At 21, Guyanese Aftab Latif making waves in the Barbadian graphic design arena

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…hoping to further infiltrate Guyanese market

By Lakhram Bhagirat

While most 21-year-olds are now finding their footing and deciding on a career path, Aftab Latif is already on an upward trajectory in one of the most competitive fields – graphic designing and that too in the Caribbean island of Barbados.

Anywhere in the world, a career in visual arts is competitive. One has to be constantly on the top of one’s game and more importantly, innovative. One has to be able to think outside of the box and come up with unique concepts to convey exactly what clients want. One needs to be original and versed in various fields in order to be successful.

Had someone told  Latif that he would have been a successful entrepreneur at the age of 21, and in the visual arts field, he would have definitely laughed at you. The young man, from a very young age, had his eyes set on the skies and wanted to become a pilot while his family preferred he was grounded with a career in architecture.

Aftab Latif

It was a constant battle between what he wanted to become and what he was pushed to do. However, that does not matter now because he loves every aspect of what he is doing today.

To understand the young man’s success, one must first understand the journey that led him from Uitvlugt on the West Coast of Demerara to St Michael in Barbados.

Latif grew up with his grandparents while his parents were in Barbados working, but for him their absence created a void. He recounts not being able to really focus on his studies, and life in general was tougher without his parents. Nevertheless, his grandparents tried their best to ensure that he felt loved and supported.

They pushed him to be his best, but without his parents around he was more focused on horsing around with his friends. He spent hours playing cricket and just lazing around with those friends. After some of them moved on, he realised that he needed to focus more on himself and began working on self-elevation.

In school, he was always interested in art. He was good at painting and was finding every possible opportunity to paint or draw. His love for art led to him winning a visual arts competition back when he was in secondary school. However, he said that he never saw himself building a career in the field.

“I wrote eight subjects for CXC and got seven out of the eight. So my grandfather wanted to push me at what I do best and wanted me to study architecture at GTI (Georgetown Technical Institute) in Georgetown, but I wasn’t fully on it. Three months after getting my CXC results, I always had a passion of becoming a pilot and my grandfather took it upon himself and called Ogle Airport to find out what is the procedure to enrol me to start the studies there. Eventually, my parents wanted me to come in Barbados and study architecture and I had to leave the piloting and come to Barbados in 2016,” he said.

When he arrived in Barbados, Latif enrolled at the Samuel Jackman Prescod Institute of Technology, to study architecture, but the course was not being offered at that time, so he was presented with a few other options and decided on Graphic Design and Printing Technology.

“When I enrolled in 2017, I had no clue of what the course was, but I went ahead with it. However, I was doing Photoshop even before the course so it was not that hard. One month into the course, I fell in love with the printing side, especially working the big printing press. While studying, about eight months into the course, the college saw my determination and placed me on multiple job attachments and I choose a company right across from my college to work with,” Latif related.

The on-the-job training provided him with more advanced knowledge than many of his classmates and his curiosity even had him teaching a few things to his instructors as well. He was also the youngest printing press operator in the college back in 2017, explaining that it would usually take five years to learn the operation and even some trips to Germany to study with the manufacturers of the press.

“When I finished my studies in 2019, I was awarded a diploma in Graphic Design and Printing Technology.  I was also awarded with offers from multiple companies across the Caribbean to work with. Eventually, at that time a printery in Guyana hired me to come down and print some flyers for them – it was the GECOM flyers on the voting process. I was responsible for printing that,” the youth recounted.

When he returned to Barbados, the idea of starting his own business began flooding his head and he related that to the companies he worked for. Eventually, he would save enough money to get his idea off the ground and on July 2, 2020 – in the middle of a pandemic – he launched GraphicMood and Printing Services.

“I chose the name GraphicMood, because I am always in a mood to do graphics. At the beginning, I still had my permanent job and my business at the side. However, the work was getting heavy at my own business, so I had to leave the permanent job and focus more on developing my own business. But although I have my own company, a lot of other companies would call me and have me do work for them,” Latif said.

Right now, Latif’s business is a one-man operation and he does everything from the designing to delivery of his products. He designs and prints anything you can think of, and the thing is he also does work for a lot of Guyanese organisations. He entices them with his quality and the fact that he offers free shipping to them.

However, he is thinking of opening a location in Guyana in the coming year so that he can better serve the local market.

Like any business, there are always going to be challenges and one of the major challenges for Latif’s field is that it is heavily saturated. However, he feels that his product is unique, since he is willing to learn.

“My skills have grown over the years by me pushing myself to do the work and working in different editing software. When a difficult job comes in, I think of the short term and the best solution to get a high-quality job and fast return to the client. I have worked with over 12 printing presses, but over the years, I have seen my work ethic developing. I study the mechanical turn of the presses and rather than bringing someone from Germany to fix it, I do everything myself and I keep myself updated on the newer technology that comes out,” he said.

The young man sees himself spreading his wings to other territories and creating employment in the process. He is not shy to teach persons about the trade and believes there is a place for everyone in the field once they have the passion and drive.

Throughout the process, he is grateful for the support he receives from his family, particularly his mother, who is his biggest cheerleader.

“The advice for the younger generation is that dreams do come true. Set a goal, remember it, and work towards it. Whatever you do, don’t give up and have the mindset that one day, you’re gonna achieve it. It’s not gonna happen now, today, or tomorrow; everything takes time.”