Terri Williams is a local educator and rising entrepreneur who has spent much of her time developing what was once a hobby into a sustainable jewelry brand–Desert Flower Accessories. Her craftsmanship features intricate editorial designs made out of unconventional everyday items. Stringing together her personality, perseverance, and undeniable talent, Terri never imagined Desert Flower Accessories would serve as her gateway into the world of fashion. In the span of just two years, Desert Flower Accessories has been featured in Indiana Fashion Week 2019 as well as Volume 16 of PATTERN Magazine.
Alyseah Simone Ruggs: What inspired you to name your business Desert Flower Accessories?
Terri Williams: In 2004 I remember helping my church come up with a name for women’s ministry. I prayed and prayed for the perfect name and the words ‘desert flower’ kept reappearing in my head. I was thinking ‘no way desert flowers would be a good name’. When I think of a desert I think barren, dead, land of no return; but later that day I did some research about desert flowers.
I saw such beautiful and resilient images of flowers of all species. It is mind-blowing to know that such beautiful flowers can thrive for up to 15 years in an area of land that hardly seems to foster life. This realization taught me that even when the odds are against you, anyone and anything can bloom in difficult environments and hard times.
I told my pastor about the name but he insisted that Desert Flower was destined for something beyond the walls of the church. At first, I was offended but it wasn’t until later on that I would realize how much that name was going to impact my life.
ASR: What makes Desert Flower Accessories sustainable, how does that translate into your designs?
TW: It’s important for me to play a role in reducing my own carbon footprint. I take pride in knowing my business is sustainable. I successfully found a way to take unconventional materials and upcycle, repurpose, customize, and embellish them into beautiful wearable art. I make everything by hand. Some of my work consists of creating fashionable ‘glam gloves’, masquerade masks, painted sweatshirts, choker necklaces, and more. I use repurposed belts, T-shirts, tires, old rugs– you name it!
I’ve recently found a way to use cardboard in my designs! Cardboard is one of the most difficult materials to break down and it’s creating a large problem for global warming. I’m still working on unique ways to rework cardboard but you will find that my latest earrings on social media have mostly been made from the material.
My creations are what fuels my obsession with runway accessories, and helps me learn more about the fashion industry. Before I started my business I had no idea Chanel was even an accessories designer, I have come to truly admire her work!
ASR: What experience has impacted your business the most?
TW: A friend, Stephanie Anderson, hosted a large vending event at Pike High School and asked me to take part. I was just getting started and I was so excited. My daughter helped me make the experience amazing. I had the chance to connect with people face to face and really start getting Desert Flower Accessories out into the world. I made so many connections and met the most beautiful, stylish women. That was the start for me.
I later had a chance to be a vendor at a Ritz Charles event and met Nikki Blaine. At the time I had no idea who Nikki Blaine was but I knew she was showing her work in the fashion show. A gentleman, whose name I don’t remember, told me about her. He looked at me and said “designers would love to put your designs in their show”. I didn’t believe him and thought he was crazy yet I found myself walking over to Nikki’s table to introduce myself. As quick as you could snap your fingers my work was on the runway with Nikki Blaine’s designs. I was OUT. OF. MY. MIND.
ASR: In your adolescent years, who or what did you imagine yourself becoming? How has that led you to where you are today?
TW: Back in the 70s I was shredding, slicing, and dicing T-shirts. My friends would come to my house before we would go dancing and they’d have me rework their outfits. I’ve been making things all my life. I didn’t realize that even way back then I was a designer!
ASR: You are a teacher and an entrepreneur. How do you balance your time?
TW: Because of the school calendar, we get several breaks and days off throughout the year which gives me lots of flexibility. Teaching has taught me how important it is to prep. Throughout the year I have time to write down new ideas and gather materials. By the time break comes I have a clear vision of what needs to get done!
I love to push myself but I know when to rest. I think if I was stressed about this business then it wouldn’t be fun. I also don’t say yes to everything. “No” is NOT a bad word. You have to know what you can handle and move accordingly.
ASR: What do you think makes Desert Flower Accessories so unique?
TW: I haven’t seen too many people around me do what I do- take unconventional items and create runway accessories–if so tell me where they are because I need pointers! But the passion I put into each piece, combined with the connections and collaborations I have made have given me and my business a unique authenticity.
As a growing brand, one thing that I admire is the connections I make with my customers. There is nothing like seeing the joy on people’s faces when they see my work and they learn that the materials I used are made from the unthinkable. That joy and satisfaction are what I want Desert Flower Accessories to embody.
ASR: Desert Flower Accessories has shown rapid growth over the span of two years, what setbacks have you experienced as you claim your spot in the fashion industry?
TW: One of the biggest setbacks is proper representation. I would love to see accessory designers in the spotlight. We should be treated with the same respect and recognition as clothing designers– especially at events or runway shows. Those of us who create accessories for the show are designers too and we work hard. If I incorporate my creations into the looks of a designer’s show, I would at least love to see my name in the program. It’s vital for people to know who I am so that I can continue my brand outreach.
ASR: What do the next 3-5 years look like for Desert Flower Accessories?
TW: I’ve never been a person that could think super far ahead but I have this fantasy that the world will see my work. I love that fantasy and it will become a reality. I know it!
I work hard on my creations–really hard to create beautiful intricate durable pieces. I want the price to reflect the quality. People think because it’s made from used or recycled materials that my prices should be lower.
In these upcoming years, I want to develop a clearer image of what Desert Flower Accessories is. I think that will help me discover who my target consumer is. I won’t sell myself short. I am aiming to be a high fashion designer. I want my clients to view my work and know that it’s worth the purchase no matter the cost.
I also see myself showing a collection in a big show, but not as featured work. I will represent myself. I envision my models on the runway dressed in black. My pieces will shine bright, from the colors to the way they move; my work will exude beauty, it will look like nothing you’ve seen before!
Follow Terri Williams’s journey with Desert Flower Accessories on Instagram