Nadia Lloyd's passion for city life, social justice helped catapult her business into stardom

Nadia Lloyd sporting a BLM mask she designed.

A vision, a little luck and plenty of perseverance turned 2020 into a showstopping year for a Toronto artist who now counts the city’s mayor and the Raptors as her biggest fans.

Nadia Lloyd, a painter and fashion designer, found herself back in March 2020 with little prospect of making any money. With the onset of the global pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, Nadia’s commissions had dried up and several art shows that she was scheduled to run for the year through her company Toronto Art Crawl were cancelled for the foreseeable future.

“Overnight I saw everything dry up. No one wanted to spend money, everything was on hold,” she said. “I panicked a little bit but I didn’t want to let it take over.”

So she did what she always did. She went for a walk with her nine-year-old son and looked up at the scene that never failed to inspire her – the Toronto skyline. She turned to her son and said, “Hey, why don’t we start making masks?”

At the time, there was a shortage of PPE in Canada and healthcare workers and the public were using what they could to keep themselves safe. Repurposing fabric from cushion covers she had around the studio from a previous project, she borrowed a sewing machine and started making masks, posting her creations on Facebook. It wasn’t long before she was flooded with requests from people – including doctors -- who wanted to purchase them.

Nadia Lloyd sporting a BLM mask she designed.

“Once my son and I designed the face masks and health care workers reached out, I knew I could do something useful, that would make me feel helpful instead of helpless. I was rolling with the punches,” she said. “It made me feel like I had a purpose after being in shock for weeks wondering where my life and the world were going.”

Being resilient and innovative has proved to be well worth it for entrepreneurs like Nadia.

A PayPal Canada 2020 study on small businesses found 64 per cent said the pandemic has motivated them to consider new ways of growing their business and 81 per cent of small businesses currently engage in some type of online activity outside of online sales

For Nadia, being online and using social media continues to be a significant part of her success.

Her Toronto-centric designs caught the attention of the city’s mayor who dropped by her studio personally to purchase some masks and thank her for her creativity. Today, he and other city officials continue to wear her masks and even some clothes she has designed to nearly every press conference they hold. 

Nadia, a Montreal native with Haitian and Egyptian ancestry, has always thrived in the Six and with a quick glance at her collections from years past, it’s clear Toronto has stolen her heart. But in late May, the death of American Black man George Floyd hit her hard and she found herself having to have a difficult conversation with her son who is also biracial.

“After our conversation, we wanted to help somehow. I said why don’t we design a BLM mask and give the proceeds to the group in Toronto. People can use the mask to talk about racism, their experiences, shared goals and dreams,”

Determined to reach out to the Toronto Raptors, who made a strong statement during the 2020 playoffs by outfitting their bus in BLM signage, she posted her BLM mask on social media, asking if anyone had a connection to the team. Within hours, she was contacted by Roberta Nurse, the wife of Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.

“She said she loved what I was doing and refused my offer to donate the masks to the team. She said they wanted to buy them and support me, a Black female business owner,” she recalled. “I must have read the message 15 or 16 times to make sure it wasn’t my imagination playing tricks on me.”

It wasn’t long before Coach Nurse and some of the players were wearing her masks to press conferences and to and from the stadium, mentioning the local designer at every opportunity. The ripple effect was enormous .

Today, Lloyd finds herself busy with orders and commissions once again, not only from Torontonians but from people around the world.

It hasn’t all been glamourous. With a lot of business comes a lot of paperwork, something Nadia dreads.

“The last thing on earth I want to do is spend hours at my desk doing bookkeeping. I’m an artist, I don’t want to be doing accounting, I want to be creating,” she said.

One of the biggest pieces of advice Nadia said she has for other business owners is to implement a commerce platform like PayPal into the operation asap.

Nadia Lloyd's sweatshirt design was inspired by the city she loves.

“It’s a lifesaver. Not only do my customers love paying through PayPal (about 55 per cent of my clients pay this way) but frankly, I wouldn’t be able to run my business without it. PayPal alone saves me about 20 hours of admin work a week. It gives me an easy way to track how my money comes in do my bookkeeping and send invoices. It’s not just about having the right team, but it’s about having the right technology to keep all of this sustainable in the long term.”

Another piece of advice she has for entrepreneurs is to have active social media accounts.

“Having a website alone is like having a car in the middle of the country, without highways and roads that drive people to your brick and mortar,” she said.  “What we now know is people buy emotionally – the more they feel connected to you and what you’re doing, the more they want to be part of your story. It’s that human, personal touch.”

Finally, the last piece of advice comes from the way she has lived her life and run her business this past year.

“Always be reacting. That was my motto for 2020. See what needs to get done, get it done, and take deep breaths.”

For more information on how other business owners have found success during the pandemic and how PayPal has helped them grow their business, visit our Newsroom's Business of Change feature Also, for tips and expert advice, including how to get started with PayPal Checkout, Invoicing, Seller Protection and more, check out our Small Business Resource Guide.




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