At a time when jobs are scarce, Suritah Wignall has designed the career of her dreams: being a visual artist. “Art has been in my blood since I was four years old. I always knew I wanted to create and paint. I was fortunate enough to network with some amazing artists in the community. I was never into the art school thing because I feel like art can’t be graded. It really comes from within. So I had professors and teachers connected with artists in the community who allowed me to come to their home and they would teach me on the side. I even had the opportunity to travel to Harlem and spent the afternoon with my favorite artist Bryan Collier,” she says.
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Wignall formed a greeting card company called Sweet Like Mango Creations to showcase and celebrate the beauty of Black women both here and abroad. She designs blank gift cards, prints and t-shirts and says the business is doing well, but she had to find the right way to package it. “I do a lot of festivals and I would bring my large paintings to sell. Everyone liked them, but not everyone could afford original paintings. It was then that I decided to scale it down and do postcards, prints and greetings cards. I didn’t have a name for it yet but I noticed that a lot of women appreciated the fact that I was designing cards that reflected the beauty of ‘us’. That’s kind of where it started and it’s just been a progression since then,” she says.
She also learned first-hand a thing or two about being an entrepreneur. “It’s a lot of work and it’s constant and it’s something you have to be really patient with. Here in Toronto, we have a lot of amazing entrepreneurship programs for adults. For example, there are workshops that actually fund you while you are learning about business. I got picked out of 500 people to take part in a one-year program where I learned all the skills you need to run a small business. There are mentors and financial advisors on hand. I also got funding from the University of Toronto and I have a mentor there, as well. It’s a lot of work,” says Wignall.
Today, her creativity and hustle have paid off. She gets to do what she loves the most and she has even managed to get the support of eclectic R&B singer Erykah Badu. “As an artist, I’m very visual and I want to spend my time creating 90 percent of the time but I also have to spend time doing administrative things for the sake of the business. When you’re first starting out, you have to do everything yourself because maybe you don’t have the funds to hire people. So, it’s a lot of work in the beginning, a lot of marketing, and phone calls and promoting yourself. I know I don’t want to do anything else, so I have to make this work. So it’s all about both designing and staying in business but I’ve gotten a lot of support from the United States and South Africa and Erykah Badu. I’ve known her a long time and she’s been really supportive. She allows me to create images using her name and her face,” she says.
With all that’s on her paint palette, Wignall has even made time to give back to others. Aside from creating images, she facilitates free workshops for women in her community who are survivors of domestic violence. She says, “I want to continue to make my business big, so that I can afford to work with women.”