NASSAU, BAHAMAS — After leaving her retail job in 2015, Colette Ferguson boldly selected to pursue her artistic passion.
She established Coco Reef Craft Company, where she turns items typically found lying on the beach into exquisite accessories for the body and residential.
“I actually have been making crafts for 28 years, but I didn’t deal with straw products until I began my business,” she shared.
“My medium was initially charcoal and pencil art, but later down the road, I became thinking about crafts because I desired to get into the tourism industry, and realized one of the best strategy to do that may be by making straw products.”
In 1994, The Ministry of Tourism launched its Authentic Bahamian campaign, encouraging people to create products using native resources.
Ferguson said her initial interest in making souvenirs motivated her to take part in the initiative. After seeing the varied range of products she could create with the straw from thatch palm trees, she realized she had stumbled upon her “area of interest market.”
“The encouragement I received in that programme pushed me to begin my business,” Ferguson continued.
“That unit of the Ministry of Tourism still exists today and continues to be promoting 100% Bahamian-made products. Their promotion of native products inspired me to take my craft-making seriously.”
Ferguson makes her unique jewelry and accessories with straw, pink sand, shells, and “anything yow will discover on the beach”. After sourcing her raw materials, she conducted two years of research before introducing her products to the market.
“I visited different Family Islands to find out about Bahamian straw and the way it’s cut and ready,” she said.
“I also got different straw braiders to provide me a sample of their products. I taught myself how you can make woven jewelry, and the way in which I cut my straw to form my shapes has not been done before.”
Ferguson said she learned how you can treat her straw in a way that permits her to chop it in various shapes without it tearing easily and prevents it from taking up a loose sticky texture.
“After I made a decision what shapes I desired to cut my straw into, I purchased the equipment that would get the job done. After applying the treatment, I allowed the straw to undergo a five-day drying process. During that point, I cut them with the machine and made them into jewelry of various styles and sizes.”
Although she focuses mainly on straw work, Ferguson said she also enjoys creating sand art for home decor.
“I didn’t know that Cat Island had pink sand until I visited and saw the beaches there,” she said.
“Within the art world, everyone uses paints and charcoals, so I made a decision to be different and decorate canvases with sand and seashells. I also make leather moldings and tea light holders. The response I actually have received has been great because nobody else is doing what I’m doing.”
While Ferguson had the vision to take Coco Reef Craft Company to the following level, she didn’t have the funds to make it a reality. It was not until a superb friend told her in regards to the Access Accelerator and their work to assist small businesses that she decided to use.
“I didn’t expect anything, and I used to be shocked and blown away once I got $4,992.29 grant,” she said.
“The classes were fabulous and left me wanting more, and I applied to get more training since you don’t have a variety of free time as an artist and entrepreneur. The virtual classes were very convenient.”
After receiving the grant, Ferguson said she got the concept to embroider patterns on her straw cut-outs – one other design decision she says has not been executed before.
“I noticed it was something new, so I made patches and tags using an embroidery machine. None of this could be possible without Access Accelerator. Their funding enabled me to buy a stitching and embroidery machine together with yarn and other threading materials.”
Ferguson said while she expected tourists to support her work, she was surprised by the positive response from locals. Still, she says the dearth of a brick-and-mortar store has impacted her sales.
“Straight away, I don’t have a set location,” Ferguson said.
“I used to be originally arrange in Pompey’s Square, but that space hasn’t reopened because the pandemic, so I haven’t any strategy to promote my products besides pop-up markets and festivals. Attempting to arrange shop on Junkanoo Beach or Arawak Cay can be near inconceivable because there’s a two-year waitlist.”
Ferguson said that finding a stable location is her most important challenge to this point; nonetheless, she still has stores thinking about featuring her products.
“In 10 years, I need my business to grow right into a consistent enterprise that my family can carry on even once I’m not around,” Ferguson added.
“I can see Coco Reef Crafts growing into something that takes off internationally because my products are unique, and the market is wide open. Every little bit of assistance counts, and I’m grateful for the boost Access Accelerator gave me.”