It took a role model to show Erika-Rae Griffin that her path to entrepreneurship was possible. Her hands were always at work doing everything from sewing to painting, but she’d never dreamed of starting her own business. So when she had the opportunity to do freelance work for a local designer in 2014, something clicked. “That was my first time working with someone who was my age, looked like me, and was actually building a brand out of nothing,” she says.
Today, Griffin is working to build her own business, Create or Conform, to sell jewelry and T-shirts she describes as “handmade items for the Afrocentric minimalist.” Her mission is to share what she sees in Black and African culture. “There’s a richness and a beauty to it that I appreciate,” she says. “And there’s something about [the culture] that calls me to express that in my own way.”
One way she carries out this mission is by adding meaningful and educational touches to her jewelry. On her Instagram account, Griffin often explains the unique purpose behind the charms and beads she uses. In a recent post, she showcased a rose quartz bracelet with a West African Adinkra charm symbolizing “beauty, cleanliness, goodness, and love.”
While the pandemic saw many businesses struggle, the extra downtime was a blessing for Griffin, allowing her to make the transition to work on her business full-time. She started with beaded jewelry and eventually began creating jewelry from brass sheets, which has become a staple of her work. She uses a jeweler’s saw and bench pin to cut shapes from hand-drawn templates, then polishes the metal and adds texture according to the design she wants to achieve.
A key to Griffin’s creative journey has been participating in public markets across the city, although she dreams of one day having a storefront for Create or Conform where she can support other entrepreneurs. “I do want to be able to give a platform to them in some way,” she says. “Or give them the help that I wish that I had before I got started.”
She has three words of advice for anyone debating making the leap themselves. “Just do it,” she says. “The feeling you get from it is more powerful than the regret you’ll have if you don’t do it.”