Feature Interview: Ashlee Douglas of Merch Carnival

It is with great honour that I get to feature Ashlee Douglas of Merch Carnival on the blog for a 2 post piece. Today is the first of the 2 part installment and we get to learn about the Merch Carnival brand. I promise that you will definitely want to come back for the second part!

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How did Merch Carnival come to be?
I began my e-commerce business in 2012 during my sophomore year of college. I started with selling embroidered snapbacks. Initially, I planned on it being a temporary thing, make a 48 hats and once they were sold I was done, but I really enjoyed having something of my own and decided to really think through what I wanted as a business and a brand. I wanted to create a brand that not only exemplifies West Indian Pride, but showcases the work of Caribbean-based or Caribbean-inspired designers and producers. MerchCarnival officially opened May 2014 and is a product of my love for my Caribbean heritage, the people, and the culture that I am a part of and experience in my travels. The past 2 years, I have focused on MerchCarnival as an apparel label. I am now in the beginning stages of making MerchCarnival into a curated marketplace that features several caribbean designers.

What types of services are offered?
MerchCarnival provides an online platform for brands to sell their goods and reach potential customers around the world. We also have fulfillment and shipping services. Throughout the year we participate or host pop up shops and vend at various festivals. All of our brands are featured at each event. So all one has to do is ship their goods to us.

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What kinds of merchandise are available?
Currently, we feature apparel and accesories. But we’re open to any Caribbean-inspired products.

How would a Caribbean brand or designer go about getting into partnership with MerchCarnival?
They would just have to reach out via email and start a conversation. I love collaborating with others. So I look forward to your email!

To date, what has been one of your biggest struggles?
One of my biggest struggles to date is increasing traffic to my online store. Especially at the beginning, since no one knows the website or the brand, it was difficult to gain customers and followers. One of the contributing factors was being in school (I just finished graduate school, *dusts shoulders off*) and not having the time to consistently focus on the business, since I primarily did most of my work on weekends. However, during the summer months and as my workload lightened, I have been able to focus on what works for online ads, SEO, and keeping customers engaged, and I see the result in traffic and sales.

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What has been your biggest success?
My biggest success would be hosting an Annual Pop Up Shop at home in St. Croix every Christmas/Carnival season. It’s a fairly new concept in the Virgin Islands and I really enjoyed the pop up shops I attended in the States, so a friend and I decided to do one while I was home for the holiday break. I was able to showcase MerchCarnival in physical space and help other budding entrepreneurs showcase their products.This past December, I hosted the 2nd Home for the Holidays Pop Up Shop and it was even better than the first. We went from 3 brands to 6 brands, and folks were looking forward to it. I am so proud of this event and look forward to hosting it in the future.

What advice or tips would you give to an up and coming entrepreneur?
Don’t be afraid to try. I think I spent the first 3 years asking What ifs? (doesn’t work, people don’t like, I get turned down, etc.). As I’m always reminded, what is there to be afraid of? All they can tell you is no. Once I was able to get over that fear, I was able to take more calculated risks that have paid off for MerchCarnival.

And always be willing to learn from established entrepreneurs. Mentorship is huge and if you can find someone who is supportive of your dreams and willing to give advice, make sure to keep them close.

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Where do you see Merch Carnival headed in the future?
I would love to expand the featured brand on the website, host pop up shops in the U.S., attend festivals and pop up shops abroad, and ultimately in the next 3-4 years open of a brick-mortar shop.

What would you say is a must see, must do, and a must eat for visitors to St. Croix?
I love this question! Please come and visit.

Must see – Whim Plantation Museum, the Cruzan Rum Distilleries, and Point Udall. Whim Museum is a great place to learn about the history and culture of St. Croix. The Cruzan Rum Distilleries have been on St. Croix for over 250 years and the rum is still made on island. Point Udall is the farthest point of the United States. Amazing view and a great place to watch the sunrise, trust me on that.

Must Do – Taking a scenic tour or hike of the Tidal Pools or Monk Baths, it’s breath taking. I love being out in nature and St. Croix has a lot to offer in terms of hiking, horseback riding, scuba diving, or just swimming, so I would recommend doing that.

Must eat – St. Croix is a foodie’s paradise. If you are a foodie, I recommend visiting during the Taste of St. Croix, amazing food events for an entire week. When I’m home, I always have a list and I attempt (sadly fail stopping by all these places). Recommendations: La Reine Chicken Shack, Cast Iron Pot, Bombay Club, Rosa’s, and Armstrong’s Icecream. And of course when you’re there make sure you get some Fried chicken and Johnny Cake.

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