Sydneysider Caroline Boateng has always been proud of her Ghanaian origins. Combining that pride with a passion for creativity and a desire to make a difference, she launched the glass jewellery brand Created by Culture. Not only does her company produce works of wearable art, it supports Ghanaian artisans, who use skills passed down through generations to create bespoke glass beads from recycled glass, and offers a sustainable solution for an ongoing environmental problem.
Caroline migrated to Australia from Ghana with her family as a toddler in the early 1990s. During a trip back to her birthplace as an adult, she was inspired by the traditional bead makers at work, and the idea for the business took shape. Here, she gives her tips for starting a side hustle when there’s more at stake than pursuing a passion.
Honour Traditional Craftsmanship
“Ghana is one of those countries people don’t know much about, which is a shame because there’s so much talent, ability and passion. The art of glass bead making is very traditional and [has been] an important part of Ghanaian culture for centuries, from the way royals would adorn themselves to the use of beads as currency on trade routes.
“I’ve always been a creative person and made jewellery for myself, but have never been formally trained. When I travelled to Ghana in 2018, I sat with artisans for months crafting, creating and learning. The art itself is seen as old-school locally; I wanted to breathe new life into a dying trade, and protect the history while creating something new out of it. That’s how Created by Culture was born.”
Look to do Good (and Succeed)
“A major reason I started Created by Culture was to drive social and environmental change, while ensuring I could create a self-sustaining business.
“There are two problems evident when you go to Ghana. One is a huge rubbish problem. Collection is unbelievably expensive [for households], so rubbish is generally dumped or burned. We take glass in any form to make the beads and have collection sites in villages where people can come and thoughtfully dispose of bottles, glass, even shattered windscreens and windows. We also proactively seek connections with local hospitality venues to recycle their glass for them, saving it from landfill or dumping.
“Secondly, there’s a real need for providing sustainable employment opportunities for gifted artisans. It’s vital that we do what we can to protect generations-old skills from disappearing. We use the traditional process, making the beads by hand. We collect the bottles, wash them, and grind them into a fine powder, before adding them to clay moulds for baking.
“Once that stage is complete, the beads are polished and shined in Ghana and transported to me in Australia. My brother lives in Ghana and helps a lot with on-the-ground support, so I can focus on creating and selling the pieces online or at a market.
“As a social enterprise, it’s really important to ensure we support the bead makers by paying them upfront, so they aren’t waiting on me to make a sale. We want to share the money we make and make a difference in the lives of the artisans we support, and create that social change.”
SEE ALSO: How to Balance Your Side Hustle and Day Job
Structure is Key to Side Hustling
“Created by Culture is not my only job. I also have a full-time role in finance. Monday to Friday, that’s my focus. The weekends are for me to invest in and grow this business, including selling at markets to build the brand’s profile. I really try to separate the two jobs for my own wellbeing."
Listen to Your Customers
“As business owners, we always have an idea for what our business is going to be, but if you leave room to be agile, you’re in a much better position to create something that will resonate with people. I started out making necklaces only. It was only after receiving feedback at markets that people wanted earrings that I branched out. Earrings are now my biggest seller!
“I then started getting questions like, ‘Have you got this in silver?’, ‘Have you got this in rose gold?’ Getting out and meeting customers has meant I’m able to pivot my business in a way that resonates with my customers, which has helped me grow and expand. I think if you don’t go out and seek that feedback, it’s harder to figure out where that sweet spot is.
“There’s a beauty to selling at markets, too. Traditionally, when you bought beads in Ghana, that happened at the market. It’s lovely to see and feel that international connection, with customers enjoying touching the beads and seeing how the light shines through them in person.”
Everything in Its Place
“My home office is tremendously organised. It’s important to have different spaces for my day job and Created by Culture. When it comes time to make and create, I need everything efficiently laid out. I have lots of tiny, labelled containers so I know where everything is and can also see when things run out, so I can order more.”
The Whole Package
“Ensuring packaging is sustainable is important. Officeworks has a great collection of Kraft products that fit that bill, so are a go-to for me. It’s vital to ensure that the whole process is environmentally considered, and that I can package and share my products with customers in a way that works for the brand.
“Marketing materials are also a new way I’m looking to elevate my brand, and Officeworks has some great customisable templates that I can use to tell my story, and show customers my differentiators. I’m really looking forward to redoing my whole market setup with some new posters and banners that can help me tell that story a bit more.”
What to Try
- Brother P-touch Label Maker Black PT-H110
- Otto A4 Recycled Storage Box Kraft
- Ezy 20L Storage Containers Value 4 Pack
- Born Cardboard Pillow Box 10 Pack
- PPS Kraft Paper Tape 50mm x 25m
- Kraft Shredded Paper Filler 1kg
- PPS Courier Bag A5 170 x 250mm 5 Pack
- Born Kraft Boxes 4 Pack
- Posters - Print and Copy
- Banners - Print and Copy
Know When to Ask For Help
“In the past, I’ve always just tried to figure it out as I go, which is in my nature. I’m also a big believer in just figuring it out yourself, if you have the time to do that. But in reality, I don’t know what I don’t know. [So] I’m looking for a mentor to help me. To find someone who has the same values in life and in business as me, who can help guide me through growing this business, would be invaluable. It can just be hard to figure out how to find one.
“I really want to get to a point where we’re able to build from this grassroots business to having the environmental and social impact that I know we can have. I’d love to grow the number of people in Ghana who are making the beads, so I can support more families, but one of the key ways to do that is by building the sales of the business. I need to grow our presence, particularly online, to put our business in the position where we can make real, lasting change.”
Stay the Course in Tough Times
“One of our toughest challenges was COVID. As an international business, we rely so much on the logistics channels around the world working, particularly for freight. Obviously during COVID, with the Australian border closure, it was absolutely impossible to get the beads to me to create the jewellery pieces. In the weeks leading up to [the pandemic] I had been to our first trade show and received orders that meant we were going to be physically in shops across the country, and I couldn’t fulfil a single one because of the borders closing.
“It was really upsetting and took us a long time to recover. Financially, it was a huge strain because I was committed to supporting the artisans by buying the beads upfront, even though I couldn’t sell anything. I had to dig deep and make sure we were holding true to our core purpose as a social enterprise.
“That social enterprise nature of the business is a huge motivator to me. The difference between Created by Culture and what people traditionally call a side hustle is that it’s normally just you. [But] I actually have artisans who rely on me; the money they make through this business puts their children through school and puts food on their table. There are real-life ramifications for this business not keeping up and growing each year, but knowing I’m having a real-world impact is so motivating.
“It is also an opportunity to change the narrative on how people perceive Ghana and Africa in general. It means a lot to me that people are able to see, understand, touch and feel works of art that are created by people in Ghana, and embrace the history and talent. It’s also about sharing our culture and history with the world, and showcasing how beautiful Ghana really is.”