This month, OECS YES In Action caught up with Tamara Prosper, a 32 year old Grenadian entrepreneur using recyclable materials to build and environmentally sustainable brand while inspiring her clients to be eco-conscious!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am an eco-jewellery designer, an artist and an innovative business woman.
I have a great love for art and design, but business is where my passion truly lies. It was my mission to merge these two important facets in my professional life. As a young teacher, I gave classes in both Business and Art for many years before pursuing and attaining a BSc in Management Studies and an MSc in Marketing (Management).
My greatest accomplishment to date is being the founder and manager of the business Tambran by Tamara, which specialises in the design and creation of luxury, one of a kind eco-jewellery and accessories made from recyclable materials and idle natural seeds and fibers.
When did you first notice your inclination towards art and design?
I have always wanted to do new things and chart my own course. In primary school, for example, if the teacher asked us to design a book, my book had to be different from everyone else’s – be it shaped like a snake, a house, or something different.
My teachers also nurtured my love for business and design and would always call on “Tamara” to decorate the blackboards for the school fair or to design the posters for a lesson or fundraiser, etc.
It would seem that from a very early age, I understood the concept of differentiation and positioning without being very conscious of it. This outlook translated to my adult life in business where the products produced by Tambran by Tamara are relatively unique in the market and have taken advantage of a niche not fully explored.
What inspired you to pursue this career?
Art and design have always been with me, I would say, because I have somehow always been in the creative field – directly and indirectly.
While I was a teacher of Business Studies and Art and Design, I started doing murals and face painting for businesses and private clients on the side, which helped finance my university tuition.
It was my time as a BSc student at the University of the West Indies, however, that got me on the path I am on today. I realised that the University produced a significant amount of waste material such as used banners after advertising a seminar, or pieces of wood from maintenance. Given my thrifty and creative nature, I saw art in these “waste” materials. The banners, for example, were beautifully designed and were very durable, even waterproof. I also noticed that there was a need for entities like the University to practice zero-waste in an effort to protect the environment.
With this realisation, I approached the University administration with my proposal to use their waste materials and they AGREED! That was the start of my eco-jewellery and accessories brand.
Being at the University it was very easy to reach my market since there were many young and beautiful ladies demanding the products of Tambran. I pooled the resources that I had at my disposal, the talent of my friends as models and as photographers, and this helped the brand to ‘take off”.
I have always been an artist and I think need (financial need as a student) and the desire to experiment and express my artistic perspective inspired me to start.
I then continued running Tambran by Tamara while I completed my MSc in Management Studies.
What obstacles, if any, did you face and how did you overcome them?
Starting Tambran by Tamara was not very hard, surprisingly. Taking this into consideration, I think the main obstacle that I faced at the start of my jewellery business was starting small. This was mainly due to financial constraints; however, this allowed me to “test” the market properly before expanding.
As I mentioned before, I have always been artistic but before Tambran I had never made an earring or a piece of jewellery in my life!
Therefore, to enhance my craft with my low budget, I researched and learned the basic elements of jewellery making. I then bought the supplementary materials needed and I experimented. By trial and error, I perfected the art with my own unique touch and aesthetic.
Since my budget was very small, I started small but made the jewellery pieces impeccably. Thus, when the “few” got sold, I made more pieces and reinvested the profits in the business.
Social media has also helped me to propel the brand and reach new customers with little financing necessary, as well as participation in trade shows and expositions. Another obstacle that I overcame with regards to marketing was to let my friends wear my pieces for free, as this sparked conversation and later demand.
I am very self-driven. Being at school allowed me the freedom to partially control my time and thus, as soon as the school related part of my day was over, I focused on the development of products and the collection of raw materials.
I was excited.
My test market (the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus) was in close proximity and this helped in the validation of the products and also, in a way, helped to propel the business because it was a very empowering environment of creatives and academics. Your environment is everything!
I also participated in a number of regional and international competitions and this then gave my brand more recognition and validation for networking and exporting opportunities.
Tell us about the journey from the first spark of interest to where you are currently.
I have never been rich and I considered myself a very ordinary child. In primary school, however, I had the desire to do business without even knowing it at the time. Around 9 or 10 years of age, at the St. Paul’s Government School, I established the Hunny Bunny Restaurant Delivery Service where my friends and I would collect the lunches in the tuck shop for the students and they would pay us 25 cents for the service.
On the days that we were not available (perhaps because the teacher kept us in the class for misbehaviour) our “customers” missed us. This was my humble start in running a small business and providing a service to ‘clients’ that was appreciated.
At the St. Joseph’s Convent, I excelled in Art and Craft classes and continued on this trend into college, where I pursued an A level Cambridge Art and Design Degree. I then began teaching Visual Art at the Happy Hill Secondary School and also started a ‘side business’ as a muralist and face painter, which provided a supplementary income.
I began Tambran by Tamara in 2013 in Trinidad, where I was attending university; and Grenada, my home country. Tambran has grown to now service 6 locations across Grenada and one in Dallas, Texas through B2B partnerships.
What would you consider to be your biggest challenge along the way?
My biggest challenge is self doubt.
I would always question whether or not the products were good enough, or if the prices were too expensive. Over time, however, the reviews, compliments and also suggestions from customers have helped build my confidence. The quality of my products has also improved over the years. Thus, I stand reassured and confident when I offer my products for sale to customers.
The task of getting my self doubt in check is still a "work in progress" but I have experienced tremendous personal growth and I am now empowered to dream and achieve bigger things for the business.
Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
I have been blessed to win a number of awards over the years, but I would say that my greatest achievement was winning the Talent and Innovation Challenge of the Americas (TIC) Award in Paraguay. The TIC Award is one of the most intense hemispheric competitions in the world for business oriented young people. The competition's format is quite comprehensive and I was challenged to be very strategic, distinctive and give my best in all areas.
This experience, creating the branding, promotional video and elevator pitch, really convinced me of the feasibility of my business. Winning the competition, however, additionally validated my business idea and the brand took on a life of its own from the overwhelming media exposure that followed. I was also very proud because I felt that this was a win for my country, Grenada. This achievement really gave me the reassurance that I am good enough, no matter my past circumstance or where I am from.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
My customers, my customers, my customers. The expressions, the compliments and the recommendations of my customers play a great part in motivating, fuelling and encouraging me daily.
Many of them are in awe when they learn the materials that the products are made from, for example our stud earrings made from tamarind seeds. I especially appreciate the return clients because over time we have developed great relationships.
I am also motivated to create new products and to pursue new opportunities and ventures. It must be noted that I get bored very easily so this helps push my innovation - I am always striving to keep my interest and drive on a high.
What are the goals you most want to accomplish in the near future?
One of my main goals is to see Tambran by Tamara become a renowned jewellery brand in the Caribbean and to infiltrate the North American and European markets. We want to see celebrities wearing "Tambran by Tamara"!
It is also my intention to diversify into other areas in the field including fashion, home decor, etc. The sky is the limit!
We are currently working on a venture to make material mobilisation more accessible. More importantly, we want to continue the quest to promote recycling and upcycling in order to promote environmental preservation.
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced your journey?
My mom. Machel Montano. Oprah. Michelle Obama. I admire the business ethics of these people and their professionalism. I also appreciate the fact that they did not limit themselves to their areas of specialisation but diversified and pursued other business ventures.
I think it is important to redefine yourself as time passes to stay relevant. I also think it is important to give 99.9% in whatever you do with the understanding that there should always be room to learn and grow.
My mom is always there for me! She is 100% supportive in everything I want to pursue and this unconditional support without a doubt has fuelled my journey.
What advice do you have for other Caribbean youth aspiring to get involved, whether in Art and Business or other areas?
There are some daily motivational messages that I have been applying on my journey in my personal and professional life.
• Believe in your abilities: Many times, as Caribbean people we doubt ourselves. This has very much to do with our upbringing and hence we often feel that we are “not good enough”. It is important to empower ourselves and feed our minds with positive affirmations. Your dreams are valid no matter where you come from. Coming from a small country does not mean that your talent, skill or contribution has to be small or be overlooked. Don’t dim your bright light for others to be comfortable, give the best of yourself always.
• Hard work and smart work pays off: Go for it and be big, don’t limit yourself. Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability.
• Put pride on the sidelines: Never be afraid to ask for help, we are never too big to learn. This is very important when a mission needs to be accomplished.
• You don’t have to know everything to get started: Learn along the way.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to?
I am looking forward to participating in the Barbados Manufacturers' Exhibition (BMEX) from June 6th to 10th in Barbados – as a part of my participation in WeXport, the Export Readiness Training Programme facilitated by the Caribbean Export Development Agency (CEDA) from May 2018 - June 2019.
I am also excited to launch a new website and the rebranding of Tambran by Tamara in the near future. Another area to look out for is the expansion of the product line to include Tambran by Tamara Home Décor!
Tambran by Tamara products are available at Kristoff, Spiceland Mall, Grand Anse, Grenada; and Too Kachi, Grand Anse Shopping Center, Grenada.
Products are also available through Facebook at facebook.com/TambranbyTamara.
The Tambran by Tamara website will soon be launched (tambranbytamara.com).