This month, we will be kickstarting our first monthly feature—Girl Power Sunday! Through this feature, we hope to showcase women's diversity, strength, and resilience and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. Whether they're trailblazers in their fields, activists fighting for justice, or everyday heroes making a difference in their communities, our Girl Power Sunday profiles will showcase the many ways in which women are changing the world.
Our first Girl Power is Shalini, the brains and hands behind Cocoa Collections. Read on to explore the heart of this young and budding entrepreneur!
1. Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got started as a small business owner?
🍄 Hey, I'm Shalini! I'm turning 21 this year and am a full-time advertising degree student. I love to explore different creative outlets and make the most out of them!
🍄 How I started: From a young age, I've always wanted to start something of my own, mainly because my dad is a businessman. Like everyone else, I started from scratch. I remember being a part-time barista at 18 to save up a little cash so that I could start something with that money. I've always been a fan of jewellery and used to get mine from Lovisa, but I noticed that they always turn black after a week or I would have an allergic reaction😭 Soon, I discovered that I could actually make my own jewellery (through YouTube, of course hehe). I slowly started researching the type of materials I wanted to go for and materials that would last for a long time, as well as being hypoallergenic!! I managed to find a good supplier (purchasing from the same one to this day!!) And so, on 19th Dec 2020, I launched my first three jewellery pieces!! They were minimalist gold necklaces. Throughout my small business journey, I had to learn about shipping, packaging, sustainability, communication, and so much more on my own. As I go, I always try to figure out ways to improve my handmade pieces (quality-wise) while maintaining my jewellery style: minimalistic, daily-wear, soft colours and fun pieces!!
2. How do you stay motivated and come up with fresh ideas for your business?
🍄 My customer's review/text/feedback motivates me Each time my small business gets tagged or receives a review, it motivates me to keep doing what I love. Coming up with fresh ideas is a reallyyyy long process for me. I may have a design all drawn out on my iPad or even made while experimenting sometimes, but I'd take some time to come up with the theme of the collection or what kind of style I'm going for. Most of the time, I make jewellery pieces that I personally would love to wear! In a way, it feels like my customers get to enjoy a piece of myself/my taste in jewellery. Sometimes, I get ideas when I'm doing absolutely nothing, while I'm showering and through other creators too!
3. Can you share with us some of your favourite collaborations or partnerships you've done as a business owner?
🍄 Some of my favs would be Sundays Fit, Naluri Hani and Blank Florist! I've launched 3 different collections for all 3 collaborations.
4. What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing small business owners today, and how do you overcome them?
🍄 Challenges: The first one would be maintaining originality and being distinct from other brands. Second, pricing our products well (includes pay for labour, time and materials used). Sometimes customers may find our products expensive, but it all comes down to the quality we're providing them with. Third, brand awareness and time😭😭 This is something I struggled with a lot! Since I'm still a student, it's hard for me to find the time to build my brand and make it grow bigger rapidly. Lastly, having enough funds for a new launch!!!
🍄 How I overcome them: I usually get inspiration for my next launch from Pinterest, or I depend on my feelings during that time. Whether I'm into pearls, beads, gold or silver? Then I start picking the materials and drawing out my designs. I maintain the originality of my designs by adding a touch of my personal taste to them. Second, I always practice giving myself some credit. As much as I want to sell more at a low price, I learned that I'm just not appreciating or seeing the true value of my work by doing that. Third, I make time for it during my semester break (having popups) or whenever I'm at my lowest point in life. That's how I usually get back up :) Lastly, funds are a huge struggle, but I always try not to overspend on new launches. Creating a budget really helps, and sometimes you can even have a successful launch with a small amount of money! It's possible!
5. How do you engage with your customers and build a loyal community around your brand?
🍄 I create interactive IG stories (questions, polls, review collecting) or posts to engage with customers. This way, it gives them a chance to share their experience so far with my brand, and I get to make improvements too. I build a loyal community through the quality of my pieces. I still have customers from day one up until now who buy my pieces🥺
6. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out as a small business owner?
🍄 Just go for it! It's scary at first when you start out because you don't know what to expect from it, but eventually, you'd be so glad that you started it anyway. It's definitely a fun journey!
7. What are your future goals and aspirations as a business owner?
🍄 I've been dreaming of hosting a jewellery workshop or making an at-home jewellery kit where my customers get to make their own Cocoa pieces from the comfort of their homes! I also hope to have the chance to collaborate with bigger but small business brands someday. Lastly is definitely my very own studio to shoot for content and to store my materials and tools.
8. What is something about yourself that your customers might not know but that you would like to share with them?
🍄 I love film photography! Apart from jewellery, I enjoy taking film photos of the precious memories I've experienced. Sometimes when I'm bored, I'd turn my film photos into a movie poster, haha! If you haven't noticed, I've incorporated a few film photos on my business account (for content).
9. If you could only use one symbol or image in all of your brandings for the rest of your career, which one would it be and why?
🍄 Oh, it's definitely this one!!! This was kind of a mini rebranding logo that I made. It's a simple circular logo of my brand name, and instead of dots, I replaced it with drawn-out mini flowers. My logo/symbol explains my whole brand, which is "black+white = classy" and the touch of flowers relates to fun, femininity, and softness.
10. Was there a point where you almost gave up but didn't – what kept you going?
🍄 Yeap! At that time, what kept me going was the support I got from my close friends and customers. Eventually, I figured that I didn't want to just stop and give up on this tiny dream of mine. It made me who I am today, and I love how I'm constantly learning new things.
11. What would you have done differently if you could go back and do it again?
🍄 I used to think about it all the time, hahaha! But yesss, there is one thing. It's my brand name, "Cocoa Collections". At one point, I was constantly thinking of rebranding or changing it into something that relates more to me because my friends and I just suddenly came up with this name, hahaha! As the days went on, I just learned how to accept it wholeheartedly. A good friend of mine once said, "You keep finding a reason for the name, or like a meaning for the name, but it doesn't have to mean anything. Whatever you do, your business should define it. So when someone says Cocoa Collections, they immediately think of your jewellery". I think this is something every business owner should keep in mind :)
12. What is your favourite TV series and movie?
🍄 Some of my fav shows are The Office, Modern Family and Stranger Things! My favourite movies are Call Me By Your Name (I love Italian culture🥺) and Her (2013).
13. What is the best quote that you live by?
🍄 "Good things take time". I have lived by this quote ever since I was young. It taught me how to be patient during downfalls and always see the good in any journey, no matter how tough it may be. In the end, our efforts will somehow pay off.