One of Accra’s leading sculptors, and metal works entrepreneur shares her insights on turning a passion for art into job creation, and the highs and lows of starting and growing Ghana’s 2008 Outstanding Industrial Metal Furniture Firm of the Year, Accents & Art.
Meet Boss Woman Constance Swaniker, CEO of Accents & Art – Interview by Summer Intern – Nadege Tijani
What inspired you to open Accents & Art?
I wasn’t really inspired. I studied Art at a time where doing a degree in Art did not guarantee you the ideal job. I happened to have that sort of business because I really didn’t have any choice. I studied Art, I didn’t see myself using my creative degree to find that kind of job which forces you to sit behind the desk the whole time. Most of my colleagues ended up in the banks. And because of that mind-set that I had, I knew I had no option but to try and work on my own. So initially, started off doing small pieces to sell. Just to keep busy. And start business. Just doing little little things at home. It evolved into this business that you see today.
As a young lady what did you dream to have and how do you match those dreams to your present achievements?
Well, I dreamed of working in the Creative Industry. I knew right on that I liked to draw and to use my hand. I am actually living my dream. Whatever you dream you have to work towards that goal. It doesn’t come by just saying that I want to do this, but you don’t take any action. So whatever I dreamt of a young woman, I have worked very hard to ensure that.
What were your initial challenges of starting up and how did you overcome them?
For any African business the challenges are many in the beginning. Access to finance. A lot of entrepreneurs will tell you that we work in a sector where the banks are really not that interested in small business owners. If they don’t really see any platform you are not going to get any donations from anywhere to start up your business. That was quite challenging. But I overcame them. My mom saw the potential that I had in me. She gave me a little sweet capital. I added this one to sales that I had made from selling the small pieces that I was doing. I started off with a small shed. And then onwards grew organically. So any business I should get I should apply it back into the business. We’ve got to a point where if any bank walks in here now, they will throw money on it. Because now you have access, you have the capital; you have something that makes it attractive.
What are your greatest achievements or proudest moments?
A few years on after working so hard in the industry, you think that you’re working quietly in your own little corner. But I’m amazed that the calls and the awards that I have won over the past few years and we are still continuing to win. It makes me proud, it makes me happy. Whatever you do, if you do well, you are acknowledged, and you’re rewarded.
What was your lowest point?
My lowest points? I went through a period where… You know the African worker has this mind-set that because they work with you as a business owner when, they don’t own the business, they don’t give up their 100%. That for me sometimes saddens me that they don’t see the big picture. And this is not just peculiar to my business. But you find a lot of business owners who tell you that their workers sometimes can be quite a nightmare.
You always want your workers to work as hard as you?
Exactly. But they just don’t give up their best. And they don’t understand that we are all working for the company. And whatever awards and achievements come my way it’s because we worked as a collective home. So it’s something that I wish… And the thing is they are not all equal. We all can’t be bosses.
Many businesses don’t make it past the inception stage. What’s the secret to yours?
First of all I think it’s by the grace of God. If you’re asking me how… I’ve been in the industry almost 14 years since I have set up my business. A lot of businesses have folded up, yes. Just being humble, taking criticisms from clients and always improving on things that people point out at you. It always makes you learn from your mistakes, and you just keep on going. And the thing is not to look at what your competitors are doing. Just focus on doing you. And just work hard.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to pursue a professional career in Arts?
The Creative Industry is very challenging. Africa still hasn’t gotten used to the point where people invest in the Art Industry. Especially my time. But I look at young people now in the Creative Industry and I think that this is an amazing time for creative people. If you look at the fashion scene now. If you look at the art scene. If you look at music, these are exciting times for young people. So I would encourage them to leverage on that. And the thing is: Do not copy what others are doing. Because you find a lot of copying also within the Creative Industry. If you are a creative person, you have your own unique talent. So focus on that and just continue to work hard.
What gives you strength?
Waking up every day and coming to work to face challenges of the day and overcoming them.
About Constance Swanikier
Constance Swaniker founded Accents & Art in 1999 after studying art at KNUST College of Art in Kumasi. She has spent her holidays as an apprentice carpenter for five years where she concentrated on metal work. Accents & Art manufactures modern furniture, balustrades, gates, garden and home décor made out of wrought iron, wood and glass. The company makes detailed artistic products. Constance’s creative vision is on every artwork that leaves the factory.
Today, Accents & Art trains and employs 50 artisans in its workshop at Bubuiashie in Accra. Swaniker’s brand is one of the most respected in her industry.