There has been a renewal of African American entrepreneurs and artisans in the past few years, and a majority of them have been female. With the accessibility of goods via the Internet and the downturn in the economy, grassroots businesses have been sprouting up everywhere on the web. While merely a creative hustle for some, this opportunity is also a major avenue to display self-expression and affirmation for women of color. Local sellers like Rachel Stewart are taking advantage of the chance to fuse creativity with true narratives of Black women.
What sets this accessory designer apart from a nest of other Etsy chicks is her love for the most classic medium: paint and brush. She is an artist in the classic sense, and has shared space with an array of exceptional artists at Antfarm Studios in Raleigh, NC. Stewart brings her eye for large-scale graphic displays down to wearable sizes for the chic and fashion-forward woman of style.
The Southern belle sat down with Clutch to discuss her art, accessories, and the importance of the new movement.
Clutch: When did you begin painting on canvas? Was it an extension of your already apparent artistic nature?
Rachel: I started painting on canvas about three years ago. Before that, it was any object I could find: glass, wood, fabric, metal… anything I could get my hands on. Canvas was a luxury I couldn’t afford… I wouldn’t call it an extension, because I still prefer using discarded items. It was really a matter of practicality that I started using canvas.
Clutch: You’re a North Carolina-based artist; what’s the art scene like in your area?
Rachel: It’s definitely a mixed bag—but just like any other city, black artists are severely underrepresented, there just aren’t enough [of us]. Raleigh has a lot of art, though. It’s filled with great galleries and museums. On the other hand, there are a lot of pretentious, rich gallery owners and artists who make it hard for anyone to penetrate that circle. I kinda dropped out of that scene a few years ago; I have no desire to be a token black artist.
Clutch: How did your environment contribute to your expression?
Rachel: I am a very resourceful person. The best work I have produced happened in times of my life when I was limited most. Necessity made me creative.
Clutch: What inspired you to begin funneling your art into wearable pieces of jewelry?
Rachel: Necessity. I needed another creative outlet. I paint large-scale, so some of my paintings are 5- and 6 feet tall. It takes a good amount of planning to get a canvas that size made and a ton of effort to move it around. I needed something smaller to do, something I could work on every day.
Clutch: There is a growing trend of home-based African American female artisans making their own wares and selling them online. With all the competition, how do you set yourself apart as an artist?
Rachel: I see more and more women taking advantage of online opportunities, and I think it is wonderful to be able to start your own business without the traditional obstacles that used to face many small business owners, especially minority women. Personally, I don’t set myself apart as an artist. It’s very important to me have a collective spirit.
Clutch: What kind of woman wears Rachel Stewart custom pieces?
Rachel: My consumer is not a wallflower. She does not want to wear what everyone else is wearing and she is not afraid to be noticed. She isn’t a slave to labels- she can wear an outfit from a thrift store and look like she spent a grip.