Ayesha Wright is the creative mind behind Life’s Paper, an online retailer specializing in premium wrapping paper as well as an educator for the Boston Public School System and local community college.
Me: Tell me about your experience as a single mom. How long have you been a single mom? Tell me about your support system.
Ayesha: I’ve been a single mom for 20 years and the main part of my support system has been my father and my daughter’s paternal grandmother was very pivotal in her early years. By the time my daughter was five I had decided to continue my education and I returned to college and received a bachelor’s degree and then a masters degree, then started a career. I was also working full time during all that so my father and her grandmother were there for me to help out with all of that. Feeding her and picking her up and taking care of her while I went to school at night.
Me: Was your daughter your main motivation for going back to school? Kind of talk to me about how that experience shaped and affected you.
Ayesha: I would definitely say she was a big reason for motivating me to complete my education because I wanted to lead by example. I wanted to do something in my life where I could leave my own legacy behind. If she chose to follow along she could have that option for herself and her children. I was starting to get into teaching at that time, which required me to complete my own education. With those goals I had in mind I knew completing my education was necessary.
Me: Your daughter is now 20 years old? As she was growing up, I know you talked about education being important, what are some other life skills or values that you instilled in her at that time?
Ayesha: I only had one TV in the house and it was in the living room. So I refused to let her have a TV in her room or purchased any video games because I always felt that those things were a deterrent for young people. I also sent her to private school from the second grade up to the sixth grade. I received financial aid as a single mother and she got a private school education those years. When I decided to go back to school to get my masters I couldn’t afford the tuition even with financial aid so I put her into public school. I had structure in the home and kept her busy so she didn’t have too much extra time on her hands. During the adolescent years I felt it was important to have some sort of responsibility and structure and a place where she needed to be like dance or something. All of those things that are part of the career of adolescent academia.
Me: So you were a school teacher while she was growing up once you finished college. So what are some of the other things that you had to overcome in order to work and take care of her as a single mom?
Ayesha: Being able to not drop the ball as far as my responsibilities goes as a mother or active parent in her school. Being apart of things that go on in her school like conferences, getting her tutors, and all those added responsibilities. Then of course the very daily things like clothing, uniforms, meals. My time was extremely limited. Which left very little time for friends or relationships because the work load of grad studies was a lot for me as a single mom. I had my dad and her grandmother to help me with some of those things but the amount of homework I had to do and still get her up and where she needed to go and do my homework, it was a balancing act. It was a lot of work for me but I think it was worth it. Even my daughter was extremely happy to come to my graduation. I wasn’t even going to walk but she had expectations for me to do that and she was really proud of me and excited for me and it was so much better than just receiving my diploma in the mail.
Me: So you’re not teaching anymore, now you’re running your own business called Life’s Paper, correct?
Ayesha: Well, actually, I am still teaching. I teach in Boston public schools during the day and I also teach twice a week during the evening at a local community college. My daughter says to me why do you do all that, it’s too much but I’m often a resource and then I might also make connections with people as well. I’m only teaching at the community college during the spring semester because the fall is so packed with parent/teacher conferences, staff meetings, and things like that that I just don’t have time until I get into my rhythm.
Me: Your daughter is 20 years old so you don’t have any little ones at home any more but you’re pulling triple duty between being a teacher for Boston schools, teaching at a community college, and your own business called Life’s Paper. Tell me about your business and how you’re managing everything.
Ayesha: Well with Life’s Paper I’m in year three now and my business started off because my daughter and I both agreed we didn’t like the wrapping paper on a gift she’d had wrapped at a mall kiosk and given me for Christmas. I was grateful for the gift but we both had the same thought about the wrapping paper. I had remembered in the past there used to be afro-centric wrapping paper here in Boston so I went to go do some research and looked for months and I just couldn’t find anything. Then I thought to myself what would it take to have some paper like this. Cultural afro-centric wrapping paper. Once I did the research on that and the demographic and marketing I decided it was heavy on my heart that I had to give it a try and do it. That’s when I started to brainstorm what I would call it. I called it Life’s Paper because my name means life and I didn’t want to use my name so I just decided to use the meaning of it. Then it went along with it because the paper is about life and celebrating it’s occasions.
Me: So what does a typical day look like for you?
Ayesha: I frequently work on my business during my lunch hour during the school day as well as before school. I check all my email accounts every day. Just a quick check even if I can’t respond right away. I do that on my phone or when I get to my desk a little early. During the day I’m with the students and instructing and lesson planning. My lunch break comes and I don’t do any work with teaching if I can help it. That is when I can go into my email and I can respond and call people back. Then I finish the rest of the day which typically ends between 3:30 and 4. I generally pick a day during the week to stay late and do my lesson planning. It doesn’t always work out but is pretty helpful most of the time.
Once I get out of there I make my way home and then that is a major time where I’m able to do a little bit more for my work, whatever that entails. My daughter is at the age where she’s doing things for dinner with her friends or at work so I don’t have to prepare meals by a certain time. I do want to mention that my family has a store in Boston called A Nubian Notion, Inc. that sells primarily afro-centric gifts like African masks, figurines, religious artifacts, t-shirts, incense, oils, soaps, etc.. We’ve been in business over 50 years and I’m the social media coordinator for that business doing our Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest accounts and am currently working on the website. I’m in there in the store every Saturday. We’re located in Rockbury and probably one of the oldest businesses in that area.
Me: You’re so active! You’re a teacher, you have Life Paper, you’re a mom, and you help with your family’s business. So over all these years who’s been your biggest inspiration and why?
Ayesha: I think the biggest inspiration for me has been my father. There was a period of time where we didn’t get along very much but I’m starting to see myself modeling some of the same traits he has. He was a single father raising two girls. He’s had his own real estate business for about 40 years now and he started with our dining room table, a telephone line, and a bunch of papers that were always on his desk. So I now see myself doing a lot of things that he did when I was younger, working to provide a home and everything and working 7 days a week. My heavy season is the winter and it’s my first one so I’ve had to mentally gear up for that.
Me: Saying all of that, what is your advice to a single mom who wants to act on something but maybe she’s afraid to step out of her comfort zone or is unsure of what steps to take or is concerned she doesn’t have enough money?
Ayesha: I would advise her to a) do the research on it to see if it’s feasible at that moment to get on out there and do and 2) to think it all out in her head, weigh the pros and cons and then 3) I myself have a style where I kind of work backwards. I wasn’t seeing the type of wrapping paper I wanted to see so the step before that is to see if there really is some out there, before that is to find out what it would take to make your own wrapping paper, before that is how much money do you have in the bank, before that who can I hire as a graphic designer because I don’t have those skills. So I would say those three things are the first major things you can do and I usually write everything down in an idea book. Inside my idea book I had what I would name my business and why, steps I needed to take, and every time I got a new bit of information I would jot it down.
Me: The name of my website is Natasha VIP and it stands for Vision, Inspiration, and Purpose. When you hear those three words what do they mean to you in your life as a mother and a business woman?
Ayesha: Single mothers have something in their heart that keeps them from giving up and I would love to be someone that they could look at and say “Well, she got on out there. It wasn’t easy. She took small steps but she’s getting out there and she’s giving it her all.” We get discouraged and think that no one is going to buy our product or service. But if it’s in your heart and it’s not going away then get up and do something with it. Take small steps and do not give up on it. As far as Vision I would like to be a visible example. As far as Inspiration I would like my words to encourage and inspire single moms. As far as Purpose it’s for yourself first and foremost. You have to take care of yourself first and then you can take care of your children. We want to take care of them but you also want to teach them to get out there and go after their own goals and dreams. When I was younger I wanted to start a scholarship for women of color to continue their education and I hope that I can get to that point one day in the future.
Me: One thing that I’m big on is that we have to take care of ourselves in order to be any good for anyone else. How do you rejuvenate yourself or relieve stress on a daily basis?
Ayesha: To relieve stress I make sure I have the proper kind of diet. I’m not saying I’m perfect but I try to practice yoga for about 15-20 minutes a day 4 days a week. I have a lot of vegetable smoothies that I drink for lunch and that helps me physically be able to have a long day when I’m eating right. I drink plenty of lemon or other infused waters. For fun I love to dine out. I love to go out with my friends and we have lately been doing a ladies’ night and gathering every month. Sometimes the hostess prepares everything and sometimes its potluck. It’s very casual in our sweatpants and sneakers and we love to catch up with each other. We’ve even been talking about taking a trip to Nigeria together in 2016.
Me: What’s next for you? I know you said the fall/winter season will be busy for you. Is there anything coming up with Life’s Paper that you want to share with us?
Ayesha: Oh, yes I’m so excited about what’s next for Life’s Paper. The scope of my business is for each and every design that I put out to have the paper, the tissue paper, the bag, and the ribbon as an option. At this point I have 10 designs contracted with my graphic designer and each design will have those 4 elements with it. I have so many designs in my head that I’m excited about for Life’s Paper.
The next thing for me is something I’ve been brainstorming because I’ve realized I haven’t regularly been contributing to anything and once again I didn’t see anything to contribute to that I would like so I said I’m going to do my own contribution and I’m still doing the research on it right now. But it will primarily be a summer book-a-thon/giveaway for ESL or English as a Second Language students. A lot of my students go back to their home countries during the summer and they don’t have any books in English there. So if I know their reading level I’d like to be able to give them a gift. Just a couple books over the summer they can read for fun. I would love to be able to do that for a lot of the young people as well as my adult learners in the community college who are English language learners. If I can help them by passing on a book to help improve their English I would love for that to be the community part of Life’s Paper.
Support Ayesha by visiting her website and social media channels to order your Life’s Paper today:
Website: Life’s Paper
Facebook: Life’s Paper
Instagram: Life’s Paper
Twitter: Life’s Paper