Meet Erika Rene, the proud owner of Rene & Clay. The company makes handmade polymer clay jewelry and homewares. Rene & Clay is a place where your inner child can have a lot of fun. We make art for the creative inner child within us.
Additionally, she recently graduated from Bowie State University in May 2021 with a B.S. in Psychology, and she is a lover of all things arts & crafts, movies, and Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter! She is super passionate about mental health and the arts, creating provides a safe place for her to exist without judgment. She hopes her art can start conversations about the artists within us – our stories matter!
How did you get started in your industry?
Funny enough, I saw a TikTok on polymer clay jewelry back in September 2020. I was so intrigued with the medium that I went to JoAnn’s and bought $124 worth of items (I wouldn’t suggest doing that starting out, lol). From there, I was hooked, and Rene & Clay came to life on April 16, 2021!
Growing up, did you imagine being an entrepreneur?
Absolutely not! When I was a kid, I wanted to do arts & crafts all day. I had no idea what entrepreneurship was until I was a teenager. Growing up, I didn’t think it was possible to have a business as a young, Black queer person. You didn’t see much representation in business, let alone the arts for people who look like me.
In the beginning stages of developing your brand/business, what was your biggest struggle and how did you overcome it?
My biggest struggle was finding my voice in my artwork. I felt like I had to copy everyone else’s business but soon realized that wasn’t going to work. I had (and still have) many moments of doubts about defining myself as an artist. Finally, I started to tell more of my story and bring people to my art through my truth. I told myself, “There is no limit to your creativity. Your hands create beautiful pieces from the beautiful voice that you have.” Although my business is only three months old, I’m still learning new things about it every day. I have SOOOOOOO much to learn!
Do you feel like you are pursuing purpose? If so, how did you know this was your purpose?
Most definitely! I realized there are not a lot of fat, dark-skin, Black, queer women running businesses in the art field. Dealing with my own complex mental health conditions, I want to show people you can look like me and still be successful. Just because you check boxes in society doesn’t mean you have to stay in them.
The purpose of Rene & Clay is to provide free mental health services (food, housing, jobs, therapy, etc.) to BlPOC queer and trans individuals. I make art for the creative inner child within us. I want folks to know that there are no limits once you step outside of the “norm.”
What’s the best part of Rene & Clay? What keeps you motivated to keep going?
The best part of being on this journey is connecting with so many beautiful souls who love the arts. It is incredible being able to make unique, abstract pieces for people to wear. It warms my heart that I get to wake up and create art for people who I know will genuinely appreciate it.
As an entrepreneur myself, I understand sometimes personal life can get in the way of business. Have you encountered any personal hurdles that could have or did result in a business pivot?
OMG YES! July 2020, I found out I had a complex eating disorder that was taking up most of my life. Working through an eating disorder and the passing of my father was surreal. I told myself “You need a release and process your grief.”
People don’t realize grief can truly change a person. I like to say grief was the starting point of my business. I was grieving the person I thought I should be with an ED while mourning my father’s passing. But, weirdly, grief saved my life because it taught me there is more life on the other side of heartbreak.
My business was on pause because I didn’t know what to create from that place. Then, after talking to a friend, I realized I could make art based on my grief. My grief is complex and weird, but so is my art. I wouldn’t change it for the world. So Rene & Clay was the best way I could respond to that grief (oh, and a crap ton of therapy!)
During these times, we’ve all had to adjust. How has the adjustment been for you and your brand?
Our most significant adjustment has been working through the national clay shortage! A lot of people (like myself) picked up on polymer clay during the height of the pandemic. Now there is a national clay shortage everywhere.
In business, you learn to roll with the punches so we are in the works of transitioning into homewares and prints, in addition to polymer clay earrings.
What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to a young woman starting her career?
- Be Patient (with yourself and the process. Running a business is hard work, and you will never know everything! Be willing to go with the flow 🙂
- Always Remain Teachable (Your ego and pride will destroy your business if you allow it.)
- Build a Genuine Community (Support other businesses and make friends and ask a ton of questions.)
- Have Gratitude! (Be grateful for each step of the process.)
- Have Fun! (While yes, this is hard work, don’t forget why you started. There is an art to starting a business for yourself. You are allowed to express and have joy!)
- REST! (Know when to take breaks and reassess. Your mind, body, and spirit are not machines. Be gentle with yourself before your body makes you rest.)
Lastly, what keeps you struttin?
My younger self keeps me going! I am the person I needed/wanted to be growing up. I fulfilled my childhood dreams of becoming an artist.
Connect with Erika Rene & Rene and Clay
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Logo banner image credit from the Rene & Clay website.