By Mahalia Anderson
Rashee Russell, owner of Manchester-based business Artic Ice Jewelry, is making every customer she meets sparkle.
With just one step inside the “Artic Ice Box”—her home-based VIP shopping experience—it’s clear that Rashee has one mission: to help spread joy and positivity, while making people feel great about themselves.
Already a busy mom of three, Rashee shared that she “always wanted a side hustle to earn extra money” in addition to working a "9-5" job. When she was invited to a jewelry party a few years ago, little did she know that it was the beginning of the adventure of her life.
"To personally be interactive with my customers as they ‘ooh and ahh’ over the jewelry is what puts a smile on my face as well as theirs."
“Four years ago I was invited to a Paparazzi jewelry party and I was intrigued by the beautiful jewelry and was blown away by the price point of five dollars,” she said. “Needless to say, I spent a lot of money that night! I watched how people were excited and buying up jewelry like crazy. I also know that the Paparazzi consultant made a lot of money that night.”
That evening sparked an idea for Rashee, and Artic Ice started to become a reality.
“A light bulb went off in my head and I knew that this was something I could do. I signed up as a Paparazzi consultant and my journey started that night,” she said.
Now, four years later, Rashee is the director of Artic Ice Jewelry with a team of 50 people beside her making people happy and radiant with their purchases. Her hopes are to one day make it her full-time job.
“It’s definitely a juggling act to balance mom-life, work-life, being a wife and my newest title as an entrepreneur,” she shared. “I put God first in all that I do and during those times when business is slow and not at its full potential, I take a step back to re-evaluate and reinvent my brand with new ideas. I can only take one day at a time and that’s even more the reason to go harder the next day to get it right.”
Ready to help make entrepreneurs out of anyone, what inspires Rashee to keep thriving, especially during the pandemic, was seeing how the smallest things, like purchasing jewelry online, was making her customers happy.
“We were restricted from so many things and so many people were looking for an outlet to do something fulfilling, fun and safe. And spending money on five-dollar jewelry in a pandemic definitely fulfilled that need,” she shared.
Yet at the same time, just like many other small businesses, sometimes keeping momentum going through the challenges of the pandemic has been tough.
“To be a positive small business owner in a community, where so many people have lost their jobs or have had their income cut significantly can put a strain on your business if the customers who used to support you no longer can do so,” she shared. “I’ve had my ups and downs in the business but to keep going through adversity is what made me stronger, better and wiser.”
Making people feel like magic is what Russell does best. Her team and founders of Paparazzi, friends, family and customers are her support and motivation to keep chasing her dream.
“The founders of Paparazzi, their staff and other consultants from different walks of life pour positive energy into one another, which is uplifting,” said Rashee. “We are a sisterhood and brotherhood.”
While the pandemic has put a damper on gathering, being together with her customers is what Rashee enjoys most, by hosting jewelry parties for girls’ nights, special events and family functions.
“To personally be interactive with my customers as they ‘ooh and ahh’ over the jewelry is what puts a smile on my face as well as theirs,” she explained.
Rashee also shows love to her community by offering some sweet perks and giving back.
And while she isn’t able to host in-person parties as much these days, Rashee has transitioned to shop online and offers in-person shopping at the “Artic Ice Box” by appointment—her home shop filled with a wide selection of pieces to choose from, including looks for women, men and children.
At such an affordable price point, jewelry from Rashee's Artic Ice Box doesn’t disappoint. Her children’s line, called Starlet Shimmer, include earrings, bracelets and rings for only a dollar each. Women’s jewelry options include earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces—and all necklaces come with matching earrings! She also offers men's jewelry, including bracelets, necklaces and rings. Whether shoppers are looking for metal, seed beads, acrylic or wood pieces, she’s got them covered. All adult jewelry is priced at five dollars, with the exception of her upscale Zi Collection sets for $25.00 each. All jewelry in the Artic Ice box is lead- and nickel-free.
Best of all, Rashee is helping more and more people enjoy the finer—yet affordable—things in life, one piece of jewelry at a time.
To shop the Artic Ice Box, visit their online shops at articicebox.com or articice.org. Find Artic Ice on Facebook and Instagram to view Facebook Live shopping events or book an in-person shopping appointment.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY:
By Lajeune Hollis
Alisha Moten, exuberant and full-of-joy makeup artist and owner of Golden Adorns Artistry, loves to travel with her husband on vacation. She loves to take in all the sights, sounds and scenes from every excursion, but the feeling of refreshment and vibrancy she adopts quickly dissipates when she returns home. Instead of being stuck in a let-down of post-vacation blues, Moten used her experience as a catalyst and inspiration to launch her online business while on a four-month pandemic-induced job furlough in 2020.
“Golden is for things that bring you joy,” she shared. “Adorns means to beautify. When I think about life, I want it to be golden and bring me joy, travel, art and beauty."
It’s no wonder Moten’s mantra is to live life goldenly. She has a positive mindset and encourages others to do the same by taking just a few minutes a day to de-stress–and her wellness essential oils and candles can help with that.
Golden Adorns Artistry features a variety of travel-inspired products, including candles, décor, skin care and wellness.
"When I think about life, I want it to be golden and bring me joy, travel,
Moten offers 10 signature double-wicked candle scents that are each packaged beautifully in glass tumblers with natural cork lids, and include her Luxe Resort Travel Candle, Destination Travel Candle, Exotic Hiatus Travel Candle, Golden Moments Travel Candle and Vacation Hair Travel Candle.
“Golden Moments is a sugar lemongrass scent, a sweet but lemony zest—a fun scent,” she shared. “You are creating memories while on vacation, hence, Golden Moments.”
And as for her Vacation Hair Travel Candle?
“Ladies are excited to go on vacation, so we get our hair done with twists, braids, pixies and up-dos,” she said. And that memory of the smell of “vacation hair” is what she’s captured.
She also carries Citrus Crème Lip Smoothie, a very popular lip smoothie made with coconut, Shea butter, lemon essential oil and vanilla. This big seller leaves lips feeling not just smooth but moisturized.
As part of her wellness line, Moten carries wellness essential oils. Her Zest aromatherapy blend is made with lemongrass and peppermint essential oils, and provides a feeling of energy and invigoration–a perfect “pick-me-up” from a mid-afternoon slump. Her Bedtime essential oil is made with lavender and frankincense and helps provide a restful sleep, just like the kind you experience while on vacation.
Moten plans to offer specialty boxes—filled with accoutrements—for destination-themed bridal showers and weddings. And, a Golden Candle Travel Club is also on the horizon, where subscribers will receive a monthly candle box—highlighting a different travel destination—and other goodies. What’s more? Moten would like to run her online business on a full-time basis, increasing distribution by expanding her product line into boutiques and home décor shops.
If you’re looking for a fun way to spend time with friends, Golden Adorns Artistry offers home parties, themed around beauty, scents and travel. Hosts choose from a list of suggestions and receive many perks, including credit from party merchandise sales.
So, if you seek the feeling that comes from a vacation that never ends—the warmth of the sun, the fresh ocean breeze, the sound of your favorite music playing on the beach—then look no further than Golden Adorns Artistry. They truly “capture the feelings of wanderlust through home fragrance, skincare, style and décor.”
Golden Adorns Artistry is an online business based in West Haven, Connecticut. Shop on their website by clicking here or visit Golden Adorns Artistry on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT.COM DIRECTORY:
By Sarah Thompson
Shian Earlington is proof that the most beautiful diamonds are created under pressure. At just 20 years old, Earlington is a biochemistry major with the intent of becoming a neonatal surgeon. She is also a community advocate, activist, K-12 STEM tutor, Get LIT Teens Podcast co-host and a business owner.
Earlington always knew she wanted to be her own boss after seeing how her immigrant parents were poorly treated working for other people, and in February 2020, her dream became a reality when she launched her jewelry, accessory, cosmetics and crafts company.
“Bling’d By Kaila is flashy, nice and sassy—it’s all about fun!” she exclaimed.
Her customers, who she gains mostly through social media like TikTok and Instagram, gravitate toward her handmade charm bracelets, purses and bonnets. They love her genuine and friendly nature, and keep coming back for more.
However, being able to thrive in a pandemic has not been easy.
“At first I was in the land of the unknown, so to speak,” she shared. “Because remember, there was a time when everyone was scared to go outside and people were only going outside to get groceries. So I didn’t know if people would trust me to sanitize their products and send them off. Eventually the trust rolled in and that’s how I’ve been getting sale after sale after sale.”
“Bling’d By Kaila is flashy, nice and sassy—it’s all about fun!”
Earlington puts special efforts into ensuring her customer service is top notch by including handwritten notes and extras in each order she packages, and even goes the extra mile to provide one-on-one consultations. Each order gets a little bit of sparkle when it hits a customer’s mailbox.
“When I’m in the process of doing a transaction with a customer, I like to get to know them better,” she explained. “Sometimes I even Facetime them, and get a little more information about them – like, what’s your favorite color? What candies do you like? I show them things they might be interested in. I like to put a smile on their face.”
Earlington is shining bright these days, but it hasn’t come without struggles.
“Growing up my life wasn’t perfect, and it still isn’t. I struggle with anxiety and depression and my life was not a crystal stair,” she shared. “Now that I’m older and I have moved out on my own, my life is in my own hands and I can do what I want with it now. I’m not only loving on myself, I’m loving on other people and other children that need it.”
And spread sparkles she does, in so many ways. From helping tutor inner city youth to encouraging young Black and Brown women on a podcast, she’s determined to show others how through struggles beauty can be born. She also wants to be an example for other young entrepreneurs who are considering starting their own businesses.
"Do it scared, do it afraid, but as long as you’re doing it and doing it with God, you’re going to be fine. No one’s perfect and you can always perfect anything as time goes by,” she encouraged. “2020 shattered me into pieces. Yet, through it all I trusted in God and I am beginning to feel whole again.”
Bling’d By Kaila is an exclusively online business based out of Hartford, Connecticut. Click here to shop, or find Bling’d By Kaila on Instagram or TikTok. Her hours are 8:00am – 5:00pm EST, Monday through Friday.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT.COM DIRECTORY:
By Cassandra McKenna
Every product that Susan Vanriel-Smith offers stems from daily life with her children.
“My biggest inspirations were my first two sons,” she shared. “I was first introduced to the world of autism through my oldest—they are both on the spectrum at completely different levels.”
Vanriel-Smith’s second son has helped her realize how different people are and how important it is to accept those differences. Her son, who is non-verbal and only communicates when given cues and with a talking device, motivates her daily.
The products offered by Gifted One Princes are genuinely from the heart. “I live in this world and I have a lot of experience,” she shared. “There are other companies like mine, but I feel like I take it up a notch. I saw a way that I can help others to get through some tough times.”
Vanriel-Smith runs the exclusively online store—that offers apparel, accessories and other products that feature messages related to autism and other disabilities—with a little help from her family and some outside resources. She hopes to eventually expand to vending at pop-up markets.
Gifted One Princes just recently launched in July. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they did experience some setbacks.
“There are a lot of people unemployed at the moment and though they may want to support you and make a purchase, they can’t because they are not in a position to do so,” Susan explained.
Because she knows that feeling well but is limited financially because of the pandemic, she tries to find creative ways to support other small businesses, like sharing through social media.
Pre-COVID, Vanriel-Smith and her family participated in many Walks for Autism, including at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. While walking may be on hold for now, she’s continued to support the cause by making donations and spreading awareness. She also donates a percentage of the business’s earning bi-annually to support autism research. Eventually, she’d like to donate to local schools that hold special needs programs.
“I am inspired by everyone who works with special needs," she shared. "I have worked with a lot of people over the years and have a profound respect and love for them. It takes special people with hearts of gold to work with the special needs population. It takes a very different kind of person. It isn’t easy, but they can make it look that way.”
Gifted One Princes is truly a family-operated business. Vanriel-Smith handles the day-to-day operations, her husband assists with technical aspects, her sons model products and her oldest son helps with packaging up orders.
Vanriel-Smith has been able to connect with many different people while wearing her Stolen Hearts t-shirt. “I often get stopped and questioned about it,” she shared. “It feels good to listen or offer some advice to that person about what may work for me that they can try. It opens room for conversation without being judged. It is letting others know they are not alone.”
While she works with various artists and printers to bring her creative ideas to life, Vanriel-Smith comes up with the designs for all of the products and each one represents some part of her life. Her children inspired the logo for Gifted One Princes, with the three crowns representing her three children.
“We know how to laugh and it’s the one thing I cherish the most. It doesn’t matter what we are facing. We are able to hold each other up, lean on each other’s strength and get through it. The one thing that we lean on the most is prayer.”
One of their most popular items is the Be Kind t-shirt (https://giftedoneprinces.com/collections/apparel/products/be-kind). Vanriel-Smith’s oldest son experienced bullying in middle school which inspired the message to show love, be kind and be understanding.
The Loud and Clear t-shirt (https://giftedoneprinces.com/collections/apparel/products/loud-and-clear) was inspired by her oldest son who has always struggled with eye contact. “It is one of the hardest things for him to do and he is very insecure about it,” she shared. “It can take away from his self-confidence.”
The message on the Loud and Clear t-shirt says I may not look at you when you speak but I can hear you clearly. Messages like these help to bring awareness to autism and other disabilities, which is something that Susan plans to continue as the business expands.
“I hope to one day be a motivational speaker for the cause,” she shared.
Vanriel-Smith is originally from rural Jamaica, where resources are lacking for people with disabilities. “I would love to be able to bring more awareness to the island, help to open facilities, and offer therapies and schooling to help children and young adults. There is so much I see in the future for us. We have big dreams and goals.”
She hopes that people from all over the world will become familiar with the name Gifted One Princes.
“My hope is to expand. I hope our products reach the homes of many people all over the world. We are currently shipping to Canada, but soon this will be worldwide.”
Gifted One Princes offers quality products made from fabrics and prints that can hold up after many washes, and Vanriel-Smith pays attention to detail, quickly addressing any issues that might arise.
“Quality means a lot to me,” she shared. “I want my customers to feel the love I have for my business. I meet the expectations of the customers. I ensure that they will get what they pay for.”
She also translates this to her packaging, putting personal touches on each one, with the goal of ensuring each customer is happy.
“I think great customer service is exceeding expectations,” she shared. “A great attitude and being knowledgeable about your business and products is also a plus. Customer satisfaction is one of the most important priorities.”
She also puts a priority on resolving issues in a positive manner and working towards gaining customer loyalty.
I know all of this to be true because I recently purchased some items and was very impressed. My favorite item was their canvas bag. Customer service was excellent and shipping was fast—I placed an order on Sunday and my package arrived by that Tuesday morning!
Gifted One Princes hopes to add more products to their site and are currently working on homemade organic natural skincare and hair products. “We have been working on this for months now, perfecting our formulas and getting everything right before we add the line to the business,” shared Vanriel-Smith.
Despite some setbacks, Vanriel-Smith continues to push forward. Even though they have faced some challenges and hard times, her children continue to give her strength, hope and motivation.
“We know how to laugh and it’s the one thing I cherish the most,” she shared. “It doesn’t matter what we are facing. We are able to hold each other up, lean on each other’s strength and get through it. The one thing that we lean on the most is prayer. We pray together.”
At a time when the world could use more understanding and kindness, it is wonderful to see a business that finds different ways to encourage others while also spreading awareness about autism and special needs.
Visit Gifted One Princes at https://giftedoneprinces.com/ or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Gifted-One-Princes-LLC-111514053964176) or Instagram (https://giftedoneprinces.com/).
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT.COM DIRECTORY:
Pictured: Co-owners of Your CBD Store Simsbury, Katonya Hughey and Nakia Kearse. (Photo: Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
By Sarah Thompson
Nakia Kearse and Katonya Hughey always knew they wanted to go into business together. A friendship that sprouted 14 years ago when they were corporate colleagues has now flourished into a business partnership with proud new roots in Simsbury.
CBD. It’s a buzz word that has been around long enough for many people to know that it has something to do with cannabis, but perhaps not long enough to fully grasp the wide range of benefits it offers. The growth of CBD products has been so immense that industry analysts predict the U.S. CBD market will reach $20 billion in sales by 2024. For Kearse and Hughey, it not only has helped them with friends, family and personal health challenges, it has offered a great way for them to give back and help people in their community improve their lives.
Hughey was born and raised in Bloomfield and has frequented Simsbury since childhood. Kearse, a resident of Simsbury for the past 14 years, has enjoyed raising her children in the town she now calls home. Both have a deep affinity for Simsbury, which is why it made perfect sense to set up their business right in the heart of the Farmington Valley town, on Hopmeadow Street.
“As I thought about my community, I reflected on the number of stories I’ve heard over the years about friends and their loved ones with health concerns or just looking for something to help them feel better. And after not finding many options locally to seek out these natural alternatives— like CBD—in a place with people you could trust and who cared—that is what we set out to create. A neighborhood store, with high-quality products and a strong community connection,” explained Kearse.
Because one-size-doesn’t-fit-all for using CBD products to address ailments, Kearse and Hughey take customized approaches to each person who
With education, consultation and community at the heart of their business model, the pair work hard to ensure that all who come into their store feel comfortable and informed.
“We strive to be consultative,” shared Hughey. “We put a premium on listening to our customers’ concerns in order to provide appropriate solutions.”
According to Project CBD, cannabis has a rich history as a medicine going back thousands of years. CBD is one of more than a hundred phytocannabinoids unique to cannabis. These cannabinoids endow the plant with its robust therapeutic profile. Cannabinoids interact with the body's Endocannabinoid System. The Endocannabinoid System is a system of receptors responsible for regulating many vital processes within the body including immune response, communication between cells, appetite, metabolism, memory, and more. CBD binds with these receptors to help your body achieve homeostasis—a state of stability, balance or equilibrium within a cell or the body.
“We make sure that customers understand that it is an alternative to traditional pharmaceutical drugs,” explained Hughey. “We talk through all the benefits and the different ways of ingestion. CBD is a natural anti-inflammatory. Each product works differently and can impact each person in a different way. We explain the whole process to them.”
Because one-size-doesn’t-fit-all, Kearse and Hughey take a customized approach to each person who walks through their doors—something they have dubbed “helping one neighbor at a time.”
“Our goal is to help,” shared Kearse. “We’re not here to sell something that doesn’t work. We want to help people discover what works best for them, their routine and their goals.”
This promise is even backed by a 30-day refund guarantee on all their products—including their most popular—Topical Creams, Oil Tinctures and delicious edible treats like and Peach and Watermelon Rings.
Kearse and Hughey also stay on the cutting edge of new developments in the market. Because the store is part of a larger footprint of stores, they are connected to regulations and how the market is evolving.
“We are excited about some of the new science exploring other powerful cannabinoids and the use of other natural ingredients to target specific needs,” Kearse explained. “Like our new CBNPlus tincture that is infused with lavender and valerian root, to help relax and calm before bed. It has CBD, but also a higher concentration of CBN, another cannabinoid found in cannabis. Or our Maxine+Morgan capsule that is includes CBD and other natural ingredients like fennel, tumeric, ginger, cramp bark and valerian root. This products helps women suffering with premenstrual and menstrual symptoms.”
After having opened their doors in February of this year, the pair was full steam ahead with doing in-store sampling and offering high-touch in-person demos to showcase the power of their high-quality CBD products. They could easily point out the unique QR codes that are on each product that link directly to third party lab reports, ensuring a consistent quality process and transparency all the way through.
And then boom—COVID.
Just one month into their new business, they were forced to shift gears. But, finding solutions is what Kearse and Hughey do best, so in a matter of weeks they launched a new website with an online store, virtual consultations, curbside pickup and even delivery.
What has catapulted them into a more grassroots effort has kept student athletes with aches and pains and people with arthritis, gout, sleep issues or anxiety reaching out for help.
And beyond helping customers find relief, Kearse and Hughey have supported first responders in Simsbury and Bloomfield with CBD care packages and are working to develop a forum that will allow community members to discuss racial injustice, bias and inclusion in a safe space.
“We both have a history in diversity and inclusion,” shared Kearse. “As we see the level of unrest, a lot of the times people just don’t know how to have the conversations and they want to help, but don’t know how. They have questions but don’t have a safe place to discuss what’s on their mind. Many may not have close relationships with people of color, so they are left looking at TV or reading something in the news as opposed to having real-life interactions.”
“We can begin to have some of these conversations that are deeply meaningful for us as a country, so this is simply not a movement for a day, but something that can have a long-lasting effect on the way we interact and live. Our goal was to be a neighborhood store, to understand the needs of the community and try to serve them not only with CBD but with other things, and this was a gap that I think we were uniquely positioned to try to help fill,” she added.
The store is also partnering with Signs Plus of East Granby to benefit Simsbury A Better Chance (ABC)—a non-profit organization making a difference in the lives of academically talented young men of color from underserved communities. Black Lives Matter signs and t-shirts printed by Signs Plus are being sold at Your CBD Store Simsbury, and $5 of the sign and shirt proceeds plus an additional 5% of CBD sales from customers who buy a sign or shirt will be donated to ABC.
Now that their store is fully operational, Kearse and Hughey are experiencing the joy of helping one neighbor at a time have health without the “high”—benefiting from the therapeutic properties of cannabis without the psychoactive effects.
“We always had a desire to do something different—something where we could truly give back and help,” said Kearse.
In just a few short months, they are fulfilling their dream of building strong, lasting relationships with their neighbors and offering high-quality service and products for a better community.
PLEASE NOTE: Your CBD Store Simsbury is now permanently closed.
browse the shopblackct directory:
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNER: MELANIE S.!!
To celebrate the launch of www.shopblackct.com, we're giving away a self-care gift basket packed with great items from Black-owned businesses listed on this site!
INCLUDED IN THE GIFT BASKET:
Lavender Mint Massaging Soap Bar (Heavenly Bodied)
King Me Loofah Soap (Heavenly Bodied)
The King's Butter (Heavenly Bodied)
A Kingly Scrub (Heavenly Bodied)
Earrings (Shanta's Vintage Boutique)
Necklace (Shanta's Vintage Boutique)
Shea Lip Butter (Royal House Products)
Sea Moss Face Masque (Royal House Products)
"Love" Clip (Clouded Boutique)
Sativa Seed Lip Oil (Clouded Boutique)
Coconut Lip Gloss (Clouded Boutique)
"The Penthouse" Gold Paparazzi Necklace and Earrings (Jewels Exclusive $5 Bling)
Whipped Unscented Shea Butter (Ray of Sol)
Soap Tray (Ray of Sol)
Handmade Body Soap (Ray of Sol)
CBD Bath Bombs (Your CBD Store - Simsbury)
Pure Uncut Egyptian Musk Oil for Body and Burning (Royal House Products)
Retail value: $210+
HERE's HOW TO ENTER:
1. Comment in the blog comment section with your name and which item you are most excited about winning!
2. Follow SHOPBLACKCT.com on Facebook (CLICK HERE) and Instagram (CLICK HERE).
3. Share this giveaway page on your social media.
4. Complete the form below.
The winner will be chosen at random on July 8, 2020 and will be contacted by email and announced on SHOPBLACKCT.com social media.
The gift basket items will be shipped to the winner. Open to US residents only. No purchase necessary.