Amanda Salandy, 38, created her first designs using whatever coloured polymer clay she could get her hands on, a US$30 pasta-maker and kitchen utensils.
At the time all she had was a mouse, cheese and the Sesame Street character Elmo.
But with encouragement from her sister-in-law Tonya-Leigh Salandy, she launched her business, Tiiu.
Tiiu, an Estonian name meaning "little bird," was initially an alternative source of income to her already established cosmetology and nail-tech business. This came as the covid19 lockdowns limited and even halted her business completely at her home in Vieux Fort, St James.
She said she used her savings to slowly acquire the machinery to create her earring designs.
“I just used whatever little ‘scrums’ I had, so to speak, and I literally start to scrape up Cash Pot money, asking, ‘Where the ten cents and the set of cent it have there?’ I took every cent and started buying little things just to see what I can do.”
She was a bit hesitant at first and wondered if anyone would even be interested in such designs, but when she resumed work as a cosmetologist and nail techician, her clients were mesmerised and bought them.
She creates intricate studs that portray the beauty of nature. Some of her popular designs derived from this are seashells, the sea meeting the sand, mangoes, lemons and one of her most popular, the toucan.
The designs are almost realistic, since she includes the imperfections of the fruits she is working from.
With this natural talent and her clients, she started creating more and trusted her clients to get the word out about her new product.
But Salandy said she doesn’t only rely on word of mouth, as her business is still growing. She makes sure to secure a spot at every artisan market such as UpMarket and South Market. She said the costs of these markets range between $200 and $475, but this doesn’t deter her, as she always earns the money back with profit.
Her business strategy is immediately greeting someone who is taking an interest in her work and telling them about it.
“I'll tell them that the studs are hypo-allergenic, so one time they know that they don't have to worry about their ears turning green, and then I just start talking to them about the product. I pull out my phone, I hit them video and they go, ‘Oh my God, it’s handmade.’”
She said once they realise this, they pick up different designs and inspect them before buying.
“In their minds now they say, ‘She’s moulding these toucans, let me see it,’ and they start paying more attention and then they pull out their phones and ask for my Instagram.”
She said that is the most successful business strategy, because all she can offer at these markets are 15 pairs of four or five designs. But once clients know her social media details, they can see what she’s working on and what they can ask to buy.
Salandy said her designs are what she sees from outside the country or on social media, but she plans to do more locally-themed earring studs.
“When I start to go hiking and thing again, things will start to speak to me and I will say, ‘Right, this could turn into an earring that symbolises this place in Trinidad.’ This is how I did the studs on The Book Junkie and Manzanilla.”
She said that design incorporated all the elements of the Manzanilla/Mayaro stretch, including the coconut trees, the bookstore and the Cocal.
These designs may seem like a lot of hard work – and Salandy agrees that it is, but said she never times herself when doing a piece.
“I might want to charge people $500 an earring because it takes a lot of time. That is all I could say. I will sit down and hours will pass, I didn't make plenty but I don’t feel it, because I’m just enjoying it. If I were to focus on your time, I would just be like, ‘Oh God, six hours and only make ten?’ I will get start to get irritable.”
Asked about her production process and what helps her get into the creative mindset, she said, “The vaps does just hit me.
“When I feel like doing something, something comes to mind or I’m just scrolling on the internet, I always wonder if I can do that and I’ll just run inside for my tools.”
She has five colours of polymer clay – red, blue, yellow, black and white – and uses the primary colours to create others. With her new US$150 polymer clay press, she mixes the colours and passes them through the press to make the clay easier to work with and get the colour she wants.
She showed Business Day, taking a slice of red clay and passing it through the machine a few times. From a stiff slice of clay came a softer piece ready to be moulded and designed to her liking.
From this red clay, she created a poinsettia, which is what she plans to associate Christmas with, despite not focusing on Christmas, but rather on the winter season and symbols associated with December.
“I don’t do Christmas. The gingerbread man is just a story. The poinsettia blooms in December-January, which is God’s creation. The snowman is just a snowman, and the snowflakes are just snowflakes. I won’t be making anything religious or holiday-themed.”
She said this is her personal principle and she plans to stick to it, but this isn’t meant to stop her customers from enjoying the holidays, as she is still doing seasonal-themed studs.
She also wants to create “occupational earrings” to give people an option to wear their job on their ears.
“So you’re a dentist, I’ll do a tooth. You’re a postwoman, I’ll do an envelope, or if you’re a nail-tech, I’ll do a little nail polish bottle. You might be working in a little bakery or you’re working Mario’s and you’re saying, ‘Let me put on my Mario’s Pizza earring in my ears and go to work today.’”
Salandy hopes to expand her line of products to cater to every need a customer may have and even have a physical location in the next five years.
“I thought it would be nice to have a little store, a cute little shop, small like a little cabin or something cosy. So small, only around four people can fit in it at a time, and the walls would be pastel-coloured and filled. For example, one wall will have a teddy bear, so all the teddy bear-inspired studs would be there, while another wall may just have the plant-centric studs, and just all the characters on the walls with the respective earrings.”