Who can take a piece of denim fabric and transform it into a trendy, fahionable handbag? Cheryl Brooks, designer and owner of retail accessories company Nilaja can; afterall, her denim handbags are hot and stylish, having even adorned the arms of celebs like legendary tennis sisters Venus and Serena Williams. Established in 2003 while Cheryl was a stay-at-home mother, Nilaja is an online specialty store that houses Cheryl’s uniquely designed handbags, jewelry, and greeting cards.
Cheryl got her start by making things such as greeting cards in her leisure time. She gave the greeting cards to family members as gifts. Everyone started to encourage Cheryl to sell her unique cards. One day, a co-worker purchased a few, showed them off to a local boutique in the Cleveland, OH area, and the designs took off from there. Once Cheryl established a presence she began to approach other boutiques about carrying her designs. A year or so later she added handbags to her collection, and later decided to market to the internet.
The main obstacle that Cheryl had to overcome as an African American designer was that of simpy being taken seriously by store owners who assumed that their customers would not be attracted to her merchandise. But Cheryl has made it clear in no uncertain terms that she makes products for all people. When I asked Cheryl if she had any “words of wisdom” for other women who are looking to market their designs she confidently replied, “Do you. Let your designs reflect a true sense of authenticity.” Believe in yourself and never give up on your dreams. It’s hard work but if you persevere, you will eventually achieve your goals.” Cheryl’s future projects include a spring collection of her handbags.
” My greatest influences are my mother and my grandmother because they taught me all that I know about art. The two of them combined taught me to sew, paint, draw, and crochet.” ~Cheryl Brooks