If you ever doubted the creativity of the people of TT, look no further than Marcia Seales-Rodney.
She's always loved head wraps and would often tie her hair. Her husband, Merrell Rodney, would help her every time, except one day when she had an important meeting to attend; he refused to do it.
She told Business Day, “I tied my hair in this crazy way and went to my meeting but I told him, ‘You know what’s going to happen? I’m going to create something to wear so that I’ll never have to ask you to tie my hair again.’ And that’s where the idea was born to have this pre-tied headwrap or turban.”
So, three years ago on July 12, she and her husband made their first pre-tied headwrap.
Not long after, she visited UpMarket– an artisan craft, food and small business market in Port of Spain – to support a friend who had a table there. The friend encouraged her to sell the headwraps since there were no similar products available and gave her guidance on joining the market.
Seales-Rodney thought it was a good idea since those types of markets were usually held once or twice per month and would not take up too much of her time. And so Afrocessories, Afrocentric accessories and accessories for your afro, was formed.
She and Rodney considered different designs but nothing looked good enough or worked for them. She said after church one night she prayed about it and soon after they settled on the design. She made 12 “hats” to sell at her first market, Things TT, at UWI, St Augustine on September 9 and all were sold.
“We believe it was divinely inspired. But the irony is that after all of that, my husband is the one who makes every knot for every hat.”
For a year she sold her products at three different markets but she did not believe that was sustainable.
“We recognised that if I wanted to do this full time, a market was not going to sustain me because markets are only once a month. That didn’t make any sense to me so what I started doing was attending events until I stopped doing markets completely.”
She marketed and sold her hats at shows, expos, office pop-ups and other special occasions. That continued until she opened a store, Afrocessories Home, at the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in November 2019. The shop was in operation until February 2020 when she had to close it when the government closed schools due to covid19.
“So I was very grateful for the opportunity that Nudge presented.”
Just a little Nudge...
Anya Ayoung Chee, Miss Universe 2008 contestant for TT, winner of Project Runway Season 9, fashion designer, entrepreneur and founding partner on the Nudge initiative, called Seales-Rodney to ask if she would be willing to be a part of Nudge’s pilot programme. Seales-Rodney thought the idea was amazing and agreed to be a part of it.
Ayoung Chee told Business Day she and Julie Avey, senior vice president of people and culture for the Massy Group, developed the idea. She said Avey foresaw the impact of technology and industrial revolution on jobs and over the past two years they sought ways to address the inevitable retrenchment issue in TT. Ayoung Chee’s role was to source and bring in entrepreneurs.
“The intent is to see how big business can have an impact on the small business economy. The outcome of that, I believe, would be a transformation of the economy as a whole, not just in Trinidad but in the region because of the reach that Massy has.
"We hope to see a transition from traditional work to more self-driven work and how that could impact people’s lives, their stability, and their happiness overall which would, in turn, impact society.”
Avey added that she met Ayoung Chee as a judge at the Massy Innovation Tournament in May 2018. That started a conversation on how more could be done to support medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs) in the region, which led to working with local designer Marlon Darbeau on the branding and stand design for Nudge in early 2020. A launch was planned for Easter in April but due to covid19 and the subsequent lockdown, it was delayed to August.
“Nudge is a movement to support entrepreneurs across the region. In its first iteration, we are providing retail platforms, in stores and online, to promote the entrepreneurs. At its core, Nudge has deep confidence in the talent in the Caribbean. Nudge is evolving to fuel the growth of MSMEs which we believe will have significant social and economic impact, particularly during these difficult times.”
She described Nudge as a social enterprise powered by Massy in partnership with Ayoung Chee. It was a space where proven entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria, such as products being locally sourced and or made, were selected and showcased on Nudge stands in Massy Stores. The stands were supported by Nudge ambassadors who sold the products on behalf of the entrepreneurs and shared the individual stories.
This was supported by media campaigns, professional photography and copywriting, funded by the Massy Group. The first campaign ended on September 15 and will return in October.
“In the first instance, we have targeted proven businesses in TT who have established themselves at local markets – Green Market, UpMarket, Bits and Pieces – and are looking to grow and increase their retail presence. The first cohort of entrepreneurs supply locally made craft, health/personal care products, jewellery… all locally sourced or made and proven quality. We will be expanding the criteria and reach across the Caribbean.”
A space for success
Ayoung Chee said in the first cohort there were about 16 entrepreneurs featured in Massy Stores at the Trincity, Westmoorings and Gulf View super centres. At the super centres, several brands and products were highlighted, and there were pop ups in five other stores featuring one brand at a time.
She said the venture gave a ray of hope and a sense of community during these trying economic times. It also opened the doors to more resources, more support, and more opportunities for brand awareness with a different audience.
“We acknowledge that Massy as an entity has a retail space that is very valuable. And to give space to entrepreneurs who are not yet ready to be on the shelves of Massy or maybe do not have products that would traditionally be on Massy shelves. This will give them the opportunity to sell, but also to have more eyes on their products.”
She said the Nudge team paid attention to what the entrepreneurs had to say to better meet their needs and support them.
Avey added that while it was still “early days” the team received positive feedback from the entrepreneurs, customers and their ambassadors. It also received interest from over 100 others which team members would be reviewing in the coming weeks to understand the types of businesses and support needed.
“A consistent message has been that Nudge has been a symbol of investment in local that is needed during this difficult covid19 time. Many customers want to support local as they see that this can help our economy. There has also been appreciation and sometimes surprise that the products are all local as the branding and quality can compete on an international stage.”
Exposure and expansion
As part of the initial cohort, Seales-Rodney said she benefited from Nudge in several ways. When people heard she was part of the initiative, it gave her business more credibility. Even if people did not buy her items at Massy Stores, they saw and remembered the brand and Afrocessories social media platform grew. And, while preparing for Afrocessories’ personal pop-ups, she learned the limits of her production capacity and was able to improve how her product was prepared and packaged.
She and her husband also own Heavenly Hands, a nine-year-old cleaning service, but before that she was a communications professional. As a creative person, she did not have an outlet for her creativity but Afrocessories allows her to express herself.
Afrocessories is now a family business with Seales-Rodney, Rodney, and their four children making the items.
Her products include an AfroBando, AfroBand, twisted AfroBand, AfroBonnet, cloth-covered earrings, male Ankara shorts, and cloth masks to match. Also, available only at her online store, www.afrocessoriestt.com, are satin-lined shower caps and steam bonnets.
She is also releasing a new product next week, the urban turban, which is a pre-tied bonnet made from soft, stretch fabrics with a more conservative knot.
In addition, Seales-Rodney often teamed up with Shenelle Hills-Fife of De Jeunesse Bath and Body Products who is also part of Nudge. They met when they were situated next to each other at their first market. They attend events, come up with various marketing ideas, and mix and match products to create gift sets. Hills-Fife creates body butters and two types of soap – the spa bar collection, and the Caribbean fusion collection. The products are 99 per cent natural, with the one per cent being fragrances.
Seales-Rodney added that De Jeunesse's packaging was not only biodegradable but unique. The soap boxes have a hole to allow people to smell the fragrance without opening the packaging, and each box has a seed paper which customers can plant.
“She has the same drive and passion for what we create so a lot of the time, when you see us doing things differently from other artisans, it’s a joint effort on our parts.”