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Shop Small is a bi-weekly 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 marginalized business owners.
Observant, resilient and hungry. Those are the three words Dorcas Magbadelo uses to describe her character. The UK-based artist considers herself an introverted, watchful person who felt it "in her spirit" to chase her dreams despite any obstacles along the way.
So, it was no surprise when she made the decision to quit a school administration role in 2017 to launch the illustration brand, DorcasCreates.
"The transition was hard at first because when you're in a work situation, there are set times for things," Magbadelo says. "I don't know how I woke up at 5 a.m. to get to work because now, before 10 a.m. is a struggle."
She easily pinpointed her brand's mission: the beauty and joy of being a Black woman. Magbadelo's Etsy shop (that has more than 5,000 sales under its belt) and personal website, DorcasCreates.com, sells jewelry, greeting cards and colorful illustrations that feature Black women of different skin tones, sizes, and expressions.
"When you're in a society that doesn't necessarily celebrate you or takes a long time to celebrate you, you don't always feel it, but you do fall by the wayside a bit," Magbadelo says. "Those in my life who have built me up have been Black women, so I wanted to give back what I was receiving."
The Beginning of Entrepreneurship
Magbadelo's creativity was sparked in high school, where she studied textiles and art, although it became more of a here-and-there hobby after changing to a finance major at the University of London. In 2014, she took her first trip to New York with friends, where they visited an array of art galleries and museums, giving her the inspiration she needed to start drawing again.
Before making DorcasCreates her full-time venture, Magbadelo switched to a part-time position, renting a studio space to experiment with bold patterns and striking colors — all influenced by her Nigerian heritage.
She later added greeting cards and jewelry to her shop's assortment and documented her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Tumblr, which she used to post fashion editorials and facial features she liked, also helped build a following for the business at the time. Her customer base grew after continuous posting, leading to more traffic on her platforms and an increase in sales (plus brand partnerships, such as Adobe and Most Wanted Wines). To her amazement, her first round of online customers were from the U.S., while she gained attention from U.K. customers through in-person craft fairs and art markets. "There was no set plan," Magbadelo laughs. "It was just sort of seeing where this goes."
Most of the events she attends, like Black Girl Fest and CurlFest, highlight Black culture in some way. But she recalls a moment in 2016 when she was a vendor at the Crafty Fox Market in Brixton. She was one of the very few people of color selling products and most of her buyers were Black attendees or white families with mixed-race children. There were minimal sales from those who didn't identify with those categories, she says.
"I knew going into it that it's not going to be what everyone gravitates to," Magbadelo says. "Once you're aware of who your customer is, then just go to those places where they're likely to be."
Lessons Learned as a Business Owner
Be open to competition.
Magbadelo learned all about the struggle that comes with competition when she first became a business owner. "There's so much noise and things fighting for your attention," she says. "You have to find a way to be authentically yourself." The 34-year-old once felt she had to be everywhere at once, but after finding her niche and audience, she wasn't afraid to use it to make a statement. "I specifically just create for all Black women," she says proudly. "Anyone else who likes my work and wants to support is great, but all I care about is that Black women like my work and want to support it."
Value work-life balance.
Magbadelo witnessed how Black-owned businesses boomed during the pandemic. While she was grateful for the increase in sales, it was also overwhelming. Why? Because it was during the time when communities were rallying together to protest police brutality, racism and the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
"It was a very weird space to be in," she solemnly says. "You want to keep your business going, but you're also dealing with the trauma that goes on in the world."
In order to cope, she ignored orders for a week and took time to decompress. She had engaging conversations with friends, family members and other Black creatives who struggled with a similar influx in sales. It was this practice that kept and continues to keep her centered and one she suggests others adopt as well.
"If you're the only one running everything, and you're not good within yourself, you're not going to be able to stay on top of all the work you have to do," she says. "If you don't give yourself that space to do it, your body's going to do it for you."
Communicate with your customer.
"Customers don't care," Magbadelo says. She stresses that whether you're sick, working out of your kitchen (or garage) or a one-woman army, "they don't care." That's why she believes communication is essential to keeping customers happy. "You can't expect people to understand your home or work situation," she says. "It's so important to communicate your process."
Find your tribe.
When it comes to issues with her business or those she's working with, Magbadelo found a community where she can rant and get the support she needs as a Black woman and entrepreneur. This includes discussing late payments and the hassle that comes along with rude customers. "Otherwise, you're venting constantly to your friends and family, and you sound ungrateful," Magbadelo says. "But it's not that you're ungrateful, it's just that you don't want to get an email at 3 a.m. from someone asking for an order they placed half an hour ago."
Be patient with the process.
"Some people have highs and lows, and it's fine to go at your own pace and figure out what works for you," Magbadelo says. While some people become wildly successful overnight, that isn't the case for everyone, including her. "For some people, it takes a small, steady and slow journey."
And for those who do become popular in a short amount of time, not having their foundation and system set up can lead to their downfall. She suggests knowing how long it will take to send an order, create something new and connect with customers.
What's Next for DorcasCreates
There's warmth and joy that comes with brainstorming and experimenting with her illustrations. Magbadelo wants to carve out more time to focus on her craft, dive into new materials and find different ways to create that are separate from the administrative part of her business. Other goals revolve around expanding wholesale orders beyond the U.K. market and designing more book covers to showcase her love of reading.
"If you've made the decision to do something and are really passionate about it, go for it and don't let other people make you feel like that's not the right way to do things," Magbadelo says. "There are no rules. We're literally floating in space."
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