The story of a woman whose kids inspired her to sell a new kind of art
Part 1: Meet Chi! From Fast Fashion to a slower approach…
A few years ago, Chi, a mum of 4 from Manchester, was looking for wall art for her little girl. Like many little girls, Chi’s daughter was into princesses, ballerinas and unicorns - all things cute and magical. But she ran into a problem. She couldn’t find anything that represented her family’s cultural background. Proud of her Nigerian heritage, Chi wanted to instil the same sense of pride into her children, and to affirm their cultural heritage and that of many other children. So she put her creative talent to good use, and created the kind of art she couldn’t find anywhere else. The result of this is Dinky Mix, a fun, playful and empowering brand of print artwork for kids to hang on their bedroom walls. All these prints carry a positive message that exudes the mission statement of Dinky Mix - to nurture pride in heritage, positive self identity and belonging in all children - that all children have hope for a fantastic and exciting future.
Chi’s artwork, which, as well as wall art prints, includes t-shirts, house ware, and greetings cards, as well as being super adorable and endearing, is bursting with slogans including ‘No Hood Like The Sisterhood”, ‘Pretty Fierce”, and ‘Queens Rock Afro Puffs”. As Chi was taking me on a tour of her stunning new website, she showed me a new recently added feature that made me smile a lot: when purchasing a piece of artwork, customers can choose the skin tone they want the featured character to have, allowing them to receive something that accurately represents themself, and their kids. And not to leave out the boys, there are all kinds of superhero themed items to choose from as well!
Chi has always loved drawing. For as long as she can remember, the Christmas and birthday presents she asked for were art related, because drawing and doodling was her number one favourite hobby. She remembers one day when her dad brought her to a big toy shop called Children’s World, he told her she could choose anything she liked. Out of all the hundreds of different toys that were available to her, Chi picked out a colouring set, that had a wide selection of pens, crayons, and felt tips.
Dinky Mix became Chi’s route out of the 9-5 grind that she found limiting, and very very tiring, when she discovered that there was a demand for her new kind of art work. She worked in the fashion industry for seven years before her career took this new turn. After graduating with a fashion degree, Chi spent many years working for a large company that supplies the high street fashion chains that we have all heard of - the likes of Primark, Top Shop, and New Look. Eventually, she progressed to being a senior designer, which involved a lot of overseas travel to fashion shows and similar events. “I found it soul destroying”, Chi said. “I am quite a creative person, so going into that industry, I had the idea that I would be creating all these great things, and would be seeing people walking down the road wearing what I had designed. But the reality was that my job was to observe what was going on on the catwalk, and what other high street brands were doing, and to basically copy that”. Chi very quickly realised that she was not really creating - she was producing something in order to make money for someone else. She stuck it out, and was patient because she knew she needed to build up her experience, but she reached a point where she was just not looking forward to going to work each day.
Though she found her day job in fast fashion deeply unfulfilling, she kept sticking at it - but she did not let it kill her passion. There was a build up of frustration from always having to colour within the lines, but the tipping point came when her boss began to micromanage her work - Chi is someone who likes to be fluid and flexible - as a fellow creative, I can totally relate to that! It felt like her boss was controlling what she created, when she created it, and how she created it, and she reached a point where she had had enough, and decided to leave that life behind for good. This job, though she worked at it with diligence, was going against her personal values that were so important to her. “It was very much for the mass market”, Chi explains, “I value quality very highly, and fast fashion is about getting the cheapest thing, making it look good for now, and if it rips in two months, it doesn’t matter, because the customer will have gotten tired of it by then anyway. That never sat well with me”.
Chi showed me the manifesto on her website, where she has outlined her values plainly for all to see and appreciate. Zooming out, her big-picture vision is to change the world, infusing it with a culture of belonging, inclusivity, and celebrating all of humanity, its differences and similarities.
She values taking a personal approach with her customers and whoever she conducts business with, valuing connections and relationship as well as, if not more than, money and profit. “I try and get really personal with my customers”, she explains, “I treat them like more than customers - for example, there was a lady in the USA who was very sick, and she Dinky Mix, but wasn’t able to afford to buy anything due to her circumstances - so I asked her what she liked the most, and surprised her by sending her what she liked most as a gift. She was amazed, and was like “I can’t believe you would do that for me!”
This also made me smile a lot. Chi and I talked about how the modern world is moving so fast, especially when it comes to how we do business. And that is to be expected in a lot of ways. But Chi has found that it is possible to be successful in business without going at breakneck speed. “Everything always seems to be “goals, goals, goals, gotta get here, gotta get there”, whereas I tend to want it to be quite organic, which it has been. I find that the people who follow me through social media genuinely engage in real conversations with me, , and we have built some really nice social media friendships. This is as a result of me taking the time to process the things that are happening around me”.
This point of view is so refreshing, even to me on a personal level. It seems that the world is going too fast for us to keep up with, and it’s easy to have a niggling sense of being less than if you cannot keep up with the speed of it all. I think we need more Chi’s in this world, who can demonstrate that it is ok to slow down a bit. Chi thinks that we can often fall into the trap of thinking we are losing something important if we are not living and working at this frenetic pace, but that, on the flip side, we are actually losing more by keeping up, because we are not really being present with what is happening right now, and truly and deeply engaging with the people in our world, and our unique processes and ways of being. For Chi, this is the main source where she gets the fulfilment in what she does.
“When you are working for someone else, you stop being driven by the personal. It becomes about the values of the company you are working for, and if their highest value is money, which has been the case in most of the places I’ve worked, then these values end up becoming your values, and your own values get held back. This made me feel almost like I was wasting away. Whereas doing Dinky Mix, it’s a nice feeling because I am not getting lost in the priceless. Myself, my core values and the brand are all interlinked. Anything I wouldn’t do myself, I don’t do in the business”.
In keeping with the aim of the brand being encouraging positive self identity in children, we got to talking about what it was like for Chi growing up in Manchester in the 1980s as a child of Nigerian origin. 30 odd years ago, I’m sorry to say that Manchester was not the culturally diverse and inclusive place it is today. “In terms of feeling accepted, like I belong, I didn’t have that - there was a lot of racism, and a lot of prejudice all around me. When I look at my own kids growing up, they still face that to a smaller degree, but I am eager to do everything I can so that they don’t have to face what I faced at their age.
If you look on the Dinky Mix website, you will find a blog piece written by Chi for her Masters degree, which talks in more detail about her journey from those tough early days, and how she grew from those experiences.
Stay tuned for next week’s second part of Chi’s story to find out more about how she overcame these challenges, and made her the courageous person she is today...