We had the good fortune of connecting with Renei Sims and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Renei, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
Whew..long story. I got started in 2016 out of necessity! I have 2 girls, ages 10 and 12. My youngest daughter is Asthmatic. She had just turned 2 when she had her first bout with it and it landed us in ICU at Dell for 5 days over Halloween. After that, she was constantly sick with pneumonia, bronchial and or respiratory infections, etc. Eventually, I lost my job. I had to be there with her so, I just sucked it up. In that transition, I almost lost everything. After about a year and no sickness, I decided to go back to work, she got sick…for a week. I tried 3 more (separate) times. She had severe sickness every time. Time passed. I decided in May 2015 to go back to work. I was there for 1 week and 1 day; I was cautiously optimistic. The next day my father, unexpectedly, passed away. I was gone so long they asked me to resign. I came back from San Antonio and had 2 more deaths. I was so depressed. My money covered all our bills with no extras… no flat tires, no trips, nothing . . But I still need to make more money. I was online all day. I kept looking at Pinterest…..it’s so easy to get sucked into 🙂 I saw all these things about making earrings. I said to myself…I can do that! I talked on the phone to a friend of mine that night….and told her. She was like you should try…and so I did. I went and bought stuff. All metal and beads… I had no idea what I was doing. I started cutting, bending, and hammering. I was so lost in time. By the end of the night I’d made 15 pairs of earrings. I shared it on FB and everyone loved them Over the past 4/5 years, my reasoning for why I continue has changed. But I decided early on in the making process, that what makes me different is that I like to be different and that means the majority of my items have to be too.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I do leatherwork, metalsmithing, and textile manipulation. Some of the items I make are jewelry, tote bags, purses, shoes/slippers, and household items like pillows, frames, wall holders, etc. I use upcycled and new leather, wood, metal, and textiles all to create many one-of-a-kind pieces. I don’t like to do too many trendy things, many other makers have that covered. If I take on a trendy item, I have to make it my own. There are some things that are easily duplicable but, that’s not what my purpose is. My goal is to make you the “WOW” that walks in the room. What does that mean? No person wants to look like the person standing next to them…not accidentally. My goal in my jewelry/Accessories is creating individuality. I find it interesting how many people want to be an individual yet always be part of the crowd. It takes a strong person to stand up and be an “I”. I’m excited to be able to help some folx start this journeyt. I know it seems like jewelry is not where that happens but, jewelry is a very personal choice. What you adorn your body and home with tells more about you than some may believe. Let’s take purchasing custom-painted- upcycled leather earrings for example. This is stepping outside the box. We’re not just talking about some different color hoops…I’m talking 9″ long leather earrings. That is a BOSS move. You may be the only one in your group that has them. If this is the case, will you rock them alone? Some people can’t purchase things without crowd approval. That also means they may not wear them if they don’t have another body nearby to corroborate their coolness. None of it was easy but, realistically, it was simple. I had to put in the work to make it happen. There was a definite effort made on my part to build this business and develop it to where it is today. The simplicity; I’ve always had a thicker body. When I was younger being larger meant that my choices in clothes fell between my mom and grandmothers’ wardrobe. Yeah.. I wanted nothing to do with that. I got a job at 15 and that’s when I learned to accessorize and thrift shop. I was okay not looking just like everyone else.. and I was definitely not ok looking like my parents- grand or otherwise. not unless I wanted to. So, in regards to building this business, I’m not done. I’m at a point where I need help. lot’s of help. If I learned nothing else from 2020 I learned to ask for help. No one can do it alone. Networking – building business relationships. Long hours making items. Art show weekends spent without seeing/spending much time with my girls. To overcome these challenges, I started taking my daughters to art shows with me. The saying goes “money does not grow on trees”. That’s true but so is showing them that they have it within them to make it too. This business was started from monetary need and has now grown into a brand for power and change. I started to recognize how my customers showed up. They may not be great at writing reviews but, they are definitely great at bringing people to me. They are all beautiful, flawed, dynamic, vulnerable, smart, capable, and loving humans, I watched as they walked away and were instantly bombarded with compliments. I’ve received emails and texts stating the same. But what I also noticed was the empowerment that now seemed to radiate from them. I wanted more of THAT…for them and me. My daughters have been watching me build this business for 5 years. They’ve seen the ups and downs. They’ve helped and harassed :-). But, through it all, I do it so they know they can do it too. I believe in the power of intention, work, and manifestation. My art is mostly self-taught. So, when I am at a market, asking for my items to be carried in a store, talking to a person on the street about what I have on; I repeat the words told to me by a friend… if it does not make you feel like a million bucks when you wear it, don’t. Don’t buy it from me. Don’t wear it..don’t sell it..just don’t. I won’t be hurt and you won’t have to second guess yourself. We don’t say it enough but let your NO have power and don’t feel bad. This is my deal… I’m not here to sell. I’m here to change beliefs. My items come with energy. If you’re not sure you want the earrings (or whatever item), will you be able to handle the attention you’ll receive when you wear them?
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.
Well… i’m Austin my trip would definitely START here (preferably in the early summer). Texas weather…changes all the time. My friends and I are not really”fancy” people. I would ask that they take the earliest flight to Austin as to not miss out on any of the happenings of the day! After dropping off their belongings and enjoying coffee at my house in East Austin, we would be off. My goal would be as much local business love as I can give. We would start the day at Bird Bird Biscuit for my favorite, the Queen Beak, and some Dough Doughs We would make our way downtown to do some of the normal touristy things; viewing the Capitol, getting snacks at Voodoo Donuts, Walking down South Congress looking at all the cool, quirky shops, Grabbing some pizza and beer at Home Slice and keep on stepping. In the evening, after resting for a bit, we’d continue on this journey down to 5th-7th Streets. Local bars, definitely stopping at Sassy’s Vegetarian Soul Food for a dinner of cabbage, sweet potatoes, and a Poke-Chop Sammich!! Day 2, J. Leonardi’s BBQ, Tony’s Jamaican Food and more. Visiting all the amazing East Austin local shops (including my own), Visiting the Carver Museum and Library as well as taking in a tour Of Huston-Tillotson campus and other historical destinations from an African American perspective. We’d eventually make our way down to the coast. for some Zen time. There may be some dress-up days and spa time too but, mostly we’d just relax and live freely. We’d then head to back to Austin to prepare for them to leave.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Wow!! I’m not even sure how to summarize this… nothing I write can express the gratitude I have or the love bestowed upon me by everyone. There are so many people. I guess, to start…my SHOUTOUTS…. .my great friend Ursurla. She is a ROCK in my world. She is my “sister” friend. She “talks me off the edge”. She is the one who suggested I go for this; the reason I started “making” to begin with. She is my psychologist, emotional mentor, peer-pressurer, babysitter, confidant, and angel. Then, there is Periwinkle…yes, that is her given name. Very much like Ursurla, but we connect on a more emotional path. She would sit beside me on the ledge.She is such a Light of a person. She is always there cheering me on.. “you can do the extra – whatever…”.. or “just do it and it will be done” friend. I call her my “unofficial” Official business manager. She helps me keep stuff in “bite-size” portions. Sunny.. just everything.. so much of everything to me. She would make me get off the edge. She reminds me why I do what I do. Yaminah — one of my oldest friends, she would ask if I really want to be on the edge..then push me off – then catch me. followed by.. “I gave you what you asked for”. And Carmen, she would tell me why I’m on the edge, why I need to get off, and then help me off. I met her when I first started buying leather and she has been here every step of the way too. business advice, growth plans, etc. just amazing. I have a pretty strong and supportive “tribe”. Being a single mom to 2 tween-agers, you have to. But, there are so many people that help in so many ways I cannot list them all nor am I able to fully articulate how they assisted me in keeping my world from falling apart On Dec 31, 2019, I left my job in Property Management. I decided to go back to MY BUSINESS full time. We all know what happened next. 2020 came along and forced everyone to re-evaluate…well.. everything. My sales went to zero. And, like so many others, I did not know what to do. My friends showed up for me. New ones and old ones. Patricia, Julia, My niece Danielle, Ursurla, Periwinkle, Andrea, Shani, and many others contributed with extra purchases or gifts/donations of money or time. Even my ex-husband Fredrick and even my ex-boyfriend J deserve some credit. I was lucky/Prepared. Because I worked and mentored with the public as an artist, that allowed me the opportunity to win grants. So, SHOUT OUT TO Six Square, Austin Creative Worker Relief, Austin Creative Alliance, and Big Medium. Because of the generosity of my friends and these businesses, I was able to at the very least, move laterally.
Youtube: The Afro Gypsy TX
Photographer: Renei Sims