Some Sunday Silliness…

16 Oct

Nature strikes back….


Daughter of the Diaspora: Mandi Braithwaite

14 Oct

Mandi Braithwaite

MANDI JOSEPH-BRAITHWAITE is one of those women who stand out in a crowd.  Statuesque, immaculately dressed and always sporting an inviting smile, you are immediately drawn to her vivacious personality.

An hour after our first conversation, we knew each other’s life stories and I had been invited to lady’s night at her house and karaoke.

I would like to say I’m special, but not so (sigh). By virtue of her “way”, Mrs. Braithwaite is one of those people who every woman she knows would list as their best friend.  Always the life of the party, don’t be shocked to see Mandi dancing the “Movie” with Hard Knaxs, throwing amazing parties at her home or enlisting in some wild adventure.

That is why it is no surprise that when Mandi Braithwaite decided to start her own business; it would be as a party planner extraordinaire with her company Shawanda Party Planners.

ES: Obviously from your accent, you’re not exactly from Antigua. Where are you from and what brought to Antigua?

MB: I’ve been here, from the UK for 15 years and people still ask, “Are you enjoying your holiday” (laughing). My parents, grandparents, husband are from Antigua—my hardcore roots. I was smitten with Antigua growing up as a child, coming to see my grandparents. There was something about Antigua; I like the freeness, the openness. I just regarded Antigua as “free” and I knew I would come back. I was 30 when I decided. I said, “I’ve got to move on.” I had been there, done that and needed to get back to my own roots. I’m not prejudice, I’m not racist, but I just love being with my people.

ES: Antigua has such a different culture from the UK. How did you find the fortitude to make A& B your home? 

MB: I’m a strong-minded person and I thank my parents for that. I respect people; I respect their beliefs and property. I’m a generous person and I like to help people. I like to see people happy. If I see someone sad it makes me sad. If I can help in anyway I will. It makes me sad if I can’t help.

ES: How did you come up with the name “Shawanda”?

MB: Shawanda was a false name that I gave my husband when he was trying to chat me up. I gave it to my husband when I came to Antigua because I wasn’t looking for a relationship. I wanted to set down my foundation; I had my son with me. He was running down the road shouting “Shawanda” and everyone was looking, except for me. He realized that wasn’t my name and he found it very funny in the end. When I decided to have a business, not long after I came to Antigua in 1998, I used the name Shawanda.

ES: Why did you decide to go into party planning and concentrate in children’s parties?

MB: There will always be children, always. There is one born just now as I end this sentence. There will always be a market for children; there is a birthday everyday, a celebration everyday. We do other events too, but I saw there was a niche. You see them (children) after church, helping granddad, kicking stones. They seem bored. For a birthday, the family and siblings will come around and sit, chat amongst themselves and that was it. I thought, “This is a celebration, lets rejoice!” Let that child feel special, put them on a pedestal for one day.

ES: What is the Shawanda Party Planners experience?

MB: When we come to your party you’ll see an array of colors coming through your gate. The experience is to give them a wow factor. For some of them they know me, I’ve been doing this for 15 years. They say, “Hi, Shawanda” and are excited to see us.

We do face painting, because I have a knack for art. Not a lot of people can do free hand art—that is mine. Whilst I’m face painting, someone else might be blowing up balloons and twisting them into dogs or flowers. Then we get them to an open space and give them my own “sports day”, which can include sack races and eggs on spoons for starters. The children also have fun with hula-hoops, tug of war and musical chairs. We get Mom and Dad to do it too! By the time we’re gone people are coming up asking for our number.  The parties are around two hours, but we’re really flexible.

I also do weddings, Christmas parties, anniversaries, baby showers, and bridal showers. We do all types of events. It just happens that children are what I’m contacted for most.

ES: How has business been going for you, thus far?

MB: I rarely advertise, if at all. I’ve never paid for an advertisement in the paper. I’ve never gone on the radio to advertise my business. Business is good, I must admit. I don’t like to say that because so many people are not having it good, the recession is on. I’m not going to glorify my self, but I’m doing just fine.

ES: What  were the challenges over the years?

MB: Getting the right staff. I think I’ve more or less got it now, but I still need more. The majority of them work full-time as well.

ES: What are you next steps for Shawanda Party Planners?

MB: My next step is to have my own amusement park. I want to have Shawanda’s Chocolate Factory.  You can hire the area to have a party instead of trying to find a school, beach or community center. They can come down and have the full party package. It’s been a plan of mine for years.

ES: I heard that you make it part of your business to include charity. Tell me a little about that?

MB: Every Christmas I give back. We’ve done trips to Barbuda on behalf of Rotary Club to do Christmas parties for the children too. We also go to the Children’s Hospital and give gifts; we also read stories to them. We visit the Boy’s School and the Mental Hospital and spend time with them. If there are any children out on the street as we drive along we give them gifts and candy.

I must say, Antigua Home and Office Depot sponsor our gifts. They are very charitable and generous; I tip my hat to them.

Charity is important to me; I truly believe what goes around comes around.

ES: What advice would you give Caribbean women who want to be entrepreneurs like yourself?

MB: If you have the passion for something and a talent, don’t waste it. Don’t have it sitting on a shelf, share it with someone else. If it doesn’t work, at least you tried it. Instead of thinking, “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve”. You will see what the flaws are and what the benefits are. Just go for it, you have nothing to lose really. Not everything has a cost to it.

Meet with other women or men, there is someone always willing to swap my oranges for your pears. Play one off with the other. Go for it, network, talk to people.  You are not going to move on or empower yourself sitting in front of a television. With every interaction think, “How can my business be implemented into this opportunity?” For the women out there, don’t depend on anyone else. Do it yourself, you’ll feel better and you won’t feel indebted to anyone. Teach your children those morals too, so they pass it on.

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To have your event planned by Shawanda Party Planners, contact (268) 464-7599. You can find further information on her Facebook page, Shawanda Party Planners.

If you have questions for Mandy about business, add a comment!

Daughter’s of the Diaspora, You Named Me…..

14 Oct

Yes we can!

I created the Daughter’s of the Diaspora segment to spotlight women entrepreneurs from the Caribbean. Whether they be in Antigua or the US–wherever we may be!

I speak a lot about women’s empowerment. Not only empowerment, but oneness. We must support and help one another. How do you do that? If a woman has a good business, simple, support it. Support your local businesses.

I will feature women who inspire me and who I think are doing good things. Hopefully, their stories will inspire you and your support will inspire them to do bigger and better things. Not only that, but I want to create a forum where women of all stages in their businesses can give support and get support. Like my first interviewee–Mandy Braithwaite–said, “Trade my oranges for your pears.”

If you want to be featured in the Daughter’s of the Diaspora segment, just shoot me an email and I’ll get back to you ASAP! If you’re not willing to answer questions or help another sista out…you need not apply, but I still love you ;)