Sabrina Thompson has a long history of putting contrasting things together and somehow making them work. The 32-year-old first began freestyle painting on nails and T-shirt designs when she was 11, inspired by her track idol, Florence Griffith Joyner. “A lot of my pieces are sort of contradicting when it comes to color. I’ll put blue with purple and green and yellow—something that people won’t really expect, but they end up liking it.”
Since 2005, Thompson has been bringing her colorful ideas to life through her line of handcrafted and hand-painted jewelry, named beanpYe (www.beanpye.com). The designs are inspired by music, her travels, and her love of ethnic fabrics. Earrings, bracelets, and necklaces range from $20 to $120. Thompson also does custom work, which costs more, and her clients include Alicia Keys and India.Arie.
Despite the early start, the New Yorker, who is originally from Wilson, North Carolina, never imagined a career in fashion. After years as a television producer, Thompson now teaches high school, runs Kuu Consulting, a firm that helps lawyers brand themselves for the media, and she co-founded WEEN (Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network; www.weenonline.org), a nonprofit coalition dedicated to supporting women in entertainment.
“I didn’t really ever see myself as a designer. I liked shopping, but to turn it into a business never occurred to me,” Thompson says. When she got tired of seeing the same bland, boring items in every store, she started making accessories to spice things up. “No one wants to walk into an event and see the same red dress or the same blue sweater. I think that’s the key point to my company, because you’re the only person in the world that’s going to have this. It’s not mass produced; it’s a very exclusive line.”
Thompson knows that her funky pieces might not be for everyone, but she also knows there’s a market for something distinctive. “There are a lot of people who are afraid of color,” she says. “But beanpYe is more for the daring customer, the customer who’s not afraid to push the envelope. This is meant to bring whatever you have inside of you out. If you want to do color, go and do a color. Do what fits your personality.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.