Huddled in her parents’ basement, between the cribs of her crying twin babies, Keliah Smith began to draw.
She was unemployed and feeling emotionally drained. The relationship with her children’s father had soured. Her escape: the stylus and smartphone in her hands.
“Images of women — women who are wearing crowns, women who have arrived and are on top of their game. They are the queens of whatever they do,” Smith said. “In the moment, when I was creating my art, I didn’t feel beautiful. I was making images of positivity and calmness, but I felt chaotic.”
Moving back in with her parents was a necessity she’d never envisioned, she said. Weight gained during her pregnancy only added to her depression, Smith said. She wasn’t satisfied with her life.
So she drew.
“I had to say to myself, ‘You’ve got to get out of this. Get up. Get on your feet. You have two beautiful children and the world at your fingertips,” Smith said. “Use your creativity and get through this.'”
She found herself spending hours getting the designs just right on the ArtRage app. The result: a line of colorful, vibrant totes, coffee mugs and stationery products that helped pull Smith out of her slump.
“I look back at them now and I see myself where I am today,” she said. “I feel like I have a crown on my head, too.”
Crafting her dream business
Two years after its conception, Smith’s Ouriginally Crowned brand remains a work in progress, she said.
“While I was unemployed, any little dime I could scrape together went toward building this,” Smith said. “I had to learn to let some things go to keep it alive.”
T-shirts featuring her designs, for example, initially were a central part of her vision, she said, but problems with fit and limited vendor options for the full-sublimation designs caused her to pull back to focus more on niche products.
“People would tell me, ‘Oh, I love the design!’ But it wouldn’t fit right and they’d say, ‘Well, I was planning to lose weight this year anyway, so I’ll wear it then!’ No. That’s not right,” Smith said. “I’m not out here to just take your money. I want people to get a product they can use the instant they receive it.”
She’d much rather develop her line of stationery — greeting cards, notebooks and calendars — than waste energy and focus, she said. However, even something as simple as a Mothers Day card isn’t without its challenges, Smith added.
Designs for the May holiday proved popular this past spring, but the handcut, handwritten cards weren’t scalable enough to be truly successful, she said.
“Handcrafting cards is very tedious and time consuming — and can get very expensive. I was putting money into it that I really didn’t have,” Smith said.
For Christmas, she released a series of greeting cards using digital designs only. They’re available for purchase online through Dec. 18, greatly reducing her workload.
“They always say, ‘Don’t recreate the wheel. Simplify the wheel.’ I’m not trying to overwork myself and I don’t want to take two, three or four hours to make a card,” she said.
Keeping the crown
Like the holiday cards, such Ouriginally Crowned items as tote bags, cosmetic pouches, compact mirrors and mugs are made and shipped to order, Smith said.
That’s not an ideal process, she admitted, but her goal is to eventually keep enough inventory in stock to satisfy same-day, in-person orders. She also hopes to add more houseware items to highlight her interior design background, she said.
“It’s been a slow two years because I haven’t really had the resources I needed to get it up and running,” Smith said, noting she recently got a new job and is leveraging her new income to keep the brand growing. “Now that I am able to finance this dream of mine, the next steps are doing things like purchasing my own printer so I can produce the cards myself — anywhere I can cut costs and take out the middleman, that’s where I want to go.”
Her emotional entrepreneurial journey so far has been bumpy, she said, full of highs, lows, and lessons learned along the way. But with the support of her parents, her children’s father, and God, Smith said, she won’t let fear or doubt undo the success she’s already drawn for herself.
“In an art piece, you give a woman a crown and it’s there,” she said. “In real life, that crown isn’t always going to stay. Life is going to throw you curveballs. That crown is going to tilt. It’s going to tarnish. It might even fall. At the end of the day, you have to polish it up, dust it off, center it and just keep going.”