There’s no denying Instagram has changed the game. From the influx of influencers to the shake-up of how we think about business - the social media platform has become a handheld device for those brave enough to wield its power. But, there’s an untold story that has been paved by artist Sophie Tea, who has used her millennial social media savvy and pure talent to create an art empire many would have spent their entire careers building.
Ditching the traditional avenues to get her art commissioned, Sophie took things into her own hands with nothing but pure talent, determination and a little Instagram.
In 2016 after graduating from a Business degree, Sophie decided to go travelling before heading into a Graduate Scheme job at an analytical firm. It was in India that she found herself in need of some accommodation, and it would later be her blessing in disguise. "There was this hostel with loads of graffiti on the wall and I was running out of cash so I asked the manager if I could paint on the wall in return for a free stay," Sophie says. "He said yes and honestly, I hadn’t painted since high-school. It was never my agenda to be an artist. So I painted for the first time and honestly, it was just this moment, I was blown away. I was so happy painting and it was just then I knew I had to do something in the creative industry."
However, upon returning home, being an artist was still not on Sophie's agenda. "I was just like sh-t now I have no job, I’m an artist, I practically make no money."
Putting her Business degree and her passion for the art industry to use, Sophie embarked on building an app. "I built an app, which was basically like a Tinder for art. I started building this app because I saw this huge untapped demand in original artworks to be purchased not through a gallery, which are traditionally very elitist."
The app got as far as the final round of investments when a snag hit Sophie's plans. "I got to the final round and then I got asked why I was building this app, and they started ripping it apart saying 'what is your motivation behind building an art app'. I was saying because I'm so passionate about the art industry."
"One of the investors on the panel said to me, 'If you consider being an artist so lucrative, why are you building an app? Why don’t you just become an artist'. It was the first time I had validation from someone I respected to be like 'just be an artist'. Forget the fact you’re not going to make money just go for it. I got an email from an investor that said, 'We’re not going to give you the investment. We’ve done you a massive favour. Be an artist for a year, try it and if you don’t succeed we will give you the money and you can go on your way'."
It was with that determination that Sophie found a co-working space in Manchester where she could start exploring her painting. "Then I was all guns blazing towards being an artist and I haven’t looked back, to be honest. We’re making more money than I could have ever imagined and its f-cking hard work. I’ve now got to the point where every single piece that I put online sells within seconds. It’s just amazing what we’ve built."
It's how Sophie became to be recognised as one of the leading young artists around the world, that makes her story so powerful. Using Instagram to power her business, an original Sophie Tea sells out within seconds on Instagram and is in such high-demand Sophie's been left working sixteen hour days straight. "I’ve now got to the point where every single piece that I put online sells within seconds. It’s just amazing what we’ve built."
Using her passion for her craft, Sophie knew that building trust with her community would be the defining factor in her success. "When I started, selling art online was new territory. It still is now actually, because obviously when you’re represented by a gallery, which I’m not, you’re affiliated with a credible source. You kind of have a higher power and the customer will feel a bit more comfortable buying because there is some protection. Whereas with social media I have had to try really hard to build up this trust with my community. Even at the start, I went all over the world and I remember one of my first commissions came in from America and it was a couple of thousand English pounds, and I remember thinking how amazing that I’ve got the business to a point where she trusts in the fact that that this random girl from London is actually going to deliver a painting."
As for the most defining moment in her career so far, Sophie credits that to Ariana Grande. Following the Manchester attacks at the pop star's concert, Sophie used her talent and social media platform to raise money for those that had been affected. "Do remember the attacks in Manchester with Ariana Grande. I’m from Manchester and that concert, it really hit home, obviously because it was just so tragic. The bee is the animal emblem of Manchester and at the time I was painting animals.
"So, I painted a huge original multi-coloured bee and set up a donation page and said anyone who donates any amount of money, literally one pound, fifty pounds, hundred pounds, will be in with a chance to win the original. It was amazing. At the time I just remember, it was so impactful. It raised so much money, which was amazing, and then when I was at Coachella I met Ariana Grande’s manager. She saw I did this painting of the bee and asked if that image could be embroidered onto the back of Ariana Grande’s jacket. That was one of the moments I was like ‘omg’."
Sophie's career is a testament to what it means to redefine success.