2019 is the year of the millennial entrepreneur, and even more so, African-American female entrepreneurs. According to the 2018 State of Women Owned Businesses Report, the number of women-owned businesses has grown over 58% since 2007, with more than 2.4 million of those businesses being owned by African American women.
More and more, women are declining to be confined by the glass ceilings of corporate America and are, instead, utilizing it as a resource to fund their startup businesses. No greater example of this millennial hustle mentality than Kudzai Mutasa.
Emerging visual artist , brand manager for Fashion Fair and ORS and community advocate, Kudzai Blessing Mutasa’s dreams are set to come to fruition as she’s slated to premier her art work to the hundreds of thousands of celebrities, influencers and guests attending this year’s 25th Anniversary celebration of the Essence Festival.
Known for her three- dimensional textures and vibrant colors. Kudzai creates timeless luxury pieces and portraits and is quickly becoming a highly coveted name in the art world.
We got a chance to briefly chat with Kudzai as she prepares for Essence.
KC: In taking the time to get to know your background, one of the things that stood out to me was that not only are you an artist but you’re also a brand manager for some pretty notable brands– ORS, V05, etc. The journey for you to arrive at both career paths must have been interesting. Can you talk about your art journey versus your brand manager journey and how the two collide?
Kudzai:I feel like they’re different but the same. In my day to day job as a brand manager I get to use my creativity working on photoshoots, new product development, packaging, etc. As far as the synergies between them — I paint beautiful and strong women but I also get to produce product and show imagery for beautiful black women in my brand management work. But how I arrived at those two careers is completely different.
KC: How did your formal education prepare you to venture out and become a full-time artist?
Kudzai: I was always a doodler as a child and people would tell me my work was good but nobody encouraged me to continue, to pursue it, until I was graduating high school. There was a year I was not in school from high school to college and one of my neighbors encouraged me to take some art classes. So, I did.
My professor at the time, Richard Halsted really enjoyed my work. I trained with him for a couple years while also going to DePaul. While at DePaul I took a lot of art classes but I majored in Marketing and Business. I’ve always considered myself an entrepreneur. I was that girl who was always braiding hair or selling candy. So, I wanted to pursue business.
When I was trying to figure out what I would end up doing after graduation, initially advertising seemed really interesting to me. But then an opportunity in brand presented itself and I thought that was more interesting because you get to look over a whole business. That just really excited me.
I got an offer to work at Rubbermaid as an assistant brand manager, and I did that for about 2 years, but hated it. I thought I didn’t like marketing. But after taking some time off to do art I realized that I didn’t want to do that full time and missed the branding side of things So, I went to work for Alberto Culver and eventually, Fashion Fair and ORS.
In that time, I realized that I do love branding but I love art as well. Now I’m actually a full-time artist, which is very recent for me. like within the past 2 months.
I’m also going to Kellogg to get my MBA. I’m getting a better understanding of not only pricing your products from an emotional standpoint and what collectors are saying, but truly understanding break even points and price elasticity. After 10 years of being in brand management I have the tools to go out and be an artist. I think what I was initially missing the first time was the discipline and the true business understanding.
KC: Most of us have “side hustles” or outside passions, but it can be difficult for many of us to figure out how to monetize it. What advice would you give creatives who are looking to make the leap from corporate to pursuing their passion full time?
Kudzai:I’m still figuring it out. Art is a very expensive hobby/passion/ career path. It requires so many supplies. I was blessed to have a corporate job that could help cover those costs. I appreciated my corporate job because it helped fuel my dream.
It was also late nights and early mornings, though. Coming to work with paint on my hands. Going to lunch to run errands for a project. It was a lot of grinding for me.
Now that the opportunity for the Essence Festival has presented itself, it’s not like I’m starting from scratch. I’m ready for it. So, I would say, if you have a passion, invest time into it. Always be ready for the opportunity and take steady steps. Create a long-term strategy. That way, once the opportunity to do your passion project full time, you’re not starting from scratch.
KC: How pivotal is Essence Festival for your brand?
Kudzai: It is like God opening a door for me. There are so many different celebrities, collectors and exposure. It is truly a blessing, and it’s very important that I do this right. I believe this is my moment to really broadcast my art to the masses.
KC: What 3 words encapsulate your artistic style?
Kudzai:Multi-textured; rich, vibrant colors; and inspiring. Even when I’m painting a flower you can see the depth and texture in that flower. If I’m painting a black woman you can see the texture in her hair, the vibrant colors on her skin.
KC: Arriving at your signature style as an artist can take years of trial and error. How did you arrive at this style?Kudzai:I started off as a portrait artist. I eventually evolved into texture and three dimensionality through pure trial and error. Exposure to different artwork, music and worship or even just looking at different colors inspires me. During lunch I would go to Z Gallery and just look around. I love luxury decor. I want my artwork to be in luxury homes. I just love being around and creating beautiful things.