NASSAU, BAHAMAS— After quitting her retail job in 2015, Colette Ferguson boldly chose to pursue her artistic passion.
She started Coco Reef Craft Company, where she transforms items typically found on the beach into exquisite body and home accessories.
“I’ve been doing crafts for 28 years, but I didn’t focus on straw products until I started my business,” she explained.
“My medium was initially charcoal and pencil art, but later I became interested in craftsmanship because I wanted to get into the tourism industry and realized that the best way to do that would be to manufacture straw products.
In 1994, the Department of Tourism launched its Authentic Bahamian campaign, encouraging people to create products using indigenous resources.
Ferguson said her initial interest in making souvenirs motivated her to participate in the initiative. After seeing the diverse range of products she could create with thatch palm straw, she realized she had stumbled upon her “niche market”.
“The encouragement I received through this program inspired me to start my business,” Ferguson continued.
“This unit of the Ministry of Tourism still exists today and continues to promote products that are 100% made in the Bahamas. Their promotion of local products inspired me to take my craft seriously.
Ferguson crafts her one-of-a-kind jewelry and accessories with straw, pink sand, seashells, and “anything you can find on the beach.” After sourcing her raw materials, she conducted two years of research before launching her products on the market.
“I visited different family islands to learn more about Bahamian straw and how it is cut and prepared,” she said.
“I also asked the various straw weavers to give me a sample of their products. I taught myself how to make woven jewelry, and how I cut my straw to form my shapes has never been done before.
Ferguson said she learned to process her straw in a way that allowed her to cut it into different shapes without it tearing easily and preventing it from taking on a loose sticky texture.
“After deciding on the shapes I wanted to cut my straw into, I bought the equipment that could do the job. After applying the treatment, I let the straw go through a five day drying process. During that time, I was machine cutting them and making jewelry out of them in different shapes and sizes.
Although she primarily focuses on straw work, Ferguson said she also enjoys creating sand art for home decor.
“I didn’t know Cat Island had pink sand until I visited and saw the beaches there,” she said.
“In the art world, everyone uses paints and charcoals, so I decided to be different and decorate canvases with sand and shells. I also make leather moldings and candle holders The response I received was great because no one else does what I do.
While Ferguson had the vision to take Coco Reef Craft Company to the next level, she lacked the funds to make it a reality. It wasn’t until a good friend told her about Access Accelerator and its work helping small businesses that she decided to apply.
“I didn’t expect anything, and I was shocked and blown away when I received a grant of $4,992.29,” she said.
“The classes were fabulous and made me want to continue, and I applied to get more training because you don’t have a lot of free time as an artist and entrepreneur. The virtual classes were very convenient.
After receiving the grant, Ferguson said she came up with the idea of embroidering designs on her straw cutouts — another design decision she says had never been executed before.
“I realized this was something new, so I made patches and labels using an embroidery machine. None of this would be possible without Access Accelerator. made it possible to purchase a sewing and embroidery machine as well as thread and other threading materials.
Ferguson said while she expected tourists to support her work, she was surprised by the positive response from locals. Still, she says the lack of a physical store has impacted her sales.
“At the moment I don’t have a set location,” Ferguson said.
“I was initially set up in Place de Pompey, but that space hasn’t reopened since the pandemic, so I have no way to promote my products outside of pop-up markets and festivals. Trying to set up shop in Junkanoo Beach or Arawak Cay is also nearly impossible as there is a two year waiting list.
Ferguson said finding a stable location is his biggest challenge to date; however, she still has stores interested in showcasing her products.
“In 10 years, I want my business to become a cohesive business that my family can carry on even when I’m not around,” Ferguson added.
“I can see Coco Reef Crafts becoming something that takes off internationally because my products are unique and the market is wide open. Every little help counts, and I’m grateful for the boost Access Accelerator has given me.