When Kinesha Sylvester left her full-time job in February 2020, she was determined to make her dream of being self-employed a reality.
To do this, she planned to dedicate 100 per cent of her focus towards expanding her interior design company, Haven Spaces, which she created in 2018. It was a move she had been eager to make.
But the covid19 pandemic presented an unforeseeable roadblock.
In March 2020, less than a month after leaving her job, Sylvester had to come to terms with the hard reality that the very thing her livelihood would now be dependent upon – being in people’s homes and personal spaces – would be discouraged for the foreseeable future.
She needed to be quick on her feet to get around this obstacle, because after all, she needed to make a living.
So, shortly after the start of the pandemic and resulting restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, Sylvester began selling the smoothies and juices she often experimented with at home.
She called the business Fresh Press.
“When I realised that I couldn’t continue with Haven Spaces, I allowed myself to feel what I was feeling at that point. I was feeling a little frustrated, obviously, I thought that I planned things and put things into place so it could have gone a certain way.
“At that point, I was extremely sad then I began to pray,” said Sylvester, 30, in a recent interview with Business Day.
A collaboration between Sylvester and her husband Matthew, Haven Spaces actually started as an events company called Life EvenTTs. Among their services was “Pimp My Room,” which involved setting up balloons and cake in a room for a surprise party.
A client misinterpreted the phrase “pimp my room” and contracted the company to do a room renovation in 2018. Though the job wasn’t what the company did, they took up the challenge. With her husband’s family having a background in construction and Sylvester having a knack for creativity, the two took the job, which led to the creation of Haven Spaces.
Sylvester has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in sociology, both from UWI, St Augustine, but she’s always been interested in business.
Growing up in Ste Madeleine she often sold small products; when she couldn’t get a job in form six, she teamed up with a friend to host a vacation camp; in university she teamed up with friends to offer spa services.
“I think business has always been a part of me. Pursuing psychology and sociology in university is because I love to talk to people. I like when people feel good about themselves and know that they have a listening ear.
"So that’s why I always say my personality and what I love is split into two. I love the creative side of business and being challenged there. But I also love talking to people and being compassionate as I’m assisting them in their lives.”
So in February 2020, when Sylvester felt she couldn’t handle a situation in her workplace any more, she decided to leave. She also believed it was time to become self-employed. But then came the covid19 pandemic last March. Sylvester had "lined up my jobs (for Haven Spaces) to ensure that I would have months of work to basically keep myself occupied."
She'd had plans to sell homemade smoothies and juices – but later on in 2020. She had been experimenting with making smoothies and juices, and her family and friends encouraged her to sell them.
So, she fast-tracked her plans and launched Fresh Press on March 19, 2020. Thankfully, she had already done some planning for the business.
“I went to San Fernando and bought cups, I bought fruits, and then I bought my cold-press juicer online. All of that happened within a day.
“I try not to give myself too long in terms of making a decision, because then that’s where your brain will start to function to protect yourself from risk. So when I get an idea, it really energises me, and I go for it one time, before my brain can talk me out of it.
“I told myself I was going to start Fresh Press, in this moment in time, because it was feasible, and the best time period, given people were looking to build their immune systems.”
Describing the business as a lifestyle brand, Sylvester said its focus also includes raising awareness for mental health and holistic development, which ties in her background in psychology.
At its launch, the brand also offered online fitness sessions and mental health awareness events.
And though the brand was launched just last year, she’s already done upgrades to improve its business model, including changing its name from Fresh Press to The Fresh Press Factory when the brand was legally registered this year.
“We wanted to think big, which is what the rebranding with the name was about.
“So we changed the name to The Fresh Press Factory because with 'factory,' that can be anything under the lifestyle brand and it just makes me think bigger, because 'factory' is a big thing.”
The brand also updated its logo and expanded in its offerings. As well as smoothies and juices, she now also sells a variety of flourless baked goods.
“What I think makes us unique (at the Fresh Press Factory) is that we’re not just a smoothie and juice brand. That’s why I say we promote a lifestyle brand. We go a step further besides just the products themselves.
The current covid19 regulations, which are expected to last until July 4, have also pushed Sylvester to continue developing the brand. Given she’s no longer able to sell food and drinks, she’s now working to get the products sold in a mini-mart.
“When I heard the announcement that I basically would not be able to operate, I was asked myself what I was going to do, because I had to pivot again.
“At this point, the bank is not going to defer my loans. I still had my life to my live and bills to pay. So I asked myself what I was going to do.”
For Sylvester, the situation is symbolic of the overall dynamics of business, that things are never stagnant and always pivot.
“What this experience taught me about myself is that I am very resilient, given the fact I left my job and had nothing basically, but within a week I started this business.
Sylvester advises anyone who is considering leaving their job, to go into entrepreneurship full time to ensure they have proper savings.
“Financially, I had four months’ worth of savings, which was actually my downfall. I’ll advise anyone wanting to take that leap into full time entrepreneurship to have a year's coverage of savings.
“It also taught me that I have I great team in terms of my parents, my husband and general family and friends. They are extremely supportive. I believe no man is an island, we can’t do things ourselves, and they support me so much that it helps to fuel me and push me.”
As well as those close to her, Sylvester credits God for giving her the strength to navigate the business world and take on the curve balls that life threw at her.
“I pray a lot, because if it wasn’t for God and his promise, I definitely wasn’t doing this, and I was staying in my eight-to-four.”
Sylvester hopes to open a store one day for her business and expand the brand’s products/delivery options.
She also wants to host more mental health awareness activities.
Sylvester has also completed two business courses to improve her skills: an entrepreneurial development training programme hosted by YTEPP in collaboration with BPTT, and business hatchery with Unicomer.
Her advice to people who may be in a similar position to hers when she started her business, or anyone whose business has been thrown into disarray because of covid19, is to work on brain conditioning.
“Start visualising what you want for your life to the point that it actually becomes real in your mind. And because of that conditioning, you’ll start seeing signs all around you in the form of positive things that point you in that direction.
“What I do is apply my sound and visual blinders. The sound blinder blocks out all the noise of the people who tell you that you can’t do something, while my visual blinder is to not focus on the pain of now, but the promise of tomorrow.”
You can find Fresh Press Factory on Facebook and Instagram