving allowed us to combine all these principles. But of course, follow your passion.”
She said welcoming feedback is also crucial, even if it hurts a little.
“Getting feedback can be constructive because you are trying to meet a need. It is also a reminder that you won’t always be perfect – which is an opportunity to tighten your craft.”
The positive feedback, she said, however, will always outweigh negative feedback if one stays true to the craft by paying attention to detail. Encouraging feedback she has received includes a compliment from fashion designer Meiling, whom she has admired her whole life.
“She said I remind her of herself when she just started, and it really touched me because of the quality of her work. I don’t need an award or anything after hearing that.”
Kimi said a challenge young creative professionals may also encounter is overcoming fear, which may result in procrastination.
“I tend to overthink, which causes me to delay sometimes. Even when I know it could be good, maybe because I also fear external expectations.
“But I would tell younger people to just do it. Plan and take the necessary steps – then just do it.”
The sisters said they will continue to combine their strengths to build each other and this new business venture, and admitted they would not have been able to do it without each other. They plan to keep inspiring each other as they both continue to evolve.