As Makini Regal enters our Zoom interview, I was a little nervous to chat. Her remarkable talent and creativity is unmatched in the children's publishing world and for me those two things created a giddiness inside of me, as if I was meeting a celebrity. February seemed like the perfect month to feature Makini as our Leading Lady. Her brand, The Wonderful World of Zuri Rose, is a loving and sweet world that you will all want to be a part of for the month of love.
Makini owns a publishing company and self published and authored her first children's book, The Wonderful World of Zuri Rose: Flowers A to Z in 2021. Since then, she has created an entire brand and magical world around a character that is inspired by her darling daughter, Zuri Rose.
What are some of your favorite flowers Makini?
"It changes, Orchids are always my favorite. I love Phalaenopsis (moth orchids) and more of the tropical vibe. I also like using flowers in an interesting way so it might not be a unique flower. For instance, if I use roses, we are contrasting them with something so it looks a little bit more unusual."
For those that don't know scientific names of flowers, you are not alone! I am certainly in the flower business but because I am in the sugar flower business I sometimes just get to run with my imagination and not necessarily stick to the science of flowers. Makini, on the other hand grew up in a family of gardeners and is very much a connoisseur. The wonderful thing about Makini is she is very unpretentious when she tells me this list, she says it all with a sparkle in her eyes!
Where did your love of flowers come from?
"I sort of stumbled on a career in flowers, I was at a very comfortable corporate job. That was supposed to be it for me. Eventually I realised I was missing a creative outlet. I also wasn't ever really encouraged to pursue a creative career, which is not very uncommon when you are an immigrant. So, for me, I wrote a lot of business plans and ideas. The one that kept standing out was something in the wedding industry. I loved looking through bridal magazines and anything related to party planning. So I merged the things I enjoyed doing into a business.
Growing up I often visited Trinidad to see both my grandmothers who loved flowers and had gorgeous gardens. That is why I love flowers so much. As a kid, whatever job I have had, I always had fresh flowers at my desk. I always had line items in my budget for fresh flowers. So, I took a risk and decided I would start a floral design company and specialize in wedding flowers."
Did anyone in your family ever start a business in the flower industry?
"No, it was always just a hobby. Starting a business in general was something I didn't necessarily know a lot about. When I was in Junior High School my dad did quit his 9 to 5 job and opened his own convenience store. That was a taste of what it would look like to be self employed but outside of that I really didn't have an example growing up. I just knew that I wanted to take the risk, mainly because if it didn't work out I would just go back to my corporate job."
How did you transition from the bridal industry into The Wonderful World of Zuri Rose?
"I was a first time mom to my now older daughter, Zuri Rose, and just getting her nursery together and decorating things. Beautiful books to display were the hardest thing to find. On top of it, there were not any books on flowers for kids and definitely not enough that represented little girls of color. That is when the idea was planted. What if you wrote a book about flowers?"
This was back in 2017 when Makini started the search for books and began her idea that would blossom into what we know today as the brand, The Wonderful World of Zuri Rose. Writing a children's book was not the only endeavour, Makini also started her own publishing company to release her first book under.
I find it fascinating that you not only author the Zuri Rose books but you created your own publishing company as well. Tell me more about that journey in the beginning and what led you to decide to jump all in?
"It was important for me to publish a book that had the appearance of a traditionally published book of that caliber. I knew I would be competing with top publishers and I didn't want to cut corners. The reputation of a self publisher isn't that of a traditionally published author.
I did this honestly by a lot of research. In the beginning I didn't know a lot about publishing and I certainly didn't know anyone in the industry. It was trial and error and it was also 2020. I told myself I have to do everything on my list. At the top of that list was PUBLISH YOUR BOOK. So, there was nothing stopping me."
The Wonderful World of Zuri Rose is such a sweet and needed brand. Were there other business plans that you did not pursue where you look back and wish you had?
"The coffee shop! That was one that I really thought was feasible at the time. My husband and I spoke about this recently. There is a storefront that is vacant nearby and I always pass it thinking, maybe this is a coffee shop idea. How do I fuse all of the things that I love? But, I am a believer in everything happening in its own time and it's not something I have completely written off."
As a female did you find any challenges coming into the publishing industry?
"I would say no more than any other industry. As a woman, in general, there are more hurdles that you have to jump over than others. Especially as a black woman, in particular, there are always challenges but I think that I approach it like I do everything else; with optimism and faith. I definitely don't allow those situations to deter me. Some of the things I have experienced really involved me being underestimated. I was counted out before I even had opportunities to show what I could do. This was hard in the beginning but then I had a shift in perspective. Underestimate me, that's fine. I started to use it as fuel to keep pursuing my goals and dreams and not allow others perceptions, of my capabilities or my talent, deter me."
That certainly gave me shivers when Makini told me her shift of mindset. Often as women, we can be dismissed and looked over. Her resilience and positive perspective was a blessing to hear. For any fellow female entrepreneur reading, that is what sets us apart. Makini is the leading example of taking success in her own hands.
What drives you to be creative and continue with this brand?
"I would say motherhood. Zuri has inspired me because I am creating this for her. There's a different level of pressure and commitment that I have to it because this is my legacy business. I started several businesses over the years but this is the one for me. It truly has become my passion. I initially thought this was a business I would grow for Zuri but it has been very healing for me and my inner child. I am getting an opportunity to create products for children that I wish I had when I was a little girl. So, it feels very personal but also extremely fun! I love creating for children, putting myself in their little heads and creating something that feels magical for them.
When I think back to the younger Makini, this is exactly what I was suppose to be doing."
Does Zuri help with any of the creatives and also what does this look like for Zuri as she gets older?
"I have had to approach involving her differently. There was a period after every illustration I would show it to her and get feedback. When she turned 5, I realized she was feeling overwhelmed by the whole idea of Zuri Rose. In particular, she came home from school one day and asked if I could refrain from giving her classmates the doll. She said "mommy, they already have the puzzles and the book, and they don't need the doll."
After that, I realized her entire life is Zuri Rose. She definitely has moments where she doesn't want to be in the spotlight. But on the other hand, she is the first child who gets to see every product and test it. She is very honest and open about what she thinks. It is really interesting to see her favorites, like the new activity book we just released."
Will we see the character Zuri Rose grow up along with your daughter? Is there anything we can expect for 2024?
"I think so, right now we are just focusing on new experiences for the character Zuri. We started with a very French theme for the brand. A lot of the Parisian influences were inspired by a girls trip I took before I wrote the book. As I decided to expand the brand, for the next book, it is a Tea Party book and there will be even more Parisian influences!"
There is a certain magic that comes with the world of children's books. It is a realm where imagination knows no bounds, where characters come to life, and where dreams take flight. What sets Makini apart is her unwavering dedication to creating a world that reflects the beauty of flowers and enchanting experiences of a little girl. She understands the importance of representation and inclusivity, and strives to ensure that every child can see themselves in the pages of her books.
Makini has shown that success can be achieved in one's own unique way, taking the reigns and that the power of storytelling knows no bounds.Let us celebrate Makini and her extraordinary journey. Within the pages of a children's book, lies the power to change lives and shape the future into a beautiful wonderful world.
Where you can find Makini Regal