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Life and Work with Adiellah “Adi” Bates

Today we’d like to introduce you to Adiellah Bates.

Adiellah, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Aya Donna began in 2011 during a big year of growth and transition for me. That year I was in a 12-month fast-track masters degree program, I became an apprentice then a member of the Uhuru Dancers, and started a business.

When I moved back to Atlanta in 2010, I planned to pursue a career in marketing. I’d always been an artist at heart, I even studied art in college. I owned a sewing machine and had made some simple items in the past but the idea of becoming a clothing designer was nowhere in my mind…. until I started dancing.

In African dance, I was surrounded by movement, rhythms, colors, and patterns. I was inspired by what I saw and found a new way to make art. The community immediately supported my creations and gave me a platform to also grow in the professional areas I was pursuing. Since then, I have grown professionally, as a dancer (now a dancer and drummer with Giwayen Mata), and the Aya Donna brand has expanded internationally.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No, it has not been a smooth road and no journey is without challenges. Some may call me crazy for pursuing a master’s degree, joining a dance company, and starting a business all in one year (while also working full time). As challenging as that year was, there have been much bigger obstacles. That year I was motivated and fueled by inspiration and newness. There was nowhere to go but up.

Since then, there have been setbacks, pitfalls, and roadblocks. There have been times when I felt like I was doing too much – like I was not smart enough, not creative enough, not skilled enough, not experienced enough… like a small person in a huge world. Sometimes mistakes feel like failure and juggling multiple things gets overwhelming.

In those moments of feeling stressed or less than enough, it’s important to be reminded of ones motivation. Why are you doing this? For me, I have to be inspired and become an artist again. I have to step away from the business and make something just because I want to. I have to see or do something that makes me feel good and loves what I do. I have to be reminded of who I am.

Being an entrepreneur is full of challenges. Reminding yourself of the inspiration (the why) can pull you back in and push you forward. Mistakes are a part of life and necessary for growth. In the moment, it’s difficult to see past the problem… but learn from the challenge, find resources for development, seek help when needed. Assess, re-asses, implement, adjust if necessary, rest, and give yourself grace.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Aya Donna – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
I am best known for my clothing line, Aya Donna. I am also an African dancer – I started with the Uhuru Dancers and I am now a member of Giwayen Mata.

In addition to dancing, I provide graphic design, social media, and marketing assistance to both companies and occasionally serve as a photographer. I am very proud of my clothing line and focus most of my time on developing that business. Aya Donna is a brand that was inspired by African dance and has expanded to wearable pieces for everyone. The brand specializes in African dance attire like lappas (wrap skirts) and pants. I also make bracelets, earrings, headwraps, and other items for women, men, and children.

Everything is made with my hands, my scissors, and my sewing machines. For me, Aya Donna is more than just a clothing line. It is a method of creative expression. Fabric is the medium for creating pieces that can be worn, experienced, and used as expressions for others.

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
Tap into your immediate network first. Talk to the people around you and ask for help. You never know who may point you towards to a valuable resource.

Also, seek out as much information and training as possible. Atlanta is full of learning opportunities and resources. Invest time in learning and with that investment, you will learn a lot about yourself, you will develop towards your goals, and gain connections along the way.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Photos by Kevin Parker of Cre8tiv Images and Adiellah Bates

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