I’m excited that Sheila Patel has agreed to participate in our Q+A series and share with us the early stages of her entrepreneurial journey.
I’ve known Sheila since her corporate days at Bath & Body Works where she successfully launched thousands of beauty products.
But it wasn’t until after she struck out on her own in 2017 to launch Graffiti Collective, that we started hanging out more to talk shop about the start-up experience. Her skincare brand is unique in that it is strongly inspired by urban culture, both art and music.
Read on below for Sheila’s Q+A:
What inspired you to launch Graffiti Collective?
- Since 1989, the year I heard my first hip hop song at a school dance in Palatine, IL, I have loved hip hop and all that comes with it…the rhymes, the art, the style…the experience that comes with this art form.
- When I moved to NY in 2005, it was like I finally found my home. I was exposed to people, ideas, the roots of hip hop and most eye opening for me…the very bold, public art scene.
- NY is also the place I started my career in the beauty industry. After 15 years in the biz launching brands from skincare to fragrance, I just felt it was time for me to channel my experience creating products into something new, different and rooted in the raw ideals I have come to love. So, in 2017, I concepted Graffiti Collective…a skincare brand for the people, a community, a platform for artists and hopefully something that will go beyond skin deep.
What has been the biggest surprise in starting your business?
- Being only a few months old, everyday is a surprise, no doubt. But one that sticks out is the number of highs and lows we go through..sometimes in the same day – it’s an emotional roller coaster!
- I’ve launched so many brands before, that I didn’t expect it be such an emotional journey. So far, we have had great momentum and the highs have outweighed the lows which is good. But sometimes, it’s those low moments that teach you the most and get you to the next high. So as surprising as the emotional ups and downs have been, they are necessary to keep moving forward.
What’s been the biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
- As crazy as it sounds, when I went to create an e-commerce driven beauty brand… I didn’t know anything about how to create an e-commerce driven beauty brand! By that, I mean, I didn’t know how to code a website or all that was involved to create an e-commerce site.
- But, if I wanted to succeed, I just had to figure it out. And like most things I have a passion for, I went into the vortex. I studied website after website, trying to understand user experience and develop a point of view on how I wanted people to engage with my brand. I learned how to do basic html and created a test website just so I could speak the language with developers without sounding like an idiot. I designed my initial site in Powerpoint (cringe)…and while the crux of some that work remains…ultimately, I brought on people that could translate what I had started into something more than I ever could have imagined or done myself.
What skills have been most important?
- “Never lose sight of the core” – It’s funny…a start up is a like a baby for me. It takes a village to help it grow. But the most important skill I have needed is to hold true to the core vision of the brand.
- My village includes some very talented and incredibly smart, passionate people. Without them, the brand couldn’t have evolved, in such a short time, to what it is now. We only launched a few months ago, so the advice and thought provoking input will keep coming my way and it will be critical that I keep flexing this skill of allowing the brand to organically grow and change without losing it’s core along the way.
What takes up too much of your time?
- EVERYTHING! Every step takes longer than I expect (or want) it to.
What do you wish you knew more about?
- Art. Funny enough. I am a humble student in this world… always learning with each exhibit I see, wall I walk by or artist I meet.
What’s your favorite spot to check out street art?
- The Lower East Side in NYC is a place I go to get lost and wander. But over the past 2 years, I have found myself taking the train to Bushwick, Brooklyn a lot… it’s real and always inspiring.
What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?
- Fashion Designer. I used to sketch all the time and took sewing classes too!
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
- Take the chip off your shoulder – listen, experience and learn. Expose yourself to the people, talents, world around you…to the hustlers in your community… they will inspire you more than you will ever know.
Three people alive or dead that you would like to have dinner with?
Only 3? Omg.
- Tribe Called Quest (cheating I know…)
- Michelle Obama
- My great grandfather.
What’s one thing about you that surprises people?
- My age. I take it as a blessing each time 🙂 thank you mom 🙂
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
- Give 110% in everything you do. My dad gave me that advice as a kid and it stays with me still.
What could you give a 20-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
- The evolution of hip hop. I pretty much give this presentation to my team all the time – even when they don’t ask for it!
If you had to choose only 3 adjectives to describe yourself, which would you choose?
- Loyal, Passionate, Nonstop
What does success mean to you?
- Success is pursuing something you love and one day feeling like it made an impact in some way.
Graffiti Collective is available online and at select retailers:
- Online from Graffiti Collective website
- https://www.bigelowchemists.com (ships internationally)
- CO Bigelow Apothecary (West Village NY)
- 3rd Ethos Gallery (Brooklyn, NY)
- Canvas Dallas (hip new hotel in Dallas, TX)
Thank you Sheila!!