Cheryl Brooks is constantly on the rise as a self-taught designer of things of beauty. She established Nilaja in 2003 while being a stay-at-home mother. Brooks started her business selling her greeting cards in galleries and boutiques in the Cleveland, Ohio area where she grew up. Cheryl has designed greeting cards for celebrities such as Beyonce, Common, Macy Gray, Kanye West and Erykah Badu, Katt Williams, Vivica Fox and Angela Bassett. Growing her way through the world of accessories, next on her list has been handbags. Celebrity clients such as Serena and Venus Williams, actress/comedienne Kym Whitley, and Cassandra McCree-Walker of HBO’s “The Wire” are sporting Cheryl’s handbags.
Cheryl’s first collection was created from organic denim and adorned with a variety of beautiful embellishments such as crystals, rhinestones, glass beads, shells, and metal hardware. Brooks has made denim her canvas as she has experimented with tye-dyeing, bleaching, painting, ripping, pinning, studding, patch-working, and stenciling with this basic and well-loved fabric.
Although there have been lots of girls whose first sewing project was making a purse out of their old jeans, but Cheryl has taken it to a much more imaginative level. Patience and attention-to-detail surely paid off for Brooks because the first handbag that she designed was embraced by the public from the moment that she began carrying it. Cheryl recalls when she made a handbag for herself and decided to use it while meeting with some friends. One of those friends was actress, Cassandra McCree-Walker. She insisted that Cheryl give her the purse. So she dumped everything out of it into a zip lock bag and gave it to her. Brooks is constantly stopped on the streets and asked where she got her handbag. One of the biggest attractions to Cheryl’s handbags is the amazing sparkle of the Swarovski crystals and elegant rhinestones used to clothe her designs. Cheryl has been awarded a design patent for the first purse that she decided to take to the marketplace. Without a doubt, she patented the designed loved by her dear friend, Sandi McCree-Walker.
Cheryl left a career in Corporate America to raise her son. However, she also wanted to be certain to involve herself in another career that she felt extremely passionate about and brought her joy! This is how the company name was birthed. The company name Nilaja means “to bring joy” in the Yoruban language of Nigeria. For many who stumble upon a Nilaja handbag, they instantly connect with Brooks’ ability to convey this delight into beauty, which is why they become loyal customers. Cheryl’s customer range from girls ages three, to women ages 70! Inspired by nature, art, beautiful trinkets and growing up during the rise of the hip-hop culture, Brooks’ playful blend of urban, and visually appealing imagery has bolstered her imagination into a flourishing business, filling both her creative niche, as well as a void in the fashion industry. She’s created a collection that appeals to culture of hip-hop and their love of jeans and bling! She even coined her own slogan, “I Sing With My Hands,” as an ode to her other passion. Cheryl is a singer and songwriter. Cheryl created, Meek Music to produce Christian Hip-Hop music, which she gives freely to be used for the purpose of uplifting the spirit of others.
Everything that Cheryl learned about being a designer, she learned from the women who raised her. Cheryl was taught to sew, paint, draw, crochet, cross-stitch, make jewelry, needlepoint, calligraphy, and knit by her mother and grandmother during her childhood. Cheryl’s first original design was her prom dress, which she decided would be her company colors. She also made cheerleading uniforms for her squad in high school at sixteen and costumes for her dance group. What’s so amazing about this talented female is that she received her Master’s of Business Administration in Marketing from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. She didn’t even aspire to be in the fashion business…but destiny drew her to it. It was Cheryl’s desire to raise her son and work from home that led her into the fashion industry.
Cheryl has been educated to be a sound businesswoman and gifted to create. She utilized every trained skill, every career experience, and every natural gift to create Nilaja. This Cleveland native has certainly done her hometown proud. Cheryl has been featured in Today’s Black Woman Magazine, Cleveland Magazine, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Talk of Cleveland Magazine, Houston Sun Newspaper Online, and Cleveland Magazine. She has been featured on WKYC (NBC) Channel 3’s,”Good Company and “That’s Life with Robyn Swoboda” on Cleveland’s Fox 8. Cheryl has also been featured on the pages of fashion bloggers and interviewed by online radio across the globe.
Not only does Brooks enjoy the magical experience of designing accessories that bring joy to thousands of recipients, but she also donates a portion of proceeds from the sale of each handbag to non-profit organizations like The Stuntwomen’s Association of Los Angeles, The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Houston Martin Luther King scholarship programs, and just recently, The Bay Area Community festival, where families were fed and given baskets of food for Christmas. Cheryl has lended her talents to art auctions such as The St. Clair/Superior Development Corporation and The City of Cleveland Kennel. Working with the worldwide acclaimed, National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, Cheryl taught students at the Cleveland School of Arts how to become entrepreneurs. Brooks is currently a resident of Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband and eight-year old son.