Photography: Marrica Evans

Photography: Marrica Evans

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cimone Key.

Cimone, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My life got off to a cool start, my parents fell in love in the Army and had a set of twins — me and my brother. Then, at the age of three, my parents divorced and my life changed. My twin brother and I became the dependents of a divorced Army woman looking to make a means for her children. We often traveled coast-to-coast and internationally during that time.

Another shift occurred when my mother was called for her third tour in Iraq. Her departure allowed for my brother and I to live in Texas with our dad during our Junior and Senior year of high school. We went to Colleyville Heritage High – a school that significantly impacted my college career and the major that I would choose.

I always knew in my heart that I was destined to be an artist. I LOVED colors throughout my childhood and continue to love them today. My infatuation with wearing bright colors and rainbow themes drove my family CRAZY. The thought tickles me ‘til this day, but I find it truly incredible that God blessed me with a passion for creativity because it has ultimately allowed me to become the artist that I am now.

I recall a conversation that I had with my mom after expressing that I wanted to be an artist, and she replied, “You only make money after you die. I don’t want you to be a starving artist.” Oh boy, little did she know that I would become an artist — let’s just say, ya girl ain’t starving! haha.

My dad suggested that I explore architecture. He often said, “They make a lot of money, and you can still draw and be creative.” I took a CAD architecture classes during my junior year, only to discover that I hated it, haha.

One day, during my senior year of high school, a representative from The Art Institute of Dallas came to visit my class. She spoke about the Art Institute and broke down the majors and what they were all about. The moment that she started describing the graphic design program, she caught my attention. A light bulb clicked in my head and I knew what I was being called to do. I was going to be a Graphic Designer. I signed up right after high school and managed to graduate in three years with my Bachelor’s Degree.

Two weeks before graduation, I started my career with an internship to gain professional experience. I invested eight months of my energy designing for Fortune 500 brands, such as Chevrolet, USAA, Udi’s, and AT&T, before having to move on with my career. The next level was landing a job as an Art Director at one firm, and then after a year, becoming an Art Director for one of the top agencies in Dallas.

I was making strides, but not necessarily be fulfilled. In the back of my mind, ever since I was 16 years old, I knew that I wanted to own my own business. I stayed at an agency for about a year, taking in all that I could. I remember planning to quit in the summer of 2016. On September 25, 2015, I woke up that morning praying to God to direct my path, asking for guidance in the course that He wanted me to take. I got fired that day. No write-ups or a valid explanation.

Even though I shed a few tears, I knew that God was providing me with direction. It just came with a little push. I took a leap of faith, and I decided not to return to corporate. I started my own business on October 5, 2015, and retained a web design certificate from SMU in November 2016. I haven’t looked back since.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Challenges and obstacles are inevitable for the aspiring female business owner, largely because we are not encouraged or taught to be business owners in school. We were coached on how to be good employees. Both of my parents are hard workers, but I think that most of my entrepreneurial ambition came from my dad. He has been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember, with the mentality that no one would ever tell him how much he’s worth an hour.

The primary and most consistent struggle that I’ve encountered is the underappreciation of my professional work. Creative and artistic services are often undervalued because of its intangible nature. Another challenge is transitioning from employee to employer and embracing the lifestyle that comes with it. Employers do not get to binge watch television, party every weekend, or frolic at happy hours. The whole mentality must shift.

I overcame these challenges and within a couple of months of opening my business, I was blessed to work with the City of Dallas for the 2016 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade. I followed up with work for Sally Beauty and the Boys & Girls Club marketing collateral. A success that early and consistently has affirmed my course. “God’s Plan”.

My advice to young women would be to go full-force in starting their own business. Don’t hold back. Do it without reservation, and do it without consideration and regard for the corporate world. It must be all or nothing. Pray for guidance and a clear revelation of your gifts, as this was how my course was revealed to me. The industry needs more women who aren’t afraid to rock the boat and make a living for themselves. Always remember to stay true to yourself when creating your own business.

People love sincerity. I have noticed a trend in women starting businesses that they are not passionate about. Such endeavors do a disservice to the owner and consumer. Following trends is not a course to fulfillment. Something that comes natural, and that you may even do for free, is a good sign that it is purposeful work. You will not struggle to try to make the business work if it is truly a gift from God. You don’t want to invest your energy in quick hustles or your business will be over.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Cimone Key Creative Studio – what should we know?
I am the founder of Cimone Key Creative Studio, an intimate boutique, design studio located in downtown Dallas, Texas. My work entails being an Executive Creative Director. We specialize in graphic design, web design, social media design, and package design. I oversee all incoming and outgoing material, content, collateral, etc. Including myself, our team is made up of a few designers and a couple of contractors who specialize in marketing, web development, and copywriting. My company is known for modern design and luxury design.

What I am most proud of is the range of my portfolio, because I have worked with both new businesses and Fortune 500 companies. It has impressed clients to see what I have accomplished in the two and a half years I’ve been in business. I am proud of the fact that our brand is building a reputation and a name in the industry, especially because of our humble beginnings.

The thing I love most about what I do is seeing the brand that we’ve designed grow up to become a recognizable name in their industry. New businesses are my own little babies growing up one by one. I want to be an inspiration to others.

My business is set apart because of its intimate nature. When you call to schedule an appointment, your meeting will be scheduled with me directly. Your work will be done by me or overseen by me. Clients love to know who they are doing business with and who is working on their projects, and that is the service we provide. I prefer to build lasting relationships than a bunch of unsatisfied customers for a cheap buck. What also set this business apart is that it is facilitated by millennials, caters to all ethnicities, and gets it right. During this age of business, millennials are determining the future; so, it benefits clients to work with a millennial-founded company to appeal to the largest consumer base in the world.

So much of the media coverage is focused on the challenges facing women today, but what about the opportunities? Do you feel there are any opportunities that women are particularly well positioned for?
Women are empowered to choose whatever they want to become. The opportunities are plentiful. The opportunities within each industry vary, so I believe that if this is what God intended for her to do then she must do it and make a way, if necessary. There are not a lot of women in my industry, and African-American representation is particularly low as well. We must have the backbone and the will to create opportunities when none are presented, which in turn will make a way for others.

When assistance, motivation, inspiration, or encouragement is needed, we must help one another. The real question is, are we, as women, positioning ourselves to create new opportunities for ourselves? Why wait for the opportunities? Men sure don’t.

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