Christal-Ann Thompson Richards - Jill of all trades
AT 13 years old Christal-Ann Thompson Richards embarked on a journey to unearth her talent after a particularly moving family devotion where her mom spoke about the importance of using one's gifts. Little did the teen know that everything she did from that day onwards would become an entrepreneurial undertaking.
Now 27, Thompson Richards does photography, paints, writes books, manufactures haircare products, produces videos, plans events, and for the past two years has been operating a pastry business in Mandeville.
"Everything I did, I realised that I was good at it and so everything that I do, I just turn it into a business," she said during an interview with All Woman at the Mandeville-based Northern Caribbean University (NCU) where she received an associate degree in communication studies and is now wrapping up her bachelor's in biology.
Thompson Richards recalls selling her first painting in high school for $50,000 and since that time has gradually matured as a painter. Currently she has a contract where she paints every month for some clients and she has done a few exhibitions.
In 2009, she was selected to participate in Caribbean Fashion Week as the producers had sought to spruce things up by mixing art with fashion.
"I don't know how to explain it except to say it was epic to see my design coming down on a supermodel," Thompson Richards beamed.
Photography came later and has become another outlet for her to express herself. She teaches painting and currently freelances as a photographer for Walters Wedding in Mandeville. Thanks to her exposure to video production through her communications classes, Thompson Richards has also ventured into this area and among other things, has co-produced a vegetarian cook show which was a big hit in Mandeville.
Now she is putting together a vegetarian cookbook which is nearing completion.
"A lot of times you have vegetarian books but you just don't have some of the ingredients because they are not available here. So this promises to be very interesting," she said.
Not one to bury her talents, Thompson Richards has sought to use her baking skills to bring smiles to the faces of many and of course, earn funds to send herself to school.
"I started baking when I was younger. I remember it was mommy's birthday and we had only some flour, Milo, syrup and sugar, so I made a little Milo pudding and poured the syrup on top of it. Later in the evening when she got home and we said "surprise" and we cut it, there was syrup in the middle of it and I thought it was cool," she recalled.
Upon being admitted to NCU, she enrolled in the school's work and study programme and was placed at the university's pastry shop and its restaurant, Four Points Café, where she gained even more experience in pastry making.
At just 23, and with the money she earned from selling her paintings, she then opened her first bakery, Healthy Portions, in Darliston, Westmoreland, where she was raised. The outlet was known for its bullas, patties, doughnuts and wholewheat cheese loaves. However, the young business woman had to close shop because the location was not able to attract as many persons from outside the community.
"The idea was to start this business for me to go to school, not knowing that some businesses take a year or two years for you to break even, much less get a profit," she said.
Undaunted in her quest to operate a top-notch bakery, Thompson Richards signed up for an entrepreneurship course to become certified in this area. Through the course, she learnt how to draft a business plan and how to manage her money.
A few months after, she saw another opportunity to start whipping up delicious pastries and she went for it and started her latest business venture, The Pastry Boat.
"It all started when one of my friends said to me, 'You know, my son needs some good snacks that are filling and nutritious', so I said, 'I can make something for him'. So I made some banana cupcakes and persons at his workplace loved it and I said, 'all right, this looks like a business'," she explained.
"I started having problems with persons purchasing. They loved them, they looked pretty, but they didn't have any money and so I went home and sat down and said, 'You know what, I need to work out something'. So my plan was, you let me come to your events and sell, and I would give you 15 per cent of my profit. Everybody loved that idea, because hey, they're getting money and pretty things are at their event," she said.
Pretty soon, people wanted much more than cupcakes and wedding cakes. They started asking her to help them plan their events, design the programmes and invitations and take the photographs.
"The Pastry Boat is basically a one-man show, it is just me. I am chef, bottle-washer and everything," she said.
With school and a full-time business, you would think she has enough on her plate, but Thompson Richards is just gearing up to take on even more work. She hopes to publish a children's biology book and is currently paying instalments on a sewing machine so she can do even more designing than she is currently able to do on her mother's machine.
The young woman is not one bit fazed by the amount of work it takes to manage her businesses. In fact, she had to start earning her keep from her early teenage years when her parents separated and her mother assumed the primary responsibility of sending her and her siblings to school.
"It wasn't easy going through high school. I had to send myself to school by selling snacks and sweeties. During lunch and break time when everyone was playing I was selling and sometimes I had to use some of the money to buy something for dinner, but we got by," she said.
Her husband of five years, she said, gives her a lot of moral support which pushes her to go after her dreams. He does so even though the two have a long-distance relationship with her studying in Mandeville and he still living back home in Westmoreland.
"He does landscaping and I want to turn that into a business as well," she laughed.
"For women out there who just think that they have an idea and it won't go anywhere and you are just thinking of the negative, just push the negative aside and move forward. Just step on those stumbling blocks and make them your stepping stones," she said.