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Shop Small is a monthly series highlighting small business owners from diverse backgrounds. This series aims to go deeper than your typical product roundup, diving into the inspirational stories behind some of our favorite brands. By taking a behind-the-scenes look at how their shops came to be and highlighting the products they (and their shoppers!) love, we hope to put a deserving spotlight on these business owners.
In 2017, Virginia-based artist Jemma Morris launched her Etsy shop, Lou Lou Art Studio. The 44-year-old was driven by a passion for making art that highlights diverse families.
Her shop is filled with gift-giving potential — it offers both original and printable art in a variety of prices (some start at $15), styles and subjects, from abstract watercolor designs and illustrated landscapes to portraits and t-shirts. Jemma also offers custom family portraits and works directly with the customer to create an accurate depiction of the group, including the number of people, their skin shades and height. “As an artist of color, representation is everything to me,” says Jemma.
While the growth of Jemma's business over the years is impressive, her journey has been far from easy. Along with moments of excitement, there have been challenging periods, too. It was a struggle balancing motherhood, an office job and entrepreneurship. But in the end, she persevered and continues to build a consistent following that is turning her dream as an artist into reality.
We chatted with Jemma about the studio’s origin story, her inspiration and more.
How did Lou Lou Art Studio come to be?
"I relaunched the business in 2017 after my daughter was born. I had normal jobs over the years, but I've always been an artist at heart. I majored in art at Wagner College in New York City. I just couldn't get away from it. I feel like, in my spirit and my soul, I'm meant to make art."
Where does the company name come from?
"My middle name is Louise and my aunt Sharon calls me LouLou. It just stuck!"
Who inspires you as an artist?
"Georgia O'Keeffe was my favorite artist growing up. She was a woman artist when there weren't many around. She was my first love and ahead of her time."
What do you want customers to feel when they buy your work?
"I want them to feel joy and to feel seen. I'm biracial: My father is African-American and my mother is white and from England. Growing up, I didn't see art or people like my family. I couldn't find products for my hair as a child. I'm also six feet tall and they weren't even making tall pants back then.
Today, one of my biggest sellers is family portraits. I have a range of about 15 different skin tones, and people really appreciate that."
What has been your proudest moment as an entrepreneur?
"In 2020, I was a global finalist for the Etsy Design Awards, which was mind-blowing to me. Because of that, Etsy featured my work in national commercials. I was on my bed looking at my phone and my daughter was jumping up and down next to me, screaming: 'Your artwork, your artwork!" If she weren't there, I would have missed it. It was a really fun moment."
What's next for Lou Lou Art Studio?
"I've just been sitting back and letting things happen because of my tight schedule. But I'm going to produce new art and take the business to the next level. The more I talk to people and think about it, you can never wait. Wherever you are, just do it."
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