Jo-Ann's lane

Career & Education

Jo-Ann's lane

Former architect rebounds from redundancy with soaps, candles

Sunday, March 01, 2020

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WHEN Jo-Ann Morris completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in architecture at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) and secured a job in her field of study, she was unaware that just a few years later she would be embarking on a completely different career path.

It was her mother's search for a solution to an apparent allergic reaction to regular soaps that would cause her to create the 'Rachael Lane' brand, which produces handmade soaps and soy candles.

“My mother…started researching how to make soap. We would make a batch and give it to friends and family to try and over time, we kept making more soaps and giving them away. Around the same time, I bought a candle starter kit and I started experimenting with making candles, so my mother was making soaps and I was doing the candles,” she says.

She says that creating soaps and candles had become an expensive hobby and in early 2019, they decided to approach the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) for assistance on how to market the products.

At JBDC they were advised to register and provide samples of the items, but they did not follow through immediately, being busy with their regular jobs.

But as fate would have it, it was shortly before her full-time position was made redundant that Morris saw an advertisement for JBDC's Design Fusion and decided to apply.

“I had gone to a (JBDC) seminar before and they had brought up the fact that there is a programme which takes persons from concept to an actual product. So I applied even though I was unsure of how I'd attend because the sessions were during the (work) week, but by the time I was accepted into the programme, I was out of a job,” she shares.

In October 2019, she was among a group of 24 creative entrepreneurs who participated in the JBDC Design Fusion, a specialised design-based development programme for emerging fashion and gift and craft designers.

The programme showcases the creative industries and provides opportunities for entrepreneurs operating in the space.

Morris says her participation in the three-month-long programme provided her with the support she needed to formalise her Rachael Lane brand.

“The way the programme was organised, we had two set days – one was business and the other was design. From those sessions, I have set up my accounting system. They also required us to be registered so I got that out of the way and that would enable me to access certain services,” she explains.

Her time in the programme also helped her to cement her brand identity and gain exposure across different platforms.

“Going to the programme weekly forced me to commit to coming up with the product and fine-tuning my branding and from that, I was able to go to the 'Jamaican Made Christmas' exhibition and that gave me a very big boost. I also did a television interview and that gave me publicity,” she adds.

The opportunity to interact with other creative entrepreneurs also proved to be a valuable experience, Morris says.

“There was a mixed group including those with experience and persons like myself, so I learnt a lot about the fundamentals of building a business and the challenges that I may face. [It] also forced me to come out of my shell a little bit as I had to make a lot of phone calls and also establish business relationships. I am much more comfortable than I was when I just started,” she says.

On the matter of working outside her field, the former junior architect conceded that it can be intimidating.

"You can feel a sense of doubt as to whether you should be doing something outside of your trained field, but start it and see how much you enjoy it, even if it is challenging.

"It is better to try and to fail and to learn from those failures early than to play it safe and try to get everything perfect before you launch and you find out that so much of what you thought was right, is actually wrong,” she says.

Based on her experience, Morris is encouraging new and established entrepreneurs to get help from the JBDC.

“I believe if you don't have a good footing, it will be harder to move forward. The services the JBDC offer are a good option if you are uncertain of where to start and if you are established but seeking to grow your business. They also have seminars on tax compliance, marketing so they have something that everyone can learn from,”Morris says.

— JIS


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