Posted: Thursday, November 26, 2020. 1:47 pm CST.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
By Andre Habet: As everybody gears of for the Christmas season, many Belizeans di start to plan to get dey box or barrel. However, Belize has a vast range of local artisans making amazing work across a variety of mediums that are worth your attention. Over the next few weeks, Breaking Belize News will be featuring a range of interviews with women artisans from Belize to find out how they got into what they’re doing, and feature the work they’ve dedicated themselves to that is uniquely and wonderfully Belizean.
First up is Aesha Garel, owner and jewelry maker behind the Belize City-based company Zest Handcrafted, which you can find on Instagram @zest.handcrafted.
Interview is edited for clarity and length.
André H: How long have you been crafting jewelry?
Aesha G: I’ve been making jewelry for about six years and two years ago transitioned into jewelry making as a full-time job. I started by making tassel earrings for friends when I was still away at school, and would send those to my Mom who then unofficially worked as my first salesperson. After a while, I started to practice making jewelry with resin, which launched Zest.
Before going full-time to Zest, I worked an office job during the day and then would go home and work on jewelry until 2 am. The office job was killing me though, so with the support of my parents I decided to take the chance and see if I can make Zest work. Although I’m sometimes working more now than I ever did at the full time job, they and I both know I’m happier now doing this.
AH: Do you remember any break throughs in your craft-making?
AG: My first pop-up shop [the Street Art Festival in 2018] was a revelation. The reception of old and new customers was really energizing. It also took a while to learn how to work with resin. It’s very picky. It needs to be mixed with to the right ratio for curing, and it’s sticky. One of my signature pieces, the reef ear rings, were actually a result of the difficulty of working with resin because I had to quickly use the resin before it started to gunk up. It was born from panic to some degree. And because I import the resin and glitter, along with a few other materials, I can’t afford to waste anything so using all the materials effectively is very important.
AH: What motivates your aesthetic interests in jewelry making?
AG: I’ve always tried to make something that I haven’t seen already available in the market. I’m also inspired by my science background. I like to work with resin because the process is similar to the experiments I did in science, getting the gloves on and measuring various things. I also live on Pinterest and observe others’ ears in my daily life. I like simple, clean shapes, and even though I don’t like glitter in my much of my own style, I think it really gives the resin the over the top quality people like.
AH: How has it been owning a small business in Belize?
AG: It was easier when I started than it is now in 2020. When I started it, the impression I got was that a lot of people didn’t really believe that crafts were something Belizeans felt was worth the price I was listing things for even though every thing I make is by hand, and covers the materials and time I put into them. For some people, they believe that buying a cheaper product is better, and once I started to gain some notice other people swooped in and started copying my designs, and one company even copied the display designs I used. That really felt like it crossed the line, and it was then that I realized how invested I was in Zest, and what I was doing.
Now with the disappearance of pop-up shops during the pandemic and the associated sales, I’ve had to re strategize and folks more on how to make the Zest brand visible online. Not only were the pop-up shops important for sales, but they were also important for personal revitalization. The jewelry takes a lot of work, so meeting with customers in person helps to get me back into a groove when I’m feeling burnout. Right now, one media company is working on something that can maybe fill the void left by the absence of popup shops.
Besides the jewelry making, the branding and marketing take a lot of time and energy. A lot of small businesses are popping up during the pandemic, but I think a lot of people unaware about all the work it takes to make regular sales. It’s not just about making the thing, and sometimes for me that’s the hardest part to want to put time into because of my personality.
AH: What are some of the other products you have that you’re working on?
AG: For the upcoming Christmas season, I’m working on 6 different Christmas-themed studs, including a gingerbread man and woman, and Christmas gifts. I also decided to make more studs generally because the use of masks makes hanging ear rings more annoying to wear because of the need to unhook larger ear rings from the mask whenever you take off the mask. And because things are economically difficult for people right now, I started making some $5 studs, a new price point I hope makes the jewelry more accessible to people.
AH: What are your goals for the next year with Zest?
AG: Before the pandemic, I had a whole different year planned where I was going to release many things, including some Easter themed jewelry. Then COVID hit and the Easter releases were delayed. For now then, I’m not making any firm plans. I did invest in two huge things that’ll hopefully expand the business including a metal hand stamp to make key chains and pendants. I also plan to shift to smaller, custom pieces. I also plan to getting into ornaments, and ordered a machine for that as well. This year I made the Oceana Wavemaker trophy for the second time. My dad has always worked with wood, and I hope to integrate more of it into my work in the future.
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