This week, we chose Diana Azanda, a 24-year-old artist who runs AlphaGrayArt, a homeware and décor business for our latest #CreatorOfTheWeek
Based in Carlisle, Diana is a nursing graduate from the University of Cumbria and a self-taught resin and Jesmonite artist.
Perfectionism, persistence and emotional labours of love; we chatted about the highs and lows of owning your own business and the power of self-belief and perseverance as a business owner.
Pastel shell trinkets
Diana's love for both art and business started in college where she explored setting up a t-shirt business. She asked her lecturers for advice and went onto sketching clothes designs, which she’s kept with her to this day.
Even though Diana didn’t know where to begin with owning her own business, she was determined to do something with her talent. She joined Fiverr, where she got designers to help with her logo designs.
However, Diana soon discovered the other designers didn't share her passion and excitement, but she didn't quit there. Moving forward Diana knew if she was to run a business, it would be on her own terms: “When I moved from London to Cumbria for uni, living alone meant I got lost in my own head. When I started practising fluid pour painting on canvas and getting into resin it really stabilised my mental health.”
It was this move to Cumbria that started Diana’s journey with AlphaGrayArt and occupied her spare time between working as a student nurse and doing her degree by experimenting with Jesmonite and Resin in her uni digs:
“One day I woke up and I set up an Etsy shop and then it just became a business from there”.
Diana hand making her products
AlphaGrayArt is centred around customers getting something you can’t just find on the high street:
“Most of the time I do limited edition stuff and I make them in a unique batch so if you buy it and it sells out that’s it you can’t buy it again”.
Diana’s side business, More_AlphaGray features personalised gifts such as mugs, key rings and all sorts of homeware. Sometimes she has very personal requests from people: “I’ve had personal requests in the past to immortalise people’s ashes and those more emotional pieces can mean a lot to the people I’m making them for”.
More_AlphaGray offer personalised products like these cute tumblers. Photo credit: AlphaGrayArt
One of Diana’s favourite products she’s made to date were a line of moon phase incense holders she made during Black History Month.
Making these products gave Diana some serenity and focus. When she was creating them back in 2020, there was lots happening surrounding the Black lives Matter Movement:
“Sometimes you need to sit down and relax and think about what you want to do. Think of the way forward not just for yourself but for your friends and the people around you”. Incense has always been a big love for Diana to have around herself at home, to help settle and calm her mind. The holders she makes reflect much about her own identity:
“As much as the moon is in phases for me it’s a phase being black, it’s a continuation from somewhere to something better”. Diana added that her interpretation of the moon phases reflects the black experience:
“There might be different variations and different seasons of things that happen to you as a black person and in society there’s always a bigger picture which is what the full moon is to me”.
The moon phase incense holders that have become a staple in Diana’s shop. Photo credit: AlphaGrayArt
Looking to the future, Diana knows that AlphaGray won’t be stopping anytime soon. Despite any challenges that may be thrown her way, she is determined to keep going and reach a bigger audience: “I want us to become one of the best handmade, eco-friendly places for people to come to”. But something that really matters to Diana is growing her business inside the company long term: “I want us to reach more black creatives, creators and collaborate with other global majority people and showcase their talent. I want to use my job to inspire others to start their own or even for somebody to learn from me”.
Global majority businesses in the UK contribute at least £74 billion a year to the UK. Despite this, after starting a company, black business owners median turnover is 10k less than white ones. Businesses like AlphaGrayArt, that seek to provide work to global majority people, are important in closing that pay gap.
An infographic showing the disparities between business owners in the UK. Photo credit: AlphaGrayArt
The homeware and décor artist has some very valuable advice stemming from her own experience to anyone that wants to start their own business: “My friends know I’m forceful in pushing their talents and I feel like if you’ve got something I will always push them and pressure them to bring that out.
"If you don’t then you’re restricting society from seeing the uniqueness of your talents and showing them something they may have never seen before”. Diana explains that even in oversaturated creative markets, you should always keep trying: “Even if you are baking a cake, and yes there are millions of people that bake cakes, you need to know that your cake is different to all the rest”. Diana wants to see more creators like herself owning businesses: “Even if you live in a society where majority of the time, you’re being oppressed, it’s really amazing to see people rise and do more than they were expected off”.
Tote bags Diana has designed with a black business motif. Photo credit: AlphaGrayArt
The most important thing Diana stressed was to not always aim for perfection: “I think everybody’s waiting for the perfect thing but you have to be bad at it first. The best pressure I took off myself was that idea of perfection.
"No matter how much I make an item, no matter how good I make my stuff I’ll always find something to criticise that doesn’t meet my standard. But I’ve also taught myself it’s part of the specs of having something unique.”
Diana added that you need to let yourself make mistakes: “You might find things that you think are defective but it’s not. Let yourself accept things that you think aren't right about it and then you can do better.”
Candlestick holders in an array of elemental colours
Diana concluded: “You don’t have to strive for perfection because that can actually just mess your mind up and then produce procrastination. That procrastination can stop you from reaching your goals."
Diana urges young creatives that persistence is the key to success: “You might have an idea and even if you don’t have the stepping stone you should still carry that idea with you and continuously find ways to have persistence in your head."
She adds: “Yes, the negativity will come but you need to be somebody that can sacrifice in order to see the benefits of your sacrifices. I always keep going”.
“For me butterflies stand for liberation” Diana speaking about her limited edition butterfly earrings.
Photo credit: AlphaGrayArt