For some, stepping out on your passion and becoming a full-time entrepreneur in a city like DC is simply a hopeful dream. For many, when forging income relies solely on enticing enough people to appreciate and support what you can do with a paintbrush and canvass, that hopefulness can dim.
Add to the equation being a young, single, African American mother and you can almost forget it.
But not for 28-year-old Cierra Lynn, who has turned several hurdles into the greatest highpoints of her life—and by the looks of things she’s just getting started.
Raised in Washington, DC, Lynn’s artistic intuition kicked in early.
“In pre-kindergarten is when my family noticed my artistic talents,” she says.
In elementary school, she designed nameplates for classmates and teachers and was awarded at several school wide art competitions. In junior high and high school, her designs made their way onto fabric as she merged her love of fashion into her artwork.
Merchandising flourished for Lynn in college where she studied Fine Arts at Norfolk State University. She produced handcrafted clothing and accessories for friends, roommates, sororities and fraternities, donated pieces to local high schools and participated in both on and off campus fashion shows.
A mishmash of bold colors, prints and patterns is signature to Lynn’s artwork, reflective of her personal style.
“I’m beginning to be more of me,” she says. “There was a point when I was younger, I would try to keep up with the trends, but as I started getting older and creating my own things I learned that style really means originality—its who you are.”
After graduating college, Lynn worked in visual merchandising. Later, she worked as a teacher’s assistant at a charter school.
“I always did so much art with the kids that my last two years I was upgraded to early childhood art teacher,” she recalls.
When budget cuts hit the school, Lynn was laid off. At the time, she was a new mom with a daughter, Jaela, who was almost two years old.
After countless failed interviews and no sight of new employment, Lynn took matters into her own hands with the help of her toddler.
“I was dressing her up, creating accessories and sending her to daycare with them on and people would see it and ask me who made it—that’s how orders got started,” she says. “So my first brand was called Accessory Doll and that was inspired by her. That was how I paid my bills and how I took care of her.”
Today, 5-year-old Jaela is very involved in the business she inspired.
“She’s pretty much learning the ropes of everything,” says Lynn. “Being as though she was so young [when I started her brand], I did control colors and patterns and things like that, but now she’s able to tell me ‘I want a flower, I want this color and that color.’ We are now able to talk about the design process. She makes sketches and I understand it. The future is pretty good [for Accessory Doll].”
After her bread and butter brand stabilized her small family, Lynn believed she still had more to offer.
“I just wanted the world to know who I was as an artist and I branched off into more adult things, which is when Cierra Lynn [the brand] came into existence,” she says.
Mindful that trends fade, Lynn has created her empire by translating her art to multiple outlets from clothing and accessories to parties and portraits.
Energized by pop-culture, some of Lynn’s most popular portraits are of celebrities. She’s even had a chance to meet and present her work to singers like Fantasia and Janelle Monae.
Arguably, her most vulnerable portraits are derived out of a sense of motherhood and cultural awareness. After the killing of Floridian teenager Trayvon Martin, Lynn painted images of the innocent victim on paraphernalia that has been worn by youth and adults throughout the District.
“A lot with that situation weighed heavy on my heart,” she says. “Having a daughter, it really hit home for me—just the thought of that could have been my child. So I figured I could utilize my art for a good cause and give back by expressing my own interpretation of what I felt about the situation and maybe inspire other artists and people to take a look at what’s going on in the world.”
Having the time and freedom to express herself has become one of the most beneficial parts of her transition to entrepreneur.
“When I was working [as a teacher], I did not have a lot of time to pick back up on my art after having several classes a day, coming home to mom duties and getting things ready for work the next day,” she says. “My schedule just didn’t allow me to create my art and do what I’m doing now.”
While she has recently secured contracts to work with students again in the classroom, she is able to do it on her own terms.
“Instead of working for a boss, I’m doing the same things but with my own curriculum that adds to what they already do in school,” she says.
Within her curriculum, she focuses on building self-esteem and self-love through visual expression. Cierra Lynn and Accessory Doll aim to be a voice for young girls who stand for and represent the importance of being an individual.
This upcoming year is already set to be busy for the young entrepreneur. She has classes scheduled with students during spring and summer breaks and throughout the school year. Her popular paint parties for children and adults have kicked off to a raving start.
Although experiencing significant setbacks, Lynn is exactly where she wants to be in order to live independently, nurture her family and share her talent.
“I was always taught that having a gift is never about you—what good would it be for the world if I just kept [my art] and hung it up in my home?” she asks. “After my own personal experience, I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.”