We had the good fortune of connecting with Shay Chenette and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shay, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
It is always said that your business should fulfill a need or solve a problem. 5 years ago, my daughter and I ran into a big problem, we could not find melanin inspired backpacks during the annual back to school shopping. I began the journey of figuring out HOW to solve this problem, using the gifts I had with in me. It did take work, mishaps, complications and growing in knowledge of how to customize different materials. We created custom tote bags and backpacks that Christmas season and sent them out in lieu of traditional gifts to our close family and friends. The business took off from there, I never anticipated for others to want our products, but when your gift makes room for itself… you have to be prepared to OWN that room, take up space, make your business loud! We created our brand Shop Girls and Curls to highlight black and brown images for little girls and boys worldwide. I would tell aspiring entrepreneurs to take a leap, someone is waiting for what is inside of you. Even if a million others do it, no one can do it the way you do it! Solve that problem that is bothering you, within that passion is where your next great business awaits.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
2020 was a year of unimaginable challenges, traumas, political and civil unrest… but there was also a beauty in that struggle but it came at a cost. Some moments felt like the apocalypse while other moments brought forth a resilience and strength that I did not know that I had. I watched the video of a man’s life, agonizingly snuffed out, on camera for the world to see… I cannot erase those images, I shouted, cried and screamed at the screen, all to no avail, The helplessness that erupted from this moment is the kind that just sits and festers within you, if you allow it. In 2020, I was festering, seething with this emotions, with no where to express them. My brush became my therapist, my outcry, my rage and my platform. I made the decision to stop painting pretty little images that would sale and completely transitioned and rebranded my self. My art is no longer for mass consumption to make a quick buck. As a child, my Mother in her infinite wisdom purchased this beautiful art print, it is a graceful brown woman, leaping into the air in Grand jete, her hair is a coily mass with brown hues, her leotard has african prints of bold swirls and patterns. Artist and tittle to this piece unknown, yet it hung above my bed, I would fall asleep gazing at this figure, I would sketch her, trace her and eventually paint her. I went on to dance for over 2 decades and become an artist. My art is no longer for me, it is for the next little brown girl or boy, for them to gaze at it, sketch it, trace it, ponder it… in the hopes to inspire the next great leader, advocate, bridge to a better reality for diaspora descendents world wide. The lesson I have learned along my journey is to be fluid, open to change, finding my way to diaspora art concepts has given me an outlet for my out cry. That same graceful print of a brown ballerina, unknown hangs above my daughters bed… a piece I did for her her art hangs next to it, several of her colorful art pieces surround them, bursting from her wall like stars orbiting the sun. In the moment that I saw her proudly hanging her pieces, smiling from ear to ear… that was the moment that I knew I had succeeded as an artist. It is not about me.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The best journey with friends old are new would be found around a strong cup of coffee, in a half empty book store or a quiet coffee shop. It was never the spots that made for a good time, but the beauty of exploring each others minds. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have gained so much knowledge and support from the exclusive art community, Respect The artist. So many artists are trying to succeed on their own but it literally takes a village to raise a dope artist. I found my village in RTA, founded by Electra Fredrick, who I like to call “the artist whisperer.” I would randomly pick a podcast or live video to listen to while I painted and every single time key words or concepts would speak directly into my artistic soul. There is a wealth of information on this app that so many creatives can benefit from. RTA has definitely been one of the guiding lights as I branched into uncharted territories in my art career. I highly encourage aspiring and established creatives to join the community. For aspiring artists you will have a village of support and a community to help you along your journey. For established artist, there is always a new concept to learn and master but also it just may be your time to give back, it is an opportunity for you to help pour into the next generation of creatives. You can do that through Respect the artist platform. Together, we all win.