Akil’s balloon business is flying high
The party scene in Bermuda is hopping, despite the global pandemic, and Akil Darrell of balloon decorating business Hot-Air Designs, is taking full advantage.
“Everyone has been having parties,” Mr Darrell said. “And the parties are so extravagant. My opinion is that people are having more parties because they can’t travel.”
He does an average of 15 events a month, providing decorative displays, often containing 200 or more balloons in different shapes, sizes and colours.
“I’ve done all kinds of events, weddings, funerals, graduations, blessings and presentations,” he said.
Although he still has other jobs, he has been successful enough since starting a few months ago, to expand his services to include personalised balloons.
Ironically, he resisted going into balloon decoration, for years.
“I work part time helping El Shaddai Florist to set up for events,” he said.
His boss suggested that he go into balloons. She was already paying someone else to provide balloon decoration at her events. She thought Mr Darrell would be good at it, because he is artistic. But he ignored her suggestions, for a long time, saying he had no time for balloons.
Then last year, he started watching YouTube videos about decorating with balloons.
“I was hooked,” he said. “After watching five or six different videos, I bought $100 worth of balloons to practice with.”
It took him two or three nights to learn how to manipulate the balloons, and then he practised for a week to get the basic techniques down. When he started out, it took him a good two hours to put together a large balloon display. Now it takes him 30 minutes.
“The hardest thing about doing the balloon jobs, is that you have to have patience,” he said. “If you don’t have patience, it is not easy. Balloons pop and things like that. Sometimes you look at it and think it will take 20 minutes and it takes an hour and a half.”
But he loves seeing his vision becoming reality.
He works out of a small studio apartment. The small space is now crammed with things he needs to run his business, boxes of balloons, backdrops, a business desk and equipment to personalise balloons. He also has a pump to blow up the balloons.
“Thank god for technology,” he said.
His hope is to one day find inexpensive space that will have enough room for storage and working.
Initially, Mr Darrell reached out to his large social media following to help him get the business off the ground. They responded with an outpouring of support.
“Now, they often send me ideas when they spot something interesting,” he said.
But Mr Darrell said designs did not always turn out well the first time he tried them.
“My most embarrassing design was at my part time job at Rosa’s Cantina,” Mr Darrell said. “I told my job I could make a bridge for them out of balloons. I tried to make the bridge and it was the most dreadful design I have ever seen in my life. But my boss still said she loved it. I learnt never to do a bridge. I was trying to do something like the Golden Gate Bridge.”
It also took him a little while to master one of his signature designs, a hot-air balloon.
“I can do it now, but it was very stressful, at first,” he said. “When I say stressful, I don’t mean pull my hair out stressful, I mean time consuming stressful. It took me four hours to do it the first time.”
He uses latex balloons and always makes sure he cleans up well afterwards.
“I would not want anyone to say I left anything behind,” he said.
So far, customers’ response to his work has been positive.
“I try to stay humble,” Mr Darrell said. “But it really touches my heart.”
Right now, Hot-Air Designs is just a side business for Mr Darrell. He is waiting until after Covid-19 to decide whether to go into it full-time.
“But right now, I will just do it on the side,” he said. “My other jobs pay the bills.”
Sometimes, he gets sick of balloons.
“If I don’t have a job for a week, I enjoy that time, but also, I can’t wait until I can start back up,” he said.
The price varies depending on what the customer desires. The starting price is $150 for a basic garland of balloons.
For more information see Instagram and Facebook @hotair.designs, call 517-8482, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.