Tenured Harlem Teacher Takes Plunge into Entrepreneurship -- Launches Her Own Jewelry Line

Ifétayo Abdus-Salam, artist-turned-teacher-turned-entrepreneur

Like the pieces that comprise her jewelry line, Hecho en Harlem, Ifétayo Abdus-Salam is beautiful, bold, and “made in Harlem.” In fact, she was raised in the very apartment that now houses her metalwork studio - located just minutes from the legendary Apollo Theater. The artist-turned-teacher-turned-entrepreneur has come a long way from making beaded jewelry in her living room as a dreamy young girl. Like the future of Harlem, however, her path hasn’t always been clear.
Balancing education, work, and art

Living a creative life can be exhausting. As a teenager, Ifé split her weekends between homework, technical jewelry classes at Moore College of Art, and a job at an Indian restaurant. Her pace has been frenetic every since. After double-majoring in Photography and Africana Studies at NYU, Ifé worked as a teaching artist in Harlem and the Bronx, as well as an educator at the Studio Museum in Harlem. She then headed to the Rhode Island School of Design, where she received a Master’s Degree in Art Education. On track for a stable and fulfilling career, she quickly secured a position as a high school art teacher at a public school in the South Bronx.

Ifé thought she had finally found the perfect balance. She could create, learn, and teach all at once—with the perks of job stability and government benefits. The reality, of course, was much more complicated. The demands of her job often felt overwhelming. Dedicating herself from 5:30 am to 6:30 pm to her students’ creativity left no time or energy for her own. She had to choose: teach art or make it?

The pursuit of freedom

In 2014, Ifé decided it was time to re-design her life. It was time for a change, though that meant letting go of a support system, leaving a secure job, and heading for “the uncharted territories of self-employment.”

The task was daunting at first. Maintaining her creativity while mastering marketing strategies, making financial projections, and perfecting the 101 other elements of running a business seemed impossible. Driven by her will and the goal of creative and economic freedom, Ifé pushed through, drawing upon numerous valuable resources along the way. In a nation founded by self-taught adventurers, in a neighborhood world-famous for its visionary creatives, a brave new business was born.

Today, Ifé works for herself full-time, designing and hand-crafting unique brass and silver pieces in her Harlem studio. Women of all races across the country wear these pieces inspired by the “fearless, exciting fashion and community-minded nature” of Harlem.

Being a fashion entrepreneur turned out to be the perfect balance of practicing art and learning new skills. What Ifé gave up in benefits and stability, she gained in the satisfaction of a self-sufficient, truly creative life.

To discover more about Ifé and Hecho en Harlem jewelry, visit www.hechoenharlem.com

Also, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HechoEnHarlem
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