Ireland’s two lockdowns, if nothing else, allowed thousands of people to explore their creative side. Some used it to perfect that one recipe that had always alluded them. Others discovered a hidden talent for making or building something that a full-time job never allowed. Undoubtedly, many hard-working people lost jobs due to Covid-19 and had to find a way to be resourceful. For them, the opportunity to make some extra cash was a driving factor and the hobby became a business. But whatever the individual circumstances were; some great pictures for a Facebook page and the camaraderie of like-minded entrepreneurs was all the armoury needed. Thanks to the most powerful communications tool of the third millennium – the internet – the world became an instant shopfloor.
Amanda Freeman, moved halfway across the world from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Ireland. She left behind beautiful golden sandy beaches; blue seas; samba music and now lives with her husband Pat in Mullingar. In March of this year, while she was on temporary lay-off from her job, she set-up ‘Creative Genius’ (www.creativegenius.ie) to provide customised handmade products.
I began by asking Amanda how she came up with the idea for the business. “When Pat and I were getting married last year, we wanted to give our bridal party some personalised gifts. Lots of products labelled as ‘Irish’ were actually being shipped from the UK or USA. When our order finally did arrive, I was disappointed by the poor craftsmanship. I have very good design skills and thought that maybe there was an opportunity for someone to customise the type of products that I was looking for – right here in Ireland.”
In her current role for a Dublin-based engineering firm, Amanda is responsible for all her employer’s branding and promotional gifts. So, she already had some very well-established links with quality Irish suppliers and printing firms, that she could immediately use. She began to plan her new venture in her spare time. However, when the March lockdown arrived, Amanda found herself stuck at home and decided to use the opportunity and began work on building her website.
When movement was restricted [during the lockdown] it was impossible to go into town and browse the shops and almost everyone became an armchair expert. “I started getting orders for personalised gifts almost straightway. There is so much pressure to buy something unique and memorable. A personalised gift makes the gift that much more special for the person who has everything! For people who love a drink, I offered sets of personalised prosecco glasses or gin tumblers. One of my best sellers is a customised frame that can be programmed to play any song at all from Spotify.”
Brasil and Computers
Amanda was the first person in her family to go to college. “Both my parents came from a very poor background in Brazil but worked hard to ensure that my two brothers and I were given every opportunity in life. Our family owned a butcher’s shop and my father also worked as a foreman for the railway company. I was more academic than my siblings and wanted to learn and speak different languages and travel.”
Amanda was 12 years old when she first saw a computer. One of her neighbourhood friends was starting an apprenticeship with a software company and was given one. She was instantly hooked and so that same neighbour started teaching her. Aged 17, she decided to study computer programming for her high school degree and needed her a computer of her own. “I remember my mother and father coming with me to buy the computer because it was such an expensive purchase for my family. At college I chose a degree in Electrical and Telecommunications Engineering because I wanted to be an engineer.” After graduating, Amanda worked for an insurance company where she used to prepare reports for claims investigations and worked in that industry till about 2008.
Move to Ireland
“Originally, I was excited about becoming an Engineer but found it very boring and decided to go into the more creative side of computing. So, in 2008, I started providing freelance graphic design and website development service to small Brazilian businesses. It was when I got a scholarship to do a games development course in Scotland that my life took a dramatic shift. Around the same time, I met Pat [who is now my husband] and he suggested that I came over to Ireland instead to study. I had always intended to go abroad to Europe but ended up in Ireland rather than Scotland!”
When Amanda moved to Mullingar, she initially worked in SuperValu before moving to a marketing position with a local bakery. She continued to work in various marketing roles before landing her current position.
Second Job and Future Plans
“In Brazilian culture, everybody has a couple of jobs. It is normal for people to sell pies, cakes or paintings to make extra money and supplement the income from their main job. I’ve always worked from a young age and would sell Brigadeiros [chocolate fudge truffles]. Later, I used to paint oil paintings and take photo portraits. I think Ireland is shifting that way. People are getting in touch with their creative side and finding innovative ways to earn extra money.”
Amanda enjoys the buzz that comes from having her own business. “I get really excited every time I open an email or get a Facebook message. I love getting feedback from satisfied customers and will always try to send a little gift or a note with every item someone orders from me. I think that sort of personal touch really matters to people.” She uses social media as much as she can and finds herself often up till 3am putting gifts together for customers. I asked her whether she sees herself running Creative Genius full-time.
“I would love to do it full-time. What I do touches on my creative side. It doesn’t hurt that you can make good money and potentially a living from it. It also helps that my gifts are not seasonal and will sell throughout the year. Customers can contact me with an idea that they have for a design and I will always do my very best to work with them using photos, words etc. For some of the products – customer can choose from one of the many design templates that are on my site. Ninety-nine percent of the time I can accommodate any design idea someone has.” Amanda has purchased all the specialist equipment that she needs. She has invested in vinyl cutting machines; a heavy-duty printer for t-shirts; graphic design software and computer equipment that she needs.
“I love designing and being creative, I love telling stories. I love learning new things and expressing myself through what I do. With Covid-19 – the world is going to be whatever you make of it. We will get there. We as people have recovered from much worse.”
This article was published across the Topic group 10/12/2020.