Exclusive Interview w/ Imani Bilal of Venus Visuals

We finally got a chance to catch up with the talented (and busy!) Imani Bilal, fashion designer, poet, visual and literary artist, and founder/owner of Venus Visuals, what has become one of the hottest new jewelry lines to hit the scene. Imani began Venus Visuals in January, ’09 as an out of the box accessory line and a social platform for women, encouraging confidence, strength, beauty and liberated expression. Here’s what she had to tell us about her amazing journey so far.

Venus Visuals

GG: Thanks for kickin’ it with us here at Grassroots Grind, it’s a pleasure to be able to speak to you about your journey, your amazing products, and your accomplishments so far! You’ve been doing big things!

VV: No doubt! The pleasure is all mine, thank you for having me!

GG: How did life direct you to the path you’re on now? What inspired you to manifest your creativity this way?

VV: Well, growing up I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by creativity. My mother sewed beautiful pieces of clothing, and she would create my doll clothes from scratch. She constantly had my siblings and I in plays, performing as Black inventors and revolutionaries, reciting Qur’an…anything that constantly challenged us to use our imagination and produce something worthwhile. My father is an absolutely amazing poet. So, I naturally inclined toward sewing, poetry/performing, painting, and later…jewelry making. I always felt that my “career” would include something that required me to be creative. In fact, I couldn’t really imagine it any other way. Creating jewelry started out as a hobby, but when people began to request pieces, it quickly developed into something much more.

GG: So you come from some great people, that always helps. Most independent businesses have a difficult time succeeding, what did you do, without giving away too many secrets, to make Venus Visuals achieve the success it enjoys now?

VV: I busted my butt! *laughs* I had a clear vision and a written plan. I studied, researched, and surrounded myself with people who knew what I didn’t. It’s very important to be social, to network and to make sure people know who you are and what you do. I work really hard. I don’t really take “days off”. I don’t sleep much. I pray for exactly what I want. I don’t speak of a “Plan B”. It’s important to feel like there is no other option but this. I refuse to doubt myself. I take risks, and strive to be fearless. I’m extremely hard on myself. My efforts and creations are never good enough in my opinion, but that’s how I get better and do better, you know? Everyone’s formula for success will be a bit different, but the foundation is the same. I still have a long way to go with where I would like to take Venus Visuals. I have ridiculously huge dreams that I plan on bringing into fruition, G-d willing.

GG: The hard work is definitely obvious in your products and success so far. So, what is it like being a female entrepreneur and artist of color? Considering the industry you’re in, has it been more or less difficult to navigate due to those factors?

VV: This industry is…interesting. I’ve always been a “behind-the-scenes” type of person. I love to create but I’m not really into being seen, being in the limelight, competing etc. I’d just rather not. The fashion industry can be quite “catty” at times and I’m not interested in being or becoming that. I’m in love with art. Even when it comes to the fashion. I see fashion as an art and a form of expression. I’m not really into the puppetry of name brands, the latest designer, and whats “trending”. However, that’s the business I’m in, so I have to keep up and stay informed. Don’t get me wrong, I do respect the grind and the expertise of these successful designers. I’m just not about to lose my mind over a NAME. It’s been a challenge trying to maintain that balance and stay true to my innate self. Being a woman in this industry has also posed some challenges because, unfortunately, I have come in contact with men who do not take me serious when it comes to the business aspect of things. I’ve been hit on during business meetings and all of that. I have to get overly aggressive to get respect. As far as prejudices due to being African/Black, the models get it the worst. The standard of beauty in America is European. They will cast a White model over a Black one in a second. In some cases they will cast a White model to “become” a “Black” model with “European” features. So, they’ll “turn a White woman” into a Black woman via dark make up etc., instead of just casting a woman who was born Black. It’s ridiculous and insulting. Chauvinism and Racism are still very alive, but hey, it just makes me want to succeed that much more.

GG: It’s good to know those things haven’t deterred you. Tell us about your global expansion, I hear Venus Visuals is available in Japan now?

VV: Yes! We are really excited about that. Last year my pieces were picked up by Hankyu Department store and a 06 Glamour Boutique in Osaka, Japan. They did so well in those stores that I was invited to participate in a trade show in Tokyo. Venus landed new contracts at the trade shows, and is now being carried in four stores throughout Japan, with more contracts in the works. The entire experience was amazing and we are beyond grateful!

GG: Dope! Your jewelry has a universal appeal. I’d assume that’s an important factor. What keeps you going or helps maintain your motivation to be a successful businesswoman and also a great artist?

VV: My relationship with the Creator keeps me going. I stay close with prayer and meditation, and constantly cultivate that, allowing it to revitalize me. Also, definitely my children! I love those knuckleheads! I have an eight year old girl and a two-and-a-half year old boy. They are blessings, constant sources of inspiration and motivation not to give up. They watch EVERYTHING I do, so I have no option but to strive for excellence! I also have a few really good friends that keep me excited and encouraged. Besides that, remembering my ancestors and the plight of my people keeps me pushing forward. They’ve been through too much for me to be anything but great, period.

GG: No doubt. God, family, and your roots. I can’t think of anything more motivational than that. What life experiences, people, places or cultures have had influences on the unique artistic direction of Venus Visuals?

VV: A lot of my pieces reflect where I am or have been in my life, but it’s very subtle. No one would know unless I explained myself. Sometimes, the titles I give my pieces tell the story behind them. As far as people? I love Howard Bearden and Basquiat. They are amazing in their use of shape and their ability to evoke feeling via color. I’ve learned a lot from both their abstract styles, and I know they’ve influenced my style in some way. I have so many influences: Hip-Hop culture, Islamic culture, West, East, and North African cultural elements, Native American culture. The list goes on and on. I’m connected to all of the above, so naturally my pieces are shaped around what’s familiar to me.

GG: Wow. Do your ideas for different pieces come to you quickly, or does it take time and brainstorming to come up with them?

VV: Usually, they come to me very quickly. I keep a sketchbook, but rarely sketch designs. Well, let me not say that…I sketch mentally a lot. I will have the vision in my mind, and then I usually just sit down and go. If I am releasing a themed collection and need everything to be cohesive, then I may take the time to pull out the paper and pen. It just depends…but there’s nothing like the rush of sitting down and just letting your imagination bring out whatever it may! I know I sound corny. *laughs* It’s true though, it’s an awesome feeling.

GG: *laughs* Not corny at all! So, I’m sure you get this question a lot, but do you have any plans on expanding it into a men’s line? Does one already exist?

VV: Ah, the infamous question! *laughs* The men’s line was due to be released last year, but got pushed back twice. So, now we’re aiming for a Summer Release.

GG: Dope! Looking forward to that. Are there any new and exciting things coming for Venus Visuals that we should be looking out for?

VV: Yes! We will be in a few new stores this summer: in ATL, Detroit, and DC. We will also be releasing a High-End line! We don’t have a release date yet, but will definitely keep you guys updated on that.  We are also planning a trunk show with another designer in the DC area that should be pretty cool. There is also a celebrity singer that wore our pieces for her album single cover art, but I cant give the name out just yet! It should come out some time this summer. Besides that, just look out for the Spring Collection and Men’s line

GG: Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for any women or men who are inspired by your work and your journey?

VV: Hmmm…Honestly, I’d just say if you get rid of doubt and fear, then you’re already on your way. After that, it’s just a matter of having a concrete plan and pushing yourself. Doing something everyday that will help you achieve your goal. Nothing happens overnight. It takes time and dedication. There will be pain and discomfort. If there is none, you aren’t working hard enough. People will try to discourage you. If they don’t, your dreams aren’t big enough. You will feel like giving up, but don’t because it’s usually at that very moment that you get a break. “Success” really just depends on how bad you want it and how much you’re willing to sacrifice to attain it!

GG: Thank you again for sparing some of your time to give us a peek into your world, where can people find your products?

VV: Thank YOU, for providing me with an outlet to share my experiences, I appreciate it! People can find my products at the online boutique. We ship EVERYWHERE! http://www.VenusVisualsOnline.com. You can also visit the “Locations” tab on our website and get a full list of the stores we’re being carried in.

About the author

Stokely STARmichael, also known as Starchild, is an Egyptian-American MC who many have come to call "The Lion of the Desert". A Scope Urban Apparel musical artist and writer for GrassrootsGrind.com & Hip-Hop4BlackUnity.org. He coined the phrase "Africa Up".