Snapshot on young entrepreneur, Nicholas McKenzie
Gregory Park, ST. CATHERINE - “I see myself as an individual creator, and I have been inspired by and create with other creators, so naturally I call my business I Am Creations”.
25-year old Nicholas McKenzie’s compelling story demonstrates how the willingness to reach his goals combined with encouragement from his community brought him to launch his own jewelry business.
USAID-funded Community Empowerment and Transformation Project II (COMET II) partner, Forward Step Foundation, is the organization responsible, in part, for McKenzie’s success. In 2015, McKenzie wanted to pursue a career in music. After high school, however, McKenzie was fixing cell phones and other gadgets to support himself. He decided to try something different, and joined the first cohort of student trainees in a six-month skills training program dubbed “Lively Up Yuhself” at the Forward Step Foundation. The Foundation’s Sustainable Livelihood Project, supported by COMET II, targeted unattached youth from the community and equipped them with a range of skills including furniture building, jewelry making, and studio engineering.
McKenzie recalls, “I started out doing studio engineering at the Foundation, but then, I became interested in making Shamballa bracelets taught by Bobo Julius, the craft jewelry trainer.” As he progressed, Julius noticed McKenzie’s progress; “He told me he was proud of how good I was at coming up with new designs,” stated McKenzie.
Since that pilot program, the Foundation has been operating as a social enterprise in jewelry design. Using the skills of its training graduates, McKenzie being a shining example, they sell jewelry to support their training programs for at-risk youth. This experience was instrumental in equipping McKenzie with the skills to launch his own business. However, even with the support of the program, his path to I am Creations was not without its own challenges. “After I completed the training, we would go around to different locations displaying our pieces, but eventually, I had to join my father on a construction site because this was a good opportunity at the time.”
After completing the short gig with his dad, McKenzie returned to the Foundation, continuing his involvement there as a craft jeweler. Shortly after, Latoya Fry, Operations Manager at the Foundation and a craft jewelry entrepreneur herself, told him about an advanced training workshop in craft jewelry offered by the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC). “The name of the workshop was ‘Perfect Finish’, [and there,] I learned how to forge metal and refine my pieces,” notes McKenzie. It was here that McKenzie formulated the concept for his business, incorporating metal with beads and other materials that he used in his designs at the Foundation. He, along with his classmates, displayed their first pieces in his I Am Creations line at their graduation ceremony.
McKenzie says he intends to widen his already growing local clientele to the international markets. However, to do this, he says he will need a few extra hands. “The Foundation was very crucial in helping me to reach this point and I want to give back in whatever way I can. So, I have started training other youth in my community on Saturdays as a way to recruit other craft jewelry makers on my team, and already I am seeing some great talents”.