Multihyphenate Melissa Mitchell is clearly defying the odds and showing no signs of slowing down as a self-taught artist, entrepreneur, and the Chief Artistic Designer of her company, Abeille Creations.
From canvases and murals, to wearable art, such as headwraps, turbans, kimono's, and more -- Melissa's work has been featured and highlighted across numerous national publications, events, media outlets, and brand partnerships including: VOGUE, ESSENCE, Forbes, Huffington Post, Nike, Sheen Magazine, Art Basel, Ford, and The Sister Circle, just to name a few. Oh, and did we mention that Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o is also a fan of her work?
As if that wasn't enough, Melissa is now embarking on one of the most exciting and major collaborations of her career with the billion-dollar brand, Spanx. The new exclusive Melissa Mitchell & Spanx® Illuminate-Her™ collection is now available nationwide and in Canada! The collection will also benefit Black Girls Code. Talk about being productive while making an impact. Her spirit and her work ethic truly embodies that of a natural queen bee.
Melissa recently spoke with xoNecole about her artistic journey, how she was able to secure the bag and a Spanx deal, what it means to own your moment and own the room, and why it's important to trust God's timing and the gifts that He has given you.
xoNecole: How have you found purpose through your paintbrush?
Melissa Mitchell: Both of my parents were pastors and quite naturally they wanted me to follow in their footsteps. But I had to find God for myself. So, I traded the pulpit for the paintbrush, and my paintings became my prayers on canvas.
Now, I use my art to share my purpose. Art has become my platform, and it's allowed me to have a voice to my purpose and empower people. Because I'm so vocal about my story and what God is doing, people want part of that testimony [her art] in their house every day.
"I had to find God for myself. So, I traded the pulpit for the paintbrush, and my paintings became my prayers on canvas."
Your art is comprised of “vibrant colors, unique shapes, and bold dark lines.” Where does that inspiration come from?
Besides my Bahamian heritage, I always found a way to bring color into the picture as a way to express myself, as well as to heal because colors have healing power. Art was like my medicine. Around 2014, when I started painting, I wasn't feeling bright and bubbly and full of life. My father had passed away only a few years prior to when I started painting.
Not to mention, I was dealing with normal life frustrations and the societal pressures that many women face in their early thirties because I didn't have, nor was I doing, what I thought I was supposed to have by a certain age (e.g., success, marriage, kids, etc.). Nonetheless, my art helped heal my mindset. I pressed my way through all of that – the grief, the frustration, the worry – and I told myself, "I'm good."
What’s the story behind your headwraps and why are they so important to you, especially as a Black woman?
I started wearing headwraps in college because I enjoyed wearing something that allowed me to hold my head up high with a lot of confidence. Initially, I would use random shirts and random fabrics as my wraps, but I figured if I'm going to wrap my hair, then I might as well wrap it up in some art that represents my brand with the intent of possibly making money.
Four years ago, I specifically wrote that "one day, I will sit in boardrooms with headwraps on." When I walked in the Spanx conference room wearing my headwrap, I owned the room. Everyone said, "You look like a queen," and I said, "Oh, that was deliberate."
And so they called me "Queen" because when you come into the room with confidence and knowing who you are, people will begin to call you that without you even having to introduce yourself.
"When you come into the room with confidence and knowing who you are, people will begin to call you that without you even having to introduce yourself."
Tell us how this partnership came about, and how a last-minute decision led to this moment.
In 2018, I heard about the Illuminate-Her contest with Spanx. My mentor at the time, Kevin Williams, was looking for some people to sit in for a portrait that was being created. When asked what I was working on, I mentioned that I was waiting on my next big, global deal. When he asked me what I planned to do about it, I told him about the Illuminate-Her contest, and how people kept encouraging me to apply. However, I figured my work was too bright and I didn't think I'd be ideal for it, but he told me, "Well, you never know until you apply."
So, I went home that night -- the last day the applications were due. I stood in my kitchen and I prayed. I had one painting in my kitchen, one in my living room, and one in my bedroom. I took pictures of each of them, and those were the ones I submitted. The painting from my kitchen was the one that ended up being selected as the winner, which is what you now see on the new collection. And now, here we are.
What did this opportunity teach you as it relates to timing?
It's interesting because the winning design that was chosen was actually a painting I did back in 2015. I tried to sell it at four different shows, but when it didn't sell, I just kept bringing it home, and eventually I made it a part of my home décor. Clearly, God did not allow that painting to sell because it was going to be sold around the world; not just here in the Atlanta market.
It was a teachable moment for me because so often we ask, "When is it going to be my time," or "When is God going to call my name?" But it only took one opportunity to catapult my career to unimaginable heights. It reminded me that God's timing is ideal, and He can make up for all the time you thought you lost.
Nevertheless, it definitely wasn't an overnight success. What you see now is the success that I had been praying for…things that have been on my vision board for the past 15 years. In order to manifest things in your life, you have to have a whole lot of faith and a whole lot of patience. As my spirituality grew, my work grew, and as my work grew, it got the right attention of the right people.
The debut of the Melissa Mitchell and Spanx Illuminate-Her collection.
"What you see now is the success that I had been praying for…things that have been on my vision board for the past 15 years. In order to manifest things in your life, you have to have a whole lot of faith and a whole lot of patience."
So, tell us about your new exclusive collection.
The Melissa Mitchell and Spanx Illuminate-Her collection includes the Bra-llelujah!® Illuminate-Her™ Bralette (also known as "Colorful Harmony")…but it's not your traditional bra. It's more like a comfortable sports bra that you want to wear every day. I've been wearing it for the past two weeks, and it makes you feel like a woman, yet young and vibrant, all at the same time. It's great for the younger lady who's training, as well as the seasoned woman who's trying to get her groove back. The collection also includes a matching Under Statements® Thong lluminate-Her™ Thong.
What was it like for you sitting in the Spanx boardrooms discussing your designs?
Honestly, it felt like home. It felt like I belonged there. It was a moment I had been preparing for. I felt like it was where I was supposed to be, and what God had called me to do. Similar to the feeling you have when you find the perfect dress or the love of your life…it's a feeling you can't describe. You just know.
For an artist who may be considering a lucrative deal or partnership, what is important for them to consider (aside from the money)?
As an artist, you have to be keenly aware of who you sell your art to. You have to control your narrative and your story. You have to think about the brands and the value they can bring to you.
When it comes to business, what is something you wish someone had told you?
Be okay with delegating. As business owners, everything is our baby and we want to touch everything and do everything. However, I had to learn how to let go of some of the small tasks and let people help me be great. The power of a team is much more powerful than you burning yourself out trying to do it all alone. There's no award for running yourself ragged, so let people help you.
What would you say has been your biggest lesson so far?
We think we're supposed to win everything we try, but anything I missed wasn't for me. That's why I'm not afraid to say or hear the word "no." Some "no's" are protective barriers, and sometimes, your "no" season is your preparation time. You have to be just as grateful for the closed doors as you are for the opened doors.
"We think we're supposed to win everything we try, but anything I missed wasn't for me. That's why I'm not afraid to say or hear the word 'no.' Some 'no's' are protective barriers, and sometimes, your 'no' season is your preparation time."
For other fellow artists and businesswomen, what would you say to encourage and empower them along their journey?
A lot of people don't trust their gifts, and instead, they worry about who's doing what to the left and right of them. Be confident in your art and expression, and trust the language God has given you. Trust your gifts, and trust what God gave you.
Don't get discouraged about what seems like an oversaturated market. There's still space for you to do your thing, but you may have to add your own special twist to it. Even though there may be a million artists out there, now there's a million plus one because I'm here!
You can check out the new Melissa Mitchell & Spanx Illuminate-Her™ collection. Keep up with Melissa's Abeille Creations on Instagram by clicking here.