by Jamila Soso-Vincent
In 2009, Christal Oliver breathed life into her fashion accessory brand Olive Art Designs (OAD) as she sat in a laboratory at the St. Vincent Girls’ High School stitching together her first bag. Fast forward a decade, and Christal is breathing new life and history into OAD, as the winner of Invest SVG’s inaugural ‘Pitch It Vincy’ initiative.
Last Tuesday, October 29, the Glen resident held off stiff competition from six other finalists to gain the judges’ nod as overall winner – receiving a cash prize of US$2,000 and, probably most importantly, mentorship from industry experts to help grow her business.
“It feels surreal,” mused Christal. “It’s a lot more than a business win. It’s a personal win because it means that I have successfully overcome a few things that were holding back my progress. Developing the right mindset for success and positivity isn’t an easy feat!”
The 28-year-old entrepreneur was one of many Vincentians who applied when the Angel Investing initiative was launched by Invest SVG in June 2019. Seven finalists were shortlisted in August 2019, and from that point onward, they received expert training through group and one-on-one sessions.
Finalists also took part in a mock pitch event that saw them pitching to local high net-worth business owners, who provided constructive feedback. Christal recalled that the feedback they received during the mock pitch and training sessions was “vital” to their preparations for the final. “The feedback was honest and, at times, we may not have liked what was said; but it was what we needed to hear before going in.”
She expressed deep gratitude to the staff at Invest SVG, Caribbean Export Development Agency (CEDA) and everyone else who contributed to the preparation period for the finalists. Despite the various challenges faced by the finalists, Christal said it was an overall positive experience because it boosted their confidence and raised awareness of their brands.
“I entered Pitch It Vincy because I saw an opportunity for investment. In St Vincent and the Grenadines, small business owners face difficulty in acquiring capital for their ideas – especially if they don’t have collateral. I believed in my product and I felt that even if I didn’t win, whatever came from it would be exactly what I needed for OAD at this moment,” she explained.
Christal is a past student of the St Vincent Girls’ High School and the St Vincent and the Grenadines Community College. She worked at the CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank as a Customer Service Representative for seven years and was the second runner-up in the 2017 Miss SVG pageant. Currently, she is a co-host on the Wake-Up Call morning programme on Xtreme FM radio station; and is “very involved” in the Epic Sounds Steel Orchestra and the Youlou Pan Movement.
“I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner for OAD!” enthused Christal.
She divulged that within hours of winning Pitch It Vincy 2019, several opportunities have been presented to her – some of which she is not at liberty to share just yet.
“Investors have expressed interest in the business… It’s only a matter of shaking hands and coming to a final agreement. I’m confident that it’s only going to get better from here. I’m never going to give up!”
Christal added: “If someone had told me 10 years ago, while I was eagerly stitching that first bag at GHS, that I would win the first Pitch It Vincy… be a fashion accessory designer and have my own business, I would have laughed and walked the other way.”
She encourages all Vincentian entrepreneurs to take part in Pitch It Vincy 2020, and to start preparing as soon as possible – instead of waiting for the application period to open. Her advice includes: creating a milestone chart with a list of company goals; getting business accounts in order; conduct proper market research; be open-minded and willing to take advice; and gather a support system of people who genuinely care about your success.
Christal also shared that she intends to make OAD an “internationally recognized brand” within the next five years.
“St Vincent and the Grenadines will be known as the origin of one of the best fashion accessory brands in the world and the company will have at least one other brand under its wing.
I’m not sure how it’s going to be, but it will happen!”