Keisha Long-Watson took a gamble of exiting the corporate world to pursue her passion for designing clothes, and was one of the first tenants to join the St. Pete Pier Marketplace.
“I initially moved into the Marketplace in July 2019. It was when we were in the middle of the pandemic – but that was when I hit my peak time,” said Long-Watson, owner of InSparkle Me Bling Apparel.
Long-Watson provides custom rhinestone apparel for women, clothing she describes as having “inspirational and empowering” meaning.
She started her business in 2016 after leaving her full-time corporate job. While she expected to primarily sell her T-shirts at the St. Pete Pier Marketplace, Covid-era buying behavior shifted – and became a blessing in disguise.
“In the middle of the pandemic, business started to be slow, and then boom it was crazy because I started selling masks that I would bling. I never had any intention of selling masks, but it kept my business afloat at that time,” Long-Watson said. “I had an entire wall of masks. I had moved from my tent to my own stall and it allowed me to carry my product.”
With the masks attracting more clients and her online store continuously being the primary source of sales, Long-Watson decided to grow her presence in local malls.
Earlier this year, she opened a kiosk at the Westshore Mall in Tampa, near the food court. Most recently, she celebrated a grand opening in the Skyway Marina Mall in St. Pete.
Climbing up the ranks
“I remember when I was working at a dead-end job, and I decided I knew it wasn’t what God planned for me,” Long-Watson said.
“I started writing down my thoughts and plans in a journal and kind of forget about it. Three months later, my husband and I were getting ready to go to dinner, and I was looking for a shirt to wear and I found that journal,” she said, explaining how she interpreted that as a sign.
She knew she had a long road ahead of her in becoming an entrepreneur, but believed she was ready for the challenge.
“I was researching, saving money, teaching myself the software. I’m telling you, I didn’t tell anyone about my business until I pressed my first shirt,” she said. “Once I started selling, it spread like wildfire.”
She and her daughters were designing the shirts in their home as the requests for orders poured in; however, there was a bump in the road.
“Prior to the Pier, three years ago, I did events every weekend, like the Strawberry Festival and weekend marketplaces. I had my last event in March of 2019. It forced me to look at other ways of earning revenue as the events and festivals were shut down so I focused on my website and social media,” she said.
“I know for a fact that if it wasn’t for the Pier, my business wouldn’t be where it is today,” she said. “I would love to eventually work with wholesalers.”