Anitra Terrell of Reflektion Design is no stanger to the mantra, “You can’t fight destiny.” Desk job after desk job left her feeling uninspired. So uninspired, in fact, that she kept finding herself out of a job. During her time off, she reflected on what her ideal, new business venture would entail and recalled an impactful trip to Ghana, West Africa. She was there as a Fulbright Scholar studying marketing, but found the vibrant markets so magnetic she couldn’t keep herself away. This led to Anitra exploring the gorgeous local textiles and connecting with the community that would eventually serve as the pillars for Reflektion Design.
Her Los-Angeles-based brand serves up pillows, curtains, and bedding in African Dutch Fabrics that are globally sourced. As you’ll see below, it took time to find the right market of “culturally inspired people who love unique, colorful pieces” that would embrace her collection of worldly goods. The collection, while inspiring in and of itself, pales in comparison to how moving Anitra’s triumphs are as an artist. What I admire most about her is how willingly she honors and accepts the mistakes that made her company stronger. Plus, I can’t get over how stunning her work is! I’ve got my eye on this pretty, mustard table runner, and I am sure you’ll be eager to take some of her pieces home yourself. —Garrett
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?
I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit (started my first business making and selling pillows at age 13), but was equally interested in more traditional career paths. After years of nice but unfulfilling jobs, I did some soul-searching and decided to create a business that would allow me to share my love of home decor, culture and design influenced by my travels abroad. In a way, my hand was forced, because in a two-year time span I was laid-off from two different jobs. I took it as a sign that it was time to forge my own path.
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was and how you knew it was what you wanted to do?
I have several family members who are artists (my mother taught me how to sew) so the desire to create was always there. But it wasn’t until 2006 when I traveled to Ghana, West Africa [that] I [was] fully immersed in the color, culture and historical significance of African textiles. I was there as a Fulbright Scholar studying non-profit marketing, but I spent most of my free time in the marketplaces taking in the sights, sounds and artisan wares. It’s where I felt most connected to the community. So when it was time to decide on a business concept, it was an easy fit.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Two things — first, focus. You may want to design many different things (I still have to remind myself of this), but it’s better (and less stressful) to focus on one thing that you really love, become great at it, known for it, then expand. Second, do not waste time comparing yourself to other companies in your industry. The grass is not always greener on the other side and the thing that makes you special is more fun to discover/build on.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
I started my business after being laid-off, so it was tough in the beginning. I spent the first nine months or so doing research to better understand my industry, but I ended up going back to work to make ends meet. Six months into that position I was laid-off again, so at that point I decided if I was going to be an entrepreneur, do it and don’t look back.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Structure your business in a way that enables you to live a happy, fulfilled life, whatever that looks like for you. To do so you may have to raise your prices, hire help, put systems in place that streamline administrative tasks, etc. Then, be okay with those decisions.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
I wouldn’t call it failure — rather a newbie mistake. When I first started my business I participated in several craft fairs that were unsuccessful. I quickly learned to visit the event before participating to determine if it’s a fit for my brand, and my customer [base] is not necessarily at the craft fair, and that’s okay.
Again, it goes back to creating a business that supports the life you want to live. For me that meant determining how I wanted to spend my time and energy. I now focus on building wholesale partnerships, growing my online retail sales and connecting with customers via social media and my email newsletter. I still keep a toe in the maker-event world, but I am more selective.
If you were magically given 3 more hours per day, what would you do with them?
That’s a tough question. The workaholic in me says get more work done, but that’s not fun, so I’d say I would take dance classes — Hip Hop, African dance, something rhythmic and aerobic.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Not being able to travel home to Philadelphia and see my family as often as I would like.
Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?
The official company launch in 2014 was exciting. The outpouring of friends and family that came out that weekend to shop and support was overwhelming. When you are an entrepreneur you often feel alone on an island. Knowing there are people who love and celebrate what you’re doing means the world.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.
I can’t think of anything specific outside of craft fairs. I have such a love/hate relationship with them, haha. But it’s led me to great collaborative opportunities with other designers.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. What is your why? Why do you want to own a business and why that particular business? Dig deep and get to the root cause, because that will be your North Star when the money gets low, your family doesn’t get it, and your client is over 90 days late paying you. Your why is also a good litmus test when making business decisions.
2. Do you have a tribe? Likeminded individuals to hold you accountable, support you, inspire you and challenge you. Friends, family or colleagues to bounce ideas off of or a shoulder to lean on.
3. Do you have a clear understanding of your finances? How much money you will need to start and successfully run your business down to the per-unit or per-client level.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
Coffee, Instagram, then I review my things-to-do list for the day.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
Turning it off. It can be tough to get out of business mode and enjoy your life. Letting go is big, too; you can’t do everything, nor should you.