DINKY MIX Part 2
Catch up on PART 1
Chi, the creative brains behind Dinky Mix, which makes and sells beautiful artwork prints aimed at children with the aim of celebrating their varied cultural heritages, is of Nigerian Heritage. Growing up in Manchester in the 1980s, she had to cope with the challenges of an environment that does not celebrate or encourage cultural and racial diversity in the same way it does today.
I greatly admire Chi’s resilience, in using these very tough challenges as a catalyst to becoming the confident person she is today. Her creative and colourful business, Dinky Mix is truly a testament to that. In this second part of the article series that details the recent conversation I had with her, she tells me more about the beautiful ways she grew and developed in spite of, and indeed, because of the intolerance she faced in the environment she was living in.
‘From a child’s point of view’, Chi explains, ‘life was hard. Everything about me was different to the people around me. I would be called names about my hair texture, my skin colour, and everything, so trying to navigate that, and fit in, I lost a lot of self value’.
I would encourage our readers to have a look at Chi’s blog on her website, where she describes in more detail, in a very eloquent way, what that felt like. In the blog, she also discusses her experience and the journey it took to rediscover her identity, and becoming proud of who she truly is.
“It was difficult”, she admits, “but I wouldn’t change any of it, because it made me a tough cookie. In the neighbourhood we lived in, there were two black families, and I became really good friends with the daughters when I was about five. We are still the best of friends now, and we still make time to see each other. It is due to the fact that we grew up in the same tough situations together, that we are still as close as we are today, and we are in the positions we are in now.
When I grew up and was doing my degree in fashion design, I would always depict my models as caucasian women with blonde hair. That was how I had been conditioned to perceive conventional beauty. Once, my teacher asked me why I always draw white women. This made me think more deeply about the reasons for this, and I talked to her about it.
She told me that I have absolutely no reason to devalue other kinds of beauty, and to to have such a narrow definition of what is beautiful. She told me that there is beauty in all races and all colours, and all kinds of hair, and all skin tones, and all cultures, and that I should allow myself to be comfortable drawing people that look like me, and what represents me
It was as a result of this amazing teacher that Chi started doing just that, and enjoying the creative process of breaking out of the mould of what mainstream society sets up as the norm for beauty. That was the significant moment where things shifted for Chi.
I asked her what she loves most about her Nigerian cultural heritage.
“Everything!”, she laughed. “I guess the Nigerian culture is so vibrant, and the resilience definitely comes from that. Anyone who has gone through difficulties, whether they are rich or poor, they will still cling to their joy in life. I love the music, the colour, the patterns, the language, and how they do humour - there is a lot of humour. And then there is the British side of me. I love the same things, and it is so diverse, and I love how it comes together in me, and how I express it. It’s CHI CULTURE!”.
Chi has, and continues to, pass on her pride in her background on to her own children. She commented on the fact that they have what she didn’t have access to at their age. When she was growing up, she had nobody to share that joy with other than her parents and immediate family. It was an awful feeling to me made to feel ashamed of being Nigerian, so she is overjoyed to see her children’s genuine pride in it. When anyone asks her kids where they are from, they say without hesitation, “oh, I’m Nigerian!”.
They love it, and there is no negativity associated with it. This is such an important thing to Chi and her family, and the fact that that positivity has been there from day one for them. The fact that Chi’s kids have had a better experience than she did, is as a direct result of her staying strong and sticking out the hard times, and choosing growth instead of bitterness.
Chi gives a lot of credit to her own parents overcoming their own challenges. Things were a lot harder for her parents when they first arrived in the UK from Nigeria before Chi was born. “My parents arrived over here in the 1970s, and the stories they tell are absolutely horrific, of the lack of welcome and the hate they experienced. Bad though my experience was, it was not as bad as theirs. That is because they stuck it out and stayed strong through the challenges. And I did the same thing, so it would be even better for my children. It is my parents that really put in the hard graft.
WOW. Just wow. I love hearing stories like this of how different generations can work together to build up a huge picture of progressive improvement. So much of the freedom and harmony we experience today, that we normally take for granted, the people who went before us, our parents and grandparents, put in the hard graft. And the Chi’s of this world are putting in the hard graft to make things even better for the next generation. It is important to zoom out sometimes and appreciate the bigger picture and the bigger story we are all part of, and that our part, though it feels mundane and tough at times, REALLY COUNTS, both for now, and for the future, not just for ourselves, but the people around us, and the people that will come after us.
Coming back to Dinky Mix, I wanted to learn more about the process it took to start it up.
I was surprised to hear how new it actually is. The original concept came about in 2016, it was launched in 2017. For 2 years, a lot of work has gone into bringing the business to life, and getting it to the point it is at now, where Chi is starting to think about scaling up. The start of the business overlapped with Chi finishing her Masters degree