While 2020 will be remembered for how difficult it was for everyone, there are some fortunate people who utilised the extra time at home effectively. Shoilee Islam, a second-year Agricultural Economics and Rural Development student at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University and the Founder and Artist of Creative Lee, is one such person. Creative Lee is an online arts and crafts store that specialises in handmade, customised journals.
Shoilee started journaling as a hobby in 2016. However, due to other commitments, she could not practice it regularly. Four years later, when she found herself with an abundance of time on her hands, she took to journaling once more, creating beautifully patterned pages, filled with artworks of different kinds. Her journal spreads sometimes featured paintings, hand-drawn sketches or neatly penned mandala designs.
The only constant was that whatever she used was done by hand, including the binding. To showcase her creativity, Shoilee uploaded images of her journal spreads on social media, posting them on various groups as well as her own page. Her creative outputs were met with overwhelming appreciation.
Many were surprised to find out that the journals were handmade as opposed to store-bought. Soon, Shoilee began to receive requests from people who wanted their own journals designed by her. This is when the journey of Creative Lee began. Given the amount of praise she received, Shoilee gained the confidence to start her own business.
When it comes to designing the journals, Shoilee does not believe in restricting herself. Most of the orders she receives are crafted according to her customers' needs and budgets – they choose the layouts, colours and featured artworks for their journals.
"If any given journal has a hundred pages, around ten to twelve of those will be designed by me. The rest are kept blank for the user to fill up as they please," she adds. Shoilee is also known to sell theme-oriented journals among which the TV show "Friends" and the "Harry Potter" series are two of the most popular ones.
"Initially, I had to explain the concept of journaling to people, as it is not a common activity in Bangladesh," Shoilee says about the challenges she faced.
Overall, maintaining Creative Lee has been a positive outlet for Shoilee. She looks forward to receiving each order and getting to work. "It is a kind of refreshment for me, amid my studies and chores," she says.
She nevertheless recognises that the e-commerce sector is highly competitive. However, she believes that she is able to stand out in the market, owing to the fact that her products are a combination of craftsmanship and artistry. "There are many competing online artist pages and crafts shops, but most of them specialise in one of three things: sketching, painting or crafting. The journals I create are a combination of all of these things," she asserts.
Shoilee believes that the first six to eight months of a business are crucial. She is still in the initial learning phase of what she hopes to be a long-term creative career. "This job energises me, and I am grateful to be able to do it in these times of uncertainty," she concludes.