When artist and illustrator Louma El-Khoury couldn’t bear to give away her daughter’s precious baby clothes, she created a way to display them as keepsakes. Her friends and family spotted the artwork and asked Louma to create pieces for them. That’s when the artist knew it was time to start a business. Read on to learn more about Louma and her biz Pokidots.
Artisan Joy: How did you get started creating your art?
Louma El-Khoury: I had the idea while I was putting away my daughter’s baby clothes. Some onesies brought back memories so wonderful and vivid, I had a hard time giving them away. And keeping them in storage didn’t really feel meaningful to me, so I came up with this idea to display them subtly as an artwork and enjoy their value and memories every day. Pokidots was born after so many friends and family members requested keepsakes, so I practiced on them while launching, and it’s been growing ever since!
AJ: When did you realize that you could turn your craft into a side business or full-time biz?
LE: The initial keepsakes I made for my girls were supposed to be a one-time project for us. After friends and family members requested their own and I started coming up with new styles for them, I realized that I really loved doing this, and I love how much my friends cherished their keepsakes. I took the idea to a local women’s business group to gauge the interest of others and got a few customers right away and tremendous encouragement, so I decided to give it a shot, as a part-time gig. Five years later, Pokidots became much more than it started and expanded beyond baby keepsakes, thanks to my wonderful clients and the way they choose to use their keepsakes to tell their unique stories and preserve their memories.
AJ: Where do you find inspiration?
LE: Fashion illustration and art has always had this magical way of waking my inspiration, even if I’m not working on a fashion illustration project. It’s been a passion of mine for so long, it feels like home for my inspiration and motivation for most art projects.
AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
LE: If I hadn’t been to Montreal for fashion design school, I would have probably majored in psychology or hypnotherapy. I’ve always been deeply interested in the power of the human mind and our unused potential. I didn’t go to school for it, but I keep myself informed with extensive reading and side classes.
AJ: As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?
LE: It hasn’t always been easy. I can say I’m a recovering perfectionist. It’s more difficult to know when an art piece is done and to stop working than to keep working and refining for days. With experience throughout my design career in general, and with Pokidots more recently, I learned to distinguish between the times where perfectionism adds value and where it only adds time. It’s one of the important skills creatives have to learn when they work alone!
AJ: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in putting their art out into the world but feels vulnerable about it?
LE: I would say, if you’re passionate about your art, imagine yourself 10 years from now in two parallel lives: one where you shared your art for the last 10 years and one where you didn’t. One scenario will have opportunities, expansion and a chance of making you and others happy and inspired by your art, and one will have regret. You choose. Every artist you’ve seen has felt vulnerable about their art but shares it anyway because the fulfillment of sharing your art is often greater than the discomfort of being seen.
AJ: What’s something that surprised you about running a creative business?
LE: I was surprised to learn that what people think about creativity—that it can’t be forced and that you have to wait for inspiration to strike before working on something—is wrong. You can train yourself to have on-demand creativity by being more creative! Maya Angelou formulated it well when she said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
You keep your inspiration flowing by spending more time being creative. This way you’re more likely to be inspired to work on a project or an art piece at any time, including when you have to because of a deadline.
AJ: Has someone ever criticized your work? How did you handle it?
LE: I’m thankful my work hasn’t been criticized yet (at least not in front of me), but someone has criticized me as a business owner. A voucher did not arrive to a customer on time, even though I had gone out of my way to send it overnight mail. The customer ‘yelled’ at me by email using words in all-caps like DEMAND and YOU MUST. The experience shook me even though I knew that it was out of my control. I gave her a refund and voided her voucher, and kindly asked her to be nicer to the next business she deals with. Since then, I’ve added in my Terms and Conditions that I will absolutely refuse to work with clients I consider rude and condescending or entitled.
AJ: What’s a cause you are passionate about and why?
LE: I am passionate about women’s and girl’s rights, because I am a woman raising two girls. Depending on our direct environment, media-guided perspective and algorithm-powered social circles, we may think we’re doing great and that women aren’t treated unfairly compared to men anymore, but we are actually still behind, in the U.S. and globally. I believe a future with more women using their true potential instead of being shut down and more women leaders is a brighter one, for all the communities of the world.
AJ: And, of course, we have to ask you this — What brings you joy?
LE: My family brings me so much joy. Specifically, sharing an amazing meal with them, with our favorite drinks and music, preferably on a summer night outdoors, with an ocean nearby.