Columnist Sarah Jessica hosts Hotshots on her website Sarah’s Hotspot: a monthly podcast series for musicians, artists and professionals within the scene to discuss the ups and downs of working within the Canadian entertainment industry.
In October’s podcast, Sarah Jessica speaks with Alyssa Shanghavi; a GTHA-based multi-disciplinary artist and trombonist who has recently joined St. Catharines’ dance-funk band My Son the Hurricane. Shanghavi also opened Benji’s Market in 2020- an Etsy shop specializing in scrunchies, hair accessories, keychains, stationary, stickers and more.
True to style, Sarah Jessica provides an honest and straightforward look as to what artists contemplating a similar path can expect as Alyssa reflects on her first year in business. A condensed version of the conversation is below, with the full podcast available at the end, or directly from Sarah’s Hotspot.
Sarah Jessica: Do you remember when you started branching out into digital art?
Alyssa: It actually all started when I made my first ever purchase from Joe at Jollypop Studios (plug, plug!). I remember that I bought a bunch of stickers from her and went to her YouTube channel and stalked and was like ‘how does she make these?’, like, making stickers looks like such an easy thing. And then I saw how she did it and said ‘oh. I kinda want to try that out.’ So I started on Adobe Illustrator- which, by the way, was incredibly difficult to start out with, just because you can’t have the precision control that you want from like, using a pencil versus using a mouse- but that’s basically how I got into it. I was just like ‘oh, that looks cool. I’m not doing anything else right now, let’s try this out.’
Sarah Jessica: So it started for you as a hobby, then?
Alyssa: Basically, yeah. . .I wanted more stickers, I could literally make my own stickers. And then all of a sudden, I was like ‘oh. I could sell these.’ How cute would it be to have a little shop, or be an old lady that has a little shop one day!
Sarah Jessica: When was the first time that you started looking at art as something more than a hobby?
Alyssa: Definitely when I started Benji’s Market. When I realized the exponential growth of my business. Even now, getting any kind of notification from any of my Benji’s Market socials, it’s still a big thing because we’re still in our smaller stages right now. But it’s a big event- someone found me and likes this today, or someone found me and messaged me today. It’s kinda cool. But this is the first time where I’m like, this could be more than a hobby.
Sarah Jessica: I guess they [your friends and family] figure it’s [Benji’s Market is] a hobby for you right now and you’re going to give it up in a few months.
Alyssa: That’s the thing. Because a lot of businesses especially during covid, they started and then they stopped. And then they started with a new thing, and then they stopped. So it was a flat response, but now that people can see that I’m growing exponentially, getting commissions, making more, they’re like ‘how’s Benji’s going? What are you planning next? What are you doing for Christmas?’
Sarah Jessica: Is fall typically a slow season for you?
Alyssa: It’s iffy. Typically things apparently pickup over Christmas time. But I don’t know if last year was a fluke and everyone was buying because you couldn’t go anywhere. So a couple of my friends and I, we’re just kind of hoping that this year goes better, because I know a handful of friends haven’t gotten a single order since mid-summer. And it’s hard to get traction when you don’t see that traction. It’s hard to keep advertising because it kills your motivation a little bit. . .I cut down on spending, that way, we’re able to break even each month. . .I don’t want to go into a ridiculous amount of debt when I don’t know what’s going on. Especially during a time where the world could shut down at any given moment in time. I could be working this week, but I don’t know if I’ll be working next week- just the way things are going with covid.
Sarah Jessica: What do you feel has been your biggest gain from starting your business?
Alyssa: Honestly, it’s been a confidence boost. That’s the biggest thing. It’s helped me grow a tougher skin and boost my confidence overall. Also, the friendships I’ve gained from having a small business. I can’t even begin to tell you that complete strangers that I have met on the internet have been there for me when other people haven’t been. . .I never thought that I would do that, or be the type of person to trust that I could make friendships that are that good.
Featured image by Christopher Arndt.