Part 1: Artist Entrepreneur
This conversation is the first of a two part series with the Fort Worth-based artist.
Sparkyard recently sat down (virtually) with one of Fort Worth’s most interesting and talented young artists, “CHoKe” (Creating Her Own Kinetic Energy), whose artwork spans Fort Worth and the globe. CHoKe has been an artist her whole life, and from an early age growing up in the Washington D.C. area, she knew art was her true calling. As with many artists, CHoKe blurred the lines of art and entrepreneurship, constantly hustling and taking on side projects, from selling candy and customized clothes in her high school hallways to leveraging her connections with a DC bus driver to sell bus passes, to taking to the streets of the greater DC area to sell her artwork. CHoKe’s business, art, and life journey are wholly interconnected. The artist, who now lives right here in Fort Worth in the lively and cultural Fairmount District, has constantly battled and overcome countless trials and obstacles that every entrepreneur, innovator, and creator can learn from. She is the founder of BrooHa, which is devoted to displaying and embracing art, fashion, and culture from all over the world in the hopes of supporting the women within the global villages that created such artistry. We talked about a wide range of topics, from how her street smarts taught her the art of the hustle, to how entrepreneurship helped her survive, to her thoughts on why the time is now for social justice and reform in Fort Worth and beyond.
Before we jump in, can you give our audience a little background? Who is “CHoKe”, the person, the artist, and the entrepreneur?
I’ve been a selling artist for over 15 years, starting off on the east coast and then down to Florida, California, and now I’ve settled here in Fort Worth. I have faced so many struggles and hurdles, but those things have never stopped me from doing what I love to do and believing in what I do. Things are hard now, but as long as you still have that kind of fire and that drive to persevere and continue growing your own business, nothing's gonna stop you. And I always say that it doesn't matter if I made a dollar with my art or $10,000 with my art, I'm going to keep doing it because I have to. And that's the same drive that I have towards my own business and in life in general.
You mentioned some of the struggles you endured as a young person and into adulthood, both personally and professionally. We talk about how running a business is one of the hardest things a person can do. What keeps you going?
I think sometimes people start businesses and they're lacking the passion for it, and you really have to have a passion for what you’re doing. If there's anything that I would like people to understand and know about my business, it’s that everything that I sell and everything that I do is a part of the lifestyle that I lead. It's a lifestyle brand and everything you're ever going to experience from me, coming out of my shop, is how I live every single day. It's all about healing, healing in my community, healing outside of my community, bringing people together and having an experience. There's so many things that I do with my artwork, like supporting tribe members from around the world who create these amazing traditional crafts and pieces of art. I think it’s also extremely important to help preserve their heritage and culture.
How has Covid-19 affected your business and your business practices?
Business is steady with the online platform. It was kind of perfect timing that this happened because I had been working on my website since October of last year. I’ve been working on this website for months, trying to figure out WordPress, and it’s been hard to deal with not being tech savvy. But one adapts. But when Covid shut everything down, it was the perfect time for me to be able to sit down and do all my product descriptions and my images. And I didn't feel like I had FOMO (fear of missing out). I wasn’t missing out on any events and shows because there were none. This was the perfect time for me to be able to get those pressing things done that I had otherwise shoved to the back burner because I would much rather go out and sell my stuff at festivals and street events. So this was the perfect time for me to just jump in and to make it work and to be okay with not knowing and making sure that I knew that I had enough time to make the mistake.
It’s clear that your business has grown tremendously in the past few years. What kind of challenges has that brought up?
I probably could be doing a lot more in regards to sales, if I had more help with the social media aspect because that's really hard. I can't do the physical things that my business requires of me - like doing the actual art and designing - and be on the phone or typing at the same time. But it's not quite at the level to where I can hire anyone to help me just yet.
That's definitely a really tough place to be. You're so busy that you can't do it by yourself, but you're not making enough to bring somebody else on yet. I promise you'll move past it. You'll get to the point where you can bring in some help and then things are going to explode from there.
Speaking of bringing someone else in, have you always been a one woman show?
I've been a one woman show for almost two decades. And things are only picking up. I'm busier now than I've ever been, ever. But I think that just comes with time. The crazy part is that I'm busier with the retail than I am with art now. Artwork has always been my hustle and has always paid the bills, but monetizing my art through retail has been a game changer for sure. I had never thought about producing merchandise or t-shirts or anything like that, mainly because I never thought it was accessible, but from the successes I’ve seen, I think that every business should definitely have their own merch. And it goes beyond just sales. With my most recent t-shirt line “I love you black family”, I have a very specific message and I've always had this very specific message and it never really occurred to me to put that on a shirt until we did. And we need this now more than ever. This is a message we need to make sure our community is seeing because it is really hard to be a black man, woman and child in America or around the world.
It seems to me like you are the type of business person that never compromises. You never let the hurdles and struggles get you down. Where does that come from?
I think it definitely comes from my mom. She’s a firecracker. I think it’s a combination of my upbringing and just selling art on the streets of DC and Baltimore. Hustling like that, it teaches you a lot of things. You can't just sit idly by and let people walk all over you. You have to stand up for yourself. Being a teenager trying to sell my artwork at festivals and in the streets, I had to fight for what I had. So I guess that’s where I get the grit, the no-nonsense attitude, the tenacity from.
So when did you first realize you could make a living selling your artwork?
My dad gave me a small loan when I was still in high school, and I bought candy at Costco and sold it all out of my locker. I used all the money I made there, first to pay my dad back, and then I bought all my art supplies. From there, I started customizing people’s shirts and things, and that was basically my unofficial start.
Any parting advice for our audience?
Don't do anything that you're not passionate about. Make sure you have 110% invested in this and that you love what you do because people can see through that. And be a community member, reach out, be a part of where you. Don't just open an establishment, then not communicate with your community. Lastly, learn to adapt to any and all changes. COVID-19 made me expand and grow in ways I didn’t think I ever could.
Stay tuned for the second half of Sparkyard’s conversation with CHoKe, where she discusses social justice, the current protests, and how her business supports social change.
To shop CHOKE’s products, go to www.broohamarket.com.
This conversation was held between CHoKe and Marco Johnson and transcribed by Trent Barron.
Trent Barron is a student intern for the Department of Research Development and Commercialization for the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. Trent is a Fort Worth native, but is a third year student at the University of Georgia, pursuing a BA in Cognitive Science, with a Minor in Business and a Certificate in Entrepreneurship. Go Dawgs and Texas Forever!